Heron Haven Restoration

Estimated Amount to be requested from the CSF: $50,000

Letter of Intent:

Situated just north of Anderson Hall on the UW campus exists the ‘Island Grove;’ a forested plot of land with a unique potential not found elsewhere on campus. The site has been left largely unmanaged since it was clear cut circa the Alaska-Yukon Exposition of 1909, meaning that several of the larger trees are more than a century old. With its great blue heron rookery, towering tree canopy, largely undisturbed soil, and proximity to scenic Rainier Vista, the newly established Heron Haven restoration site can serve as a prime destination for biophilia and environmental stewardship on our increasingly urban campus.

In an age where carbon sequestration and biodiversity are of the utmost importance, the university has the capacity to improve in both. Though historically the campus was a climax coniferous northwest forest, the old-growth trees and thriving fauna have since disappeared, leaving many ecological niches largely unfilled. Most unmanaged spaces on campus have become dominated by a dense mat of Hedera hibernica (commonly referred to as English ivy). Invasive species like English ivy, spurge laurel, cherry laurel, Himalayan blackberry, hedge maple, English hawthorn, and Italian arum have smothered Heron Haven along with many other areas of campus. Removal of invasive species is the first step in revamping Heron Haven, with the removal process being roughly 33% complete to this date; the site will be largely clear of invasives by Spring of 2020. These species limit biodiversity, lack student engagement opportunities, and harbor health hazards such as broken glass and needles. This project aims not only to restore the native plant life to Heron Haven, but to also set a precedent for how spaces on campus should be managed and stewarded by the people who call it: its students. 

Work will be accomplished through my restoration ecology capstone course, and SER sponsored work parties. As the Volunteer Coordinator for the UW campus’ chapter of the Society for Ecological Restoration, and future President for the 2020-2021 school year, I am dedicated to getting students involved throughout the project. In order to protect the investment in plantings, future SER officers will act as stewards for the space, coordinating volunteers to continue spot removal of invasive species and caging of vulnerable native plants. Several UW Grounds Crew Leads and other faculty are also committed to applying essential upkeep, further efforts to restore the site. As time passes, the maturation of the site’s forest will allow students to experience a thriving native landscape, providing them with both research opportunities and an environment that acts as a respite from school. Future management could include mini-grants for research on topics such as how the site’s ecology has shifted over time, and hopefully introductions of rare flora and fauna.  Students in SEFS, L ARCH, and ESRM require an urban forest to conduct research on campus; plant identification courses for example could finally have a place to learn native species names. Ornithology students could have a place to study birds that aren’t usually attracted to campus, and passersby can become immersed in a taste of the ecoregion that surrounds them. There are few outdoor spaces on campus that have the potential for such widespread benefit to the university’s population than can be found in Heron Haven. 

The primary feature of Heron Haven, is the great blue heron population that has nested in the bigleaf maple trees for decades. Designing a space beneath the maples where spectators can quietly observe the herons is a necessity for the rookery’s wellbeing. The bigleaf maples which the herons call home have a lifespan that will likely come to an end within the next decade. To ensure the continued presence of the great blue heron population on site, invasive species must be removed and young bigleaf maples must be planted as soon as possible. Otherwise, the environment supporting the great blue heron rookery will continue to degrade, and the rookery will be forced to find a home elsewhere. A large douglas fir on the northeast corner of the site stands as a reminder of how large even relatively young native conifers can grow, and acts as one of the cornerstones in the project. The area beneath the tree will be referred to as the forest room, and will be planted densely with native plants that thrive in our forest ecosystems. The plan is to install a round bench in the forest room as a spot of quiet reflection immersed in greenery. The bench will be built in a Built Environment furniture studio using lumber from the campus wood salvage program. Salvaged wood will also be used throughout the site for creating woody debris habitat for small birds, pollinators, and the small population of salamanders. The forest room, heron rookery, and trail network will feature the most interesting and dense plantings. The periphery areas will be planted less dense, with some already containing pockets of native species. Plants for the project will be acquired mostly through the SER nursery, with some of the rarer species coming from local nurseries and specialty growers. The majority of the funding will go toward purchasing plants at roughly $1.50 a sq ft. in the approximately 37,000 sq ft. site. Labels will tentatively be added to plantings along trails, stating their common names, scientific names, ethnobotanical uses, and names used by local indigenous peoples (if permitted by clubs associated with the Intellectual House). 

By the end of the 2021 school year, I hope to leave Heron Haven in a condition that allows it to be used by students well into the future for both recreation and educational purposes. As the university urbanizes further, restoring ecological functions of ‘urban oasis’ such as these is essential to keeping increasingly rare species like great blue herons on campus. The funding of this project will enhance the Heron Haven’s ability to benefit student research, act as a space to fulfill course objectives, allow students to immerse themselves in a native forest, provide wildlife habitat, and demonstrate sustainable landscape practices on the UW Campus.

Thank you for your consideration,

Nikoli Stevens

Primary Contact First & Last Name: Nikoli Stevens