Sunday, June 20, 2010

Open letter to Indiana University officials regarding mowing on the IU cross country course

(First, some commentary, and then the text of my open letter to IU officials...)

Talk about your ironies...

I’ve been working on a glowing, complimentary blog post about Indiana University’s stewardship of about 40 acres of nice grassland habitat on its cross country (XC) course. In the past the university had mowed the entire XC course on a regular basis, making it pretty much worthless habitat for grassland bird species.

In early 2008 I began lobbying IU to mow only those areas necessary for the course to function as an XC venue, i.e., the paths used by the runners. After some give and take (and a little unpleasantness) IU changed its mowing procedures for the XC course. The bulk of the XC course has not been mowed since May 2008. Grassland bird species have readily taken to this new habitat, including several species listed on the National Audubon Society’s list of the top twenty common North American birds with the greatest population declines since 1967. In addition to improved habitat, this mowing moratorium resulted in less fuel being used, and fewer carbon dioxide emissions. For the first time I truly understood the old slogan “think globally, act locally”. If you get a lot of people working on fixing local problems, they just might collectively make a difference on a broader level.

So, I’m walking on the XC course about ten days ago thinking warm and fuzzy thoughts about IU’s commitment to sustainability and a green campus. Then I run across a two to three acre patch of good grassland habitat that has inexplicably been mowed. I find myself thinking “OK, probably just some mistake”. Being a responsible citizen, I e-mail IU’s Director of Sustainability on 6/11, asking about this seemingly pointless mowing. (No reply as of today’s date - 6/20).

Anyway, time passes. This past Thursday (6/17), IU mows another two to three acres on the XC course. It ticks me off again. But I’m busy with other stuff and don’t complain. Then early Saturday (6/19), I see signs of more mowing (probably done on 6/18), this time about one acre, in random swaths maybe 10-15 feet in width.

I decided today that it’s time to complain formally, to try to stop the mowers from needlessly destroying additional grassland habitat.

My open letter to several IU administrators follows...

To: Bill Brown (IU Director of Sustainability)
Mike Crowe (Director of the IU Department of Facilities)
Fred Glass (IU Director of Athletics)
Mia Williams (IU Landscape Architect)

I’m writing to lodge a complaint about some apparently unnecessary mowing on and near the Indiana University cross country course.

Two years ago IU changed its mowing procedures for the cross country course. Prior to this change the entire 50 acres of the course were mowed several times a year. Since that time, IU has mowed only the running trails, creating about 40 acres of good grassland habitat. A number of interesting grassland bird species have nested there the past two years. I regularly post notes to the local and state birdwatching e-mail discussion lists commending IU for managing this habitat in a “greener” fashion.

The first mowing incident happened about a week and a half ago. It’s a 2-3 acre patch of grass in a field immediately adjacent to the lower (south) section of the cross country course. This is an area that rarely sees any human activity, and I don’t think it’s been mowed before in the five years that I’ve been frequenting the cross country course. I've marked the location on this map: I sent an e-mail about this to Bill Brown, IU Director of Sustainability, on June 11. I have not yet received a reply.

This past week (June 17?) a similar sized patch of grass (2-3 acres) was mowed in the far northwestern corner of the cross country course, near the tee to the 7th hole on the IU par 3 golf course. This marks the first time that a part of the cross country course has been mowed in two years (except for the running trails, and a small area that needed to be mowed for last year’s NCAA cross country regionals).

These two areas support Eastern Meadowlark and Field Sparrow nests this season. These species have been identified by the National Audubon Society as among the top ten common North American birds with the greatest population declines since 1967. In both cases these birds are declining due to destruction of grassland habitat.

At the end of this past week (June 18) an additional acre was mowed, this time in 10-15 foot wide strips, mostly where the cross country course borders the golf course. This may seem like a relatively small area, but this area contained the only Bobolink and Savannah Sparrow nests I've ever located in five years of birdwatching on the cross country course.

All together, about six to seven acres of grassland habitat have been destroyed for no apparent reason. The northern section of the cross country course was hardest hit, with the unmowed grassland habitat in this section reduced by about 25%.

Habitat destruction aside, as an Indiana taxpayer it disturbs me to see IU money wasted on what seems to be a pointless activity. Isn’t IU facing all sorts of budget cuts in these trying fiscal times? And in the wake of the BP oil spill disaster, when President Obama is urging Americans to cut their reliance on oil, why is IU wasting fuel on unnecessary mowing?

I commend IU on its efforts to establish a greener and more sustainable campus, but I am appalled by this random destruction of good grassland habitat. I am hoping that these incidents are isolated cases, and that there will be no further habitat destruction on the cross country course.

NOTE: I am also posting the text of this e-mail on my blog so that other local birders will be aware of what has happened.


Bernie Sloan

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