Our Sustainability 2020 strategic plans calls for us to “Enhance natural capital in the region, e.g. through ecological restoration, community energy or waste diversion projects.” It dictates the way we take care of our College-owned land and is a driving motivation for natural science classes as they assess regional biodiversity and work on plans to conserve and rebuild natural habitat.
Ecological stewardship and restoration is part of our culture as a campus.
Our students remove invasive species, inventory rare frogs, fish, and invertebrates, have built bat houses and planted bat trees for habitat, and have helped to protect fisher cats. They also research and implement ideas to conserve water on campus, helping to minimize our impact on our local ecosystem.
Green Mountain College was recognized in 2015 by the National Wildlife Federation’s Campus Wild Guide for our efforts to protect wildlife and restore habitats through our native species landscaping and invasive species removal. Check out our Campus Lands page to get a sense of the wealth of our natural capital on campus.
Green Mountain College’s land management is as integral to its sustainability programs as its progressive efforts to reduce its carbon footprint or promote sustainable food systems. To guide the development of sustainable land management, The Global Strategy for Plant Conservation (CBD 2002), the International Agenda for Botanic Gardens in Conservation (Wyse Jackson and Sutherland 2000), and the North American Botanic Garden Strategy for Plant Conservation (BGCI 2006) have been useful models. Land management is evaluated by a Land Use Committee, consisting of faculty, facilities staff, and students. GMC focuses on two aspects of land management: Natural Areas and the designed-built landscape. The designed-built landscape is land other than the Natural Areas and Cerridwen Farm, including campus landscapes, lawns, gardens and athletic fields.
In College Natural Areas, the general approach is to allow natural processes to occur. However, since riparian forests on campus have been in almost continuous agriculture for over 200 years, and since invasive species displace native species, GMC practices restoration that includes invasive species management and plantings of native species. The College follows the Invasive Species Policy (2006) “with the intent of controlling and eventually eradicating invasive plant species from our campus and lands.” A summer Natural Areas Crew managed by a faculty member with expertise in plant ecology and our AmeriCorps Native Plants Land Manager implements invasive species management plans. Invasive species removal is almost exclusively done by hand tools, although herbicides have been used in a targeted, mindful manner as a last resort.
The Native Species Landscaping Policy (2010) makes species native to the region the general rule and requires justification of non-native species plantings based in part on assurance that these species are not invasive. The policy applies to both the Natural Areas and the designed-built landscape. According to the Native Species Landscaping Policy Rationale (2010), native species landscaping promotes plant conservation and biodiversity preservation, maintains the matrix of native local ecosystems, fosters appreciation of local flora, preserves a sense of place and supports studies in conservation and restoration, among other things. Plants for landscaping are purchased from growers in the region to help reduce the transmission of animal pests. Additionally, several completely native gardens are maintained by faculty and students.
The 14.2 acre Buffer Zone along the Poultney River is an area that receives extra protection and care. It was designated in 1997 to restore and protect the health of the river and act as an educational resource for the GMC community. It generally consists of land within 35 meters of the annual high-water line. The buffer zone was approved by the College in 1997 to improve stream habitat, reduce bank erosion, restore floodplain forest, provide a corridor for movements of animals and plants, reduce overland flow of non-point source pollution from agricultural fields and other land uses, protect scenic and recreation values, and provide field sites for courses and research at the College. Since 2001, the Buffer Zone has been part of 39 acres of Natural Areas on the main campus. In the Natural Areas, vegetation is allowed to grow up naturally in some areas and has been planted with native species in other areas, establishing floodplain forest with both educational and ecosystem values.
Deane Nature Preserve
The Deane Nature Preserve is an 85-acre preserve located off-campus. The preserve is protected by a conservation easement owned by the Vermont Land Trust and by a board of the preserve that includes college and town representatives. The board conducted a multi-year planning process for the preserve that led to the creation of the Deane Nature Preserve Plan. Management under the plan will aim to preserve natural values, including native species and plant communities. The plan will allow for land management practices in the future that serve species or other resource management objectives consistent with maintaining native species and communities and education goals. Non-native plant species at the preserve are managed under the Invasive Species Control Policy for the main campus.
Integrated Pest Management
On the designed campus, the College follows Integrated Pest Management (IPM). No pesticides or herbicides are used on the designed campus. GMC’s land management procedures emphasize the early detection and control of invasive plant species following guidelines in the Invasive Species Policy and prevention of pests on managed lands through the use of native plant species, which provide food and habitat for native bird populations that control insects. Grounds crews look to identify problems early and use have-a-heart traps and environmentally sound pest treatments minimally when necessary.
