FNA helps Fermilab’s prairies, woodlands and wetlands

As many employees return onsite to Fermilab, they may see people out working in the prairies, woodlands and wetlands and wonder who they are. Many are members of the Fermilab Natural Areas organization, a 501(3)C organization, and they assist the ecology group by restoring, managing and monitoring Fermilab’s various ecosystems. They aim to “restore and study the natural areas within Fermilab while encouraging employees and neighbors to experience and enjoy Fermilab’s natural beauty.” Some members of FNA help to advise the Ecological Land Management Committee, which in turn creates a management plan that helps direct FNA’s activities at Fermilab.

Restoring areas takes an immense effort. For instance, many of our woodland understories are choked out by non-native brush introduced to North America decades ago. These species drastically reduce the biodiversity of the area. After planning, the first step typically taken by Roads and Grounds is grinding the brush into wood chips with specialized machinery. After this, FNA takes over managing resprouts and seedlings, a tedious job. FNA spends countless hours making sure to remove these smaller plants. A continual effort, it opens the understory and allows our native flora and fauna to return.

Volunteers collect native seed at a weekly workday.

FNA also monitors populations of rare plants that occur at Fermilab. Species are counted annually, and data is sent to Chicago Plants of Concern, run by Chicago Botanical Garden to monitor long-term trends of each species.

FNA monitors animal populations, including butterflies, dragonflies, bumblebees, reptiles, birds and mammals. Each species has a different amount of data that has been collected, and more data is needed in many areas. An example of another great undertaking is bird monitoring at Fermilab. Weekly surveys have occurred at the lab since 1987. Survey blocks occur in five-year periods and show trends of the presence of bird species that appear at the lab. All of this information is taken into account, helping the ecology group better plan restoration efforts and sensitivity of each natural area.

FNA volunteers gather for a picture after a successful workday.

FNA members hold two workdays per week: Mondays, 1-3 p.m. and Wednesdays, 9-11 a.m. Activities that occur during this time change seasonally. They are currently removing non-native trees and shrubs and soon will change to mainly seed collection of native plant species. The collected seeds are then processed, and seed mixes are created to help increase diversity in areas that need help. FNA members conduct countless other activities that help our ecosystems.

If you see them working in a woodland or prairie, please stop by to thank them for their time, dedication passion and effort. They are a large reason that employees of the lab have the amazing landscape that we call Fermilab. If you’d like to find out more about FNA, you can visit fermilabnaturalareas.com or email me at wleverni@fnal.gov.