Honey, Let’s Go Birdwatching…at the Landfill!
By Kim Chapman
There are many negative ideas about landfills—dirty, dangerous, unfriendly to nature, and the like. Some of this stigma is warranted—photos of Staten Island’s Fresh Kills landfill from the 1970s and 1980s come to mind.
Picture this, then. In Dallas, a closed landfill near a low-income minority community is now capped, revegetated, and is giving urban children a taste of wild nature. It is the Deepwood Landfill, featuring 6,000 acres of bottomland hardwood forest, wetlands, grassland, fish ponds, and the Trinity River.
Embedded in the Great Trinity River Corridor, it provides school groups and visitors with plenty of elbow room to roam, and plenty of chances to witness wild nature unfolding. The Trinity River Audubon Center is here, with a strong science curriculum and access to the outdoors for learning, experimenting, or just walking around.
Landfill? What landfill?
Whether “nature” and “landfill” belong together in the same sentence all depends on the landfill—and the landfill management. Many landfills have lands surrounding operational areas that serve as buffers between the active landfill and adjacent landowners. If the buffers are wide enough, plants and animals from nearby wild patches of nature will move in, although care must be taken to control aggressive invasive plant species that may overtake the natural communities.
As natural plant life matures, the animal community changes. Killdeer, grasshoppers, grassland birds like Bobwhite Quail, small mammals, and hawks that hunt them all move in after just a year or two of plant growth. As scrub and young trees follow, another group of animals replaces the earlier ones.
Then there’s the active restoration of nature…taking a liability and turning it into an asset. Here are a few of these success stories:
- Seneca Meadows, Seneca, NY—A 576-acre wetland restoration in a 1,100-acre preserve, with a rebuilt stream, harboring regionally rare wildlife
- Mount Trashmore, Virginia Beach, VA—Low-water plant gardens, pleasant turf-lined walks, and picnicking
- Millenium Park, Boston, MA—Six miles of trails in a 100-acre park within minutes of downtown Boston
- Fresh Kills Park, New York, NY—A massive land restoration project attracting international design teams, transforming the site of the formerly largest landfill in the US
- Cesar Chavez Park, Berkeley, CA—Beautiful views of San Francisco Bay with lawns and ball fields, but also wetlands and wildlife habitat
At these sites, the landfill professionals partnered with others to speed up nature’s return. Landfill owners who want to be good land stewards can find plenty of help from agencies, nonprofit groups, and private consulting firms that specialize in ecological restoration.
The Deepwood Landfill at the beginning of our story is not the only example. The Audubon Society also got involved at Seneca Meadows, acting as the long-term steward of the preserve, and Audubon International is exploring making landfills part of its certification programming.
We began with a novel idea: Nature and landfills are compatible. Many landfills are a unique space for wildlife because they are large and separated from the hubbub of civilization. More than that, they are near people, many of whom have little opportunity to interact with nature in a meaningful way.
Landfills are nature-preserves-in-waiting. Landfills? Nature? Who can tell the difference?
For information on Seneca Meadows Landfill visit http://www.senecameadows.com.
Contributing writer Kim Chapman, Ph.D., is principal ecologist with Applied Ecological Services.