Organic Soils Management
Cerridwen Farm practices organic control methods that rely primarily on crop rotations and diversity for pest control and only use organically approved pest control methods when thresholds of economic damage have been passed. All farm lands are managed organically from a soil fertility perspective through the use of animal manures from the farm’s livestock, mulches consisting of waste hay, leaves from campus, and compost purchased from Vermont Compost Company. Organic waste matter from the campus dining services is composted with animal manure and also used.
Sustainable Purchasing Policy
GMC’s sustainable purchasing policy (2014) states that “Groundskeeping must continue to be as local and sustainable as possible by sourcing materials from self-sustaining closed loops on campus. Materials that are sourced off-campus should be purchased locally. Stone, seeds, plants, and all other necessary materials that the College purchases for landscaping should also be sourced locally whenever possible.”
Snow/Ice and Leaf Removal
For snow and ice mitigation, potassium chloride is used in place of rock salt (sodium chloride), and facilities workers try to be proactive about shoveling to minimize the need for potassium chloride. Additionally, in order to protect the health of the native maple trees that dominate central campus, the grounds crew rakes most of the leaves into tree rings under the trees so that the nutrients can return to the root systems. This aids the native trees, and also minimizes the use of fossil fuels for more traditional methods of leaf removal.
Inventory, Assessment and Monitoring
Beyond the preservation and restoration activities we pursue, we also inventory, assess, and monitor species richness and diversity on campus and in our region, an important metric for our Sustainability 2020 plan. The most recent activity was an amphibian assessment by Professor Assistant Professor Valorie Titus’ class in 2015. Before that, Professor Meriel Brook’s class carried out a biotic assessment of the Poultney River for fish and invertebrate communities in 2013. The aquatic assessment used EPA’s Rapid Bioassessment Protocols for use in wadeable streams (fish, invertebrate, periphyton, habitat). The assessment will continue on a two-year cycle. This was only the latest of many previous assessments of various forms.
Since 1996, botany students have searched main campus for plants. Their collections are in the Green Mountain College Herbarium, which was restructured in 2015 and now features over 4,000 specimens. Similarly, collections document the flora for Deane Nature Preserve. The College held its first BioBlitz over a 24-hour period on April 30-May 1, 2012. With several good botanists, a lichen expert, a bryologist, and a mycologist, we were able to document a number of species not previously observed on campus. Species not previously thought to still exist in Vermont have also been documented on top of the Deane’s preserve. Similarly, birds and mammals have been documented both by students in ornithology and biology courses, and by the independent work of faculty and students.
In all cases, communities are mapped, showing which ones are rare on campus, prompting education and conservation efforts that enrich our natural capital while enriching our students’ education.
Land Use Committee
The Land Use Committee of Green Mountain College is a standing committee appointed by the Provost that evaluates proposals for changes in land use or land policy within a framework provided by the mission of the College and long range campus planning. The committee reviews and makes recommendations on proposals affecting the 123 acre main campus grounds.
All significant changes to campus lands or land use policy must be routed through the Land Use Committee, including changes in land use, maintenance, landscaping, and waste disposal, and new structures, landscape designs, plantings, signs, and art. To evaluate any proposal, the committee collects relevant data, and contacts and invites input from affected parties and various interest groups on campus. The committee reports to the Provost. Learn more or submit a proposal to Jim Graves.
Conserving water starts with conserving it in its natural setting, so that it can fulfill its role as a critical piece of the ecosystem. Several actions by the College have partially restored the natural hydrology since 1997. The College has: (1) established the Buffer Zone to increase infiltration of water, slow runoff, filter nutrients from water before it enters the river, reduce water temperature, and slow water flow in the river, (2) ended the practice of hardening river bank with large rocks to allow the river to meander, (3) let large hay and corn fields go fallow and go through natural succession in natural areas, (4) planted trees and shrubs to restore forest to portions of the natural areas, (5) planted native species gardens in place of lawn, (6) planted a rain garden and released lawn on the steep slopes between main campus and the floodplain.
In campus buildings, the sustainability office monitors water use on an annual basis, looking for trends to identify opportunities for savings. In recent years, most outreach efforts and improvements to water conservation have come from student projects. For example, in 2014, students in a Voices class researched a project to install levers on the showers so students could easily pause the shower while shampooing their hair. The Sustainable Living Floor also held a water conservation challenge among residents. Flush kits were recently installed on five toilets.
In Spring 2009, students Ben Jankowski and Ronnie Black used a Student Campus Greening Fund grant to purchase and replace 2.5 gallon per minute showerheads in residence hall showers with high efficiency 1.5 gallon per minute maximum showerheads.These new showerheads use 40% less water per minute than the old system. The goal of the project was to reduce the overall consumption of water and oil used to heat water in residence hall showers. Students hope that installation of the high efficiency showers will promote further investigation into other sustainable practices, such as low flush toilets and low flow sinks.
Renovations to SAGE Hall also prioritized responsible water usage. Low-flow showerheads, sink aerators and dual-flush toilets were installed in 2009.