Early-career conservationist helps keep the Fermilab site beautiful and sustainable

Kent Collins

Kent Collins, head of the Facilities Engineering Services Section, wrote this column.

Fermilab Natural Areas, a not-for-profit group with the mission of conserving and restoring the natural areas on the Fermilab site, sponsored its first paid summer internship in 2008. With more than 1,000 acres of reconstructed prairie and a 40-year history of ecological land stewardship, Fermilab is a wonderful training ground for interns who will become the next generation of environmental conservationists.

Emily McGrath, 2014 Robert F. Betz intern, recently studied the native landscaping planted around the IARC Office, Technical and Education Building. The OTE Building design has been submitted to the U.S. Green Building Council for LEED certification, which requires that the building meet certain minimums for energy and water conservation, sustainable purchasing and disposal, indoor environmental quality, and sustainable site development and land use. In order to satisfy the LEED requirement of water-efficient landscaping, a prairie planting replaces traditional landscaping surrounding the bike path along D Road.

As Emily reported, the plantings were established from seed last fall, using a seed mix with a wide variety of forbs, or wildflowers, and short grasses suited for the site conditions. Over the course of the summer Emily conducted several surveys to develop a list of the species germinated and succeeding in this first growing season. She found that two-thirds of the planted species succeeded in this first year, forming an excellent baseline to assess progress over the coming years.

She also found “weeds throughout the site, which are likely product of the soil used to construct the landscape beds. Most weeds will be inconsequential to the planting success, though some management is necessary.” She developed a management plan that will help ensure success and concluded by stating “the plantings’ proximity to the Illinois Accelerator Research Center, bike path and bison pasture ensure that the planting will be seen by many, demonstrating Fermilab’s commitment to both sustainability and ecological conservation. The visual appeal of the planting will increase exponentially in the upcoming years, but patience is imperative to the success of the prairie.”

The work done by Fermilab Natural Areas and interns like Emily is just one example of the hundreds of efforts through the years that has made Fermilab one of the most beautiful national lab sites, unique in its open, spacious prairie setting.