Sunday, June 22, 2008

Wetland article ignores drawbacks in wetland mitigation projects but provides valuable insight and source of hope for urban wetland protection

Woolsey wetland article in The Morning News

The Woolsey Prairie is adjacent to land where the new wastewater-treatment plant was built. Actually, the plant was built on what might be called the original Woolsey Prairie.
Because the plant destroyed a great many wetland acres, the Corps of Engineers permit required mitigation. There have been many shows on Government channel about the progress of creating the mitigation area over the past couple of years, mostly as a part of shows on progress of construction of the plant itself.
The good news is that the city is "manufacturing" wetland to make up for destruction. That isn't as good as preserving existing wetland exactly as nature made it. However, it is beautiful site.
The bad news is that a plan to allow developers to "purchase" shares in such mitigation land is similar to trading carbon-pollution rights. It means developers can dredge and fill to build on wetland in the city and "mitigate" it by paying for creation of such sites. This is better than nothing. However, it doesn't protect property from flooding downstream from the development. And it allows valuable habitat to be destroyed where it should be kept. It doesn't make stormwater remain where it falls and soak in to keep vegetation healthy and replenish underground aquifers.
That was the first story I ever read by Skip Descant. He appears to be a good reporter.
He wouldn't likely know about World Peace Wetland Prairie or that "keeping the water where it falls" is the contrasting idea that would have had to have been included in the story if his plan was to write a truly multi-source story.
In fact, WPWP is exactly opposite to a manufactured wetland area. It protects habitat and lets water soak in UPSTREAM where it falls. It was saved from development and stands in stark contrast with the Aspen Ridge/Hill Place development site to to its north.
While it has a large population of nonnative species, particularly fescue and Japanese honeysuckle that require constant volunteer effort to remove, it never had its basic seed and root base of native species removed.
Being inside the city and a part of the headwater system of the Town Branch of the West Fork of the White River and thus a significant area that helps protect the Beaver Lake watershed, its soil and plant life (even the invasive nonnative species) are functioning perfectly for stormwater management and protection of water quality.

The already completed Woolsey Prairie serves to catch water NEAR where it falls on the sewage-treatment plant. But adjacent parcels that may be saved as wetland prairie or savannah will be for sale to developers as mitigation for environmentally destruction parcels upstream. That part of the story has been discussed on several Government Channel productions related to the new sewage-treatment plant.

It would be nice to have a map of wetland areas. I frequently offer such information with photos from various parts of the watershed on my blogs and Flickr photo sets. But an overall plan to protect wetland isn't something everyone wants. Such a citywide delineation of wetland areas could prevent developers from buying property that should not be developed on the assumption that they will always get permission to dredge and fill such places simply by buying a share of an already preserved parcel miles away or not even in the same watershed.

Some developers and even some city officials and staff members don't want to acknowledge the existence of more than minimal wetland because public knowledge of the facts of Northwest Arkansas' environment might stifle their desire to build and pave every acre in the city.

More than two years ago, the Fayetteville Natural Heritage Association created a booklet with a list of environmentally sensitive areas in the city that the group deemed worthy of protection. That information has never been used by the city in any way, as far as I can tell. During the June 17, 2008, meeting of the Council of Neighborhoods, Bruce Shackleford's presentation on Woolsey Prairie got his ideas out to a lot of people and excited some of the neighborhood advocates to realize the importance of wetland prairie, exactly what we've been trying to do with our photos on Flickr and on our blogspots for the past year and for more than six years on and for decades in various newspaper and magazine stories.
Fran Alexander and others persevere, but are only voices in the wildnerness, it seems.
Too many of the most outspoken people in the green, "sustainability" movement mostly focus on compromise positions. The paid environmentalists are all about compromise these days. Compromise mostly leads to learning to lose gracefully.
It takes people such as Fran Alexander with passion to get things done. And Shackleford's passion about the prairie wetland can do more to stir fervor in the fight to do the right thing in Fayetteville than some of us have done in decades. A lot of us old "tree-huggers" will be supporting his educational effort in every way we can.
For photos and more information, please use the following online links.

Hill Place/Aspen Ridge set of photos

Pinnacle Prairie set of photos — west side of World Peace Wetland Prairie

World Peace Wetland Prairie collection of sets of photos

Town Branch watershed set of photos


Bruce Shackleford said...


I appreciate the exposure of Woolsey Wet Prairie Sanctuary (WWPS) on your website and I thank you, and am honored, for what I interpret as your vote of support. However, there are some inaccuracies that need to be clarified. There are some issues that may simply be a matter of one's individual perspective, and others in the blog that are not exactly correct. I am also a bit confused because I cannot tell whether or not the blog supported expanding WWPS. I think your main issue was the idea of selling wetland credits to developers.

My primary issue at hand is education to build more inertia for expanding WWPS. Your blog and this website provide a great opportunity for that. I am therefore compelled to post a comment because I have concerns that public perception can be rife with misconceptions that have potential to be damaging when it comes to a formal decision concerning what is about to happen with the city-owned land adjacent to WWPS.

The posting stated, "Actually, the plant was built on what might be called the original Woolsey Prairie." Here's a little history about how it got its name.

In 2000, I made my first visit to the 320 acres owned by the city and found the small Woolsey Cemetery with a grave stone marked "Samuel and Matilda Woolsey settled this farm in 1830".

I am a genealogy buff and researched the Woolsey surname and natural history of the area in the 1830's. Most certainly, the Woolsey's saw the now extinct eastern elk, passenger pigeons, Carolina parakeets, prairie chickens, and "prairie grass tall enough to hide a man on a horse" as written in the journal of Henry Rowe Schoolcraft who explored the area 12 years earlier. After conducting this research, I coined the name Woolsey Wet Prairie Sanctuary.

During 1831-1838, the US Government had surveyors doing work west of the Mississippi River to mark the corners of sections. Interestingly, these surveys also included hand-drawn maps showing the vegetation communities of the time. Washington County had much fewer trees back then. The survey map shows that much of the area between the Hamestring Creek and Farmington Branch drainages to the Illinois River were savannahs, and a fair-sized band of prairie extended from Hwy 16 , through the wastewater plant and mitigation sites, down through Farmington and west to Prairie Grove and Lincoln. I will gladly email this to anyone upon request.

As the wastewater project design was underway, I worked with the design engineers to do a site alternatives analysis to determine the best site for a wastewater plant. This is a VERY involved process that evaluates engineering, geotechnical, and ecological issues. We did not just throw a dart on the map to pick a spot for the plant. If you build it in one place, the pumping requirements may translate into significant long-term energy expenditures. If you build it at another location, it may be extremely expensive to make deep excavations to build an equalization basin, or the substrate may not be structurally sound. At another location, it would be near someone's front yard on 54th St, and obviously, we could not build it in the middle of Goose Creek. Consequently, all suitable areas on the property had small wetland inclusions.

The blog says, "...the plant destroyed a great many wetland acres". "A great many" is subject to interpretation, so here are the actual numbers for wetlands permanently altered:

Construction of wastewater plant - 5.64 acres
Broyles Road reroute - 2.66 acres
Westside Collection System - 1.42 acres
Eastside Collection System - 0.16 acres
TOTAL = 9.88 acres

We evaluated MANY sewer line routing alternatives to avoid as many stream and wetland crossings as possible, and picked the routes with the least amount of sensitive areas. With over 30 miles of new sewer lines, less than two acres of wetlands is pretty darn good unless you are into condemning homes and businesses.

Prior to being built, the mitigation site (WWPS) had 7.29 acres of very degraded wetlands. These were restored and enhanced, and another 7.11 acres of wetlands were initially created via hydrological modifications. As the project has evolved, we have actually observed that there are closer to 10 acres of wetlands that have been "created" at WWPS. We also have about 10 acres of upland prairie that is being restored.

These figures do not actually illustrate the full picture when it comes to "quality" of wetland function and value. Both the wastewater plant site and the mitigation site had drainage ditches, and had been hayed and grazed for decades. Non-native invasive species, like tall fescue and Bermuda had been introduced. