February 2, 2004

Discussion focuses on land-use policies

By Stephanie Sonnenfeld

It might be said that Emory's current campus environmental efforts started with a small tugboat and a stroll through Lullwater.

William Murdy, retired Oxford dean and Charles Howard Candler Professor of Biology, detailed this fateful day during the Charter Celebration's "Seeing the Forest Through the Trees: A New Type of Growth for Emory," sponsored by the Friends of Emory Forest (FOEF) on Tuesday, Jan. 27.

Revisiting and previewing Emory's land-use policies from the past, present and future was the theme of the evening. Joining Murdy were James Johnson, project manager in Facilities Management's (FM) Campus Planning department; Jimmy Powell, superintendent of roads & grounds for FM; and John Wegner, Emory's first campus environmental officer and senior lecturer in environmental studies.

Murdy said what troubled him during that walk in 1986 was the sight of Candler Lake being dredged. The waste was being pumped out of the lake and dumped behind an artificial dam onto forest land.

This, and the sale of five acres of Lullwater land, prompted Murdy to join with fellow Oxford biology Professor Eloise Carter to produce the Status of Forested Land of Emory University (commonly known as the Murdy-Carter Report), a landmark assessment of the location and status of natural forests on Emory property. The piece continues to be a guiding force in Emory's land use and discussions.

Also highlighted during the discussion was the construction of Starvine Way, the shuttle road built along the edge of Lullwater. The road was vigorously debated across campus before it was eventually approved and completed in 1999, with its use restricted to alternative-fuel vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists.

It was then that Wegner arrived at Emory, which he called the "worst of times, the best of times."

"I felt like a gladiator [debating the shuttleroad issue]," Wegner said. "It was very, very adversarial and not a very pleasant place to be. We agreed to disagree."

But the issue prompted Emory to re-evaluate its environmental policies. As a direct result, then-President Bill Chace appointed the Lullwater Management Task Force Committee, charging the task force to protect and improve Lullwater's boundaries and its natural ecosystem. The movement also introduced the University's "No Net Loss" reforestation policy, an intricate and ever-evolving measure that strives to maintain and improve existing and future green space on campus.

One main theme throughout the evening's discussion was the conviction that improving and protecting Emory's natural campus is widespread, continual, complicated and impassioned--and that the Emory community plays a role in this preservation.

Just a few people can have a large impact, as illustrated by the first "ivy pull" at Baker Woodlands in 2000. Powell said about 70 volunteers showed up and managed to pull almost 15 percent of the area's ivy--a plant that literally can choke native vegetation. To date, about 70 percent of the ivy has been removed from the area, allowing native species of azaleas, wild ginger and trillium to flourish.

"It still has a way to go, but it's filling in. I think it will be amazing to watch," Powell said of the area between the Carlos Museum and Glenn Auditorium.

This was the first such panel for FOEF and something its president, Nancy Seideman, said she hopes becomes an annual event. FOEF was founded in 1999 to support reforestation and forest maintenance throughout the Emory campus. It regularly works with other campus groups in organizing tree plantings, woods walks and ivy pulls. For more information, visit www.emoryforest.emory.edu/.