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It's official: At NIH we shall never see a stormwater drain "as
lovely as a tree." With apologies to poet Joyce Kilmer, the following
is part ode to ecology, part nod to economy. It's about planting
roots (not Alex Haley's) and appreciating duff (not Hilary). It's
planning for the future by returning to nature, and using high-tech
gadgetry to manage woodland wizardry. And, as is the nature of
NIH, it's about being way ahead of the curve.
Our story starts with an autumn 2004 tree survey that garnered
NIH rave reviews for several successful groundskeeping projects
|With Bldg. 1 as a backdrop, Ed Pfister,
NIH environmental compliance officer, points out completed
stream bed stabilization efforts in front of Bldg. 21.
Surveyors "noticed initiatives we had that they saw as models
for other urban institutional settings," explains Lynn Mueller,
long-time chief of NIH grounds maintenance and landscaping, Office
of Research Facilities. "They were impressed with the cypress grove
[near NLM], the reforestation of the creek [near Bldg. 20] and
the return of the tulip poplar grove [near the Children's Inn]
back to its natural wooded layer, which requires no mowing or maintenance."
All of the initiatives are detailed in NIH's Urban Forest Conservation
Plan, part of the NIH Master Plan, which is "designed to protect
and maintain tree canopy on NIH grounds, specifically buffer zone
areas, stream buffer areas as well as landscape and street trees," says
Ed Pfister, ORF environmental compliance officer. "It's a mechanism
for continued compliance with the goals of the Maryland National
Capital Park and Planning Commission and the Maryland State Forest
Conservation Act. It formalizes our tree policy of planting a replacement
tree for each tree removed due to damage, disease or construction."
|Jim Himel, a licensed forester who consults
for NIH, points out the natural forest floor created by the
tulip poplar trees behind the Children’s Inn.
||On hand at a recent site visit of NIH’s Reforestation
Project are (from l) Mark Buscaino of the U.S. Forest Service;
Lynn Mueller, chief of NIH grounds maintenance and landscaping;
Himel; NIH arborist William Scofield; Ed Pfister, NIH environmental
compliance officer; Jeff Horan and Mike Gavin of the Maryland
Forest Service; and Marian Honeczy, state forest conservation
project, Maryland department of natural resources.
In fact, the latest master plan calls for NIH to have more landscaped
open space in 10 years than it has now, largely because the agency
is replacing many surface parking lots with multi-level garages.
|Horan (l) and Mueller discuss restoration
of the streamside forest buffer along the NIH creek.
In an age of rapid urban development, such a forward-thinking
master plan is nearly unheard of, according to Jim Himel, a licensed
forester who consults for NIH. He conducted the latest tree census
over a period of about 3 months that ended last December. That
survey was another in a series of bold departures from routine
reforestation and resource conservation efforts.
"The NIH staff is using lots of innovative ways to manage the
natural resources on campus, really 'outside-the-box' ideas that
are enhancing the forest and wildlife jewels it has," he notes.
The tree survey catalogued more than 5,500 trees growing on NIH's
"NIH is doing things no one else is doing," Himel continues. "There
are over 140 different tree species on NIH grounds, which is just
amazing. That vies with most arboreta. There are also more than
40 different species of birds and other wildlife — all because
of thoughtful wildlife habitat planting efforts. NIH's one-for-one
tree replacement policy — no one else in the state is as
Several factors make the NIH census unique. First, Mueller authorized
use of high-tech geographic information system (GIS) software — similar
in concept to the popular Global Positioning Systems advertised in
luxury vehicles these days.
Wildlife Put to Work
Bluebird Tally In, Up
There is good news about NIH's innovative efforts to attract
more bluebirds to campus:
| Mueller (l), Horan (c) and
Buscaino examine a new persimmon tree seedling, part
of a plan to increase the diversity of NIH trees and
"Even with all the construction and landscape disturbances
over spring and summer 2004, we were fortunate enough to
witness the fledging of 31 bluebirds during the summer months," reports
Lynn Mueller, chief of NIH grounds maintenance and landscaping,
Office of Research Facilities. "This is an increase over
the 2003 total of 16 and 2002 total of 13 bluebird babies.
We also had successful nestings of house wrens, chickadees
and tree swallows. We added some more bluebird houses over
the winter months and changed the locations of some that
had not attracted any birds to see if we can continue our
Now entering its fifth year, the novel project to install
bird houses in strategic areas on campus was begun to encourage
more birds to help NIH naturally control campus insect populations
without resorting to insecticides. By luring feathered friends
to feed on potential West Nile Virus carriers — mosquitoes — the
relatively inexpensive NIH housing initiative can help lower
the risk of disease, improve the environment as well as make
campus life more enjoyable for patients, employees and visitors.
"Now we can locate each tree," Himel explains. Armed with a tablet
PC laptop and an aerial photograph of the NIH campus, he and Lonnie
Darr, a GIS expert, employed software called ArcGIS to pinpoint
every tree on campus. It is also remarkable that the NIH census
did not just sample a certain number of its trees and make projections
for the total property, as most institutional and neighborhood
Not only was each tree's unique address (longitude/ latitude)
recorded, but also specific and detailed data about the tree's
canopy, health and type were documented. A forestry professional
for more than 25 years, Himel says canopy information is far more
valuable than what is usually collected — height and diameter — during
a traditional tree survey.
"This is the first time ever that an inventory has included canopy
volume instead of each tree's diameter," he says. "We measure each
tree's canopy height and canopy width. We can then project the
canopy growth 10 to 20 years into the future. That tells us a lot
about the tree's potential environmental benefits. A tree's canopy — its
branch spread — is what collects dirt and grime during rain
and what provides shade, and the absorbency for natural drainage.
If we were just looking at trunk diameter, we'd just be measuring
So impressed was Himel with NIH's results that he contacted others
interested in city forest management to visit for a site tour.
Mark Buscaino, director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's
urban and community forestry program, was also amazed.
"The ultimate goal of what we do in urban forestry involves public
health benefits — stress reduction, storm water management
and other issues that have environmental impact," he explains. "Most
tree surveys are never as complete as the one NIH has done. It
really is cutting edge."
Particularly remarkable, he says, are NIH efforts to segue some
formerly mowed land back to trees and wildlife habitat. Over the
years, the urban forestry community has gradually veered away from
using hard engineering solutions that were built to move water
in order to drain it, Buscaino explains. Now the best stormwater
management systems make use of natural tree cover and forest floor
areas called "duffs" where water saturates and drains the way nature
|The trees bordering NLM’s southeast
corner are believed to comprise the northern- most stand of
bald cypress west of the coastal plain. The roots of cypress
trees grown along streams can help stave off erosion of creek
beds. Cypress planting was even more successful than expected
at this location.
"It's a rare occasion when a government agency invests so much
into making its facility environment-friendly and ecologically
friendly," he concludes. "It may cost money up front, but in the
long run you will actually save money by reducing maintenance costs."
NIH is lucky to have staff that are open to new ideas, Himel concluded.
Recent tree survey and reforestation efforts guarantee that "you
all at NIH are seeing not only the forest, but every single tree," he
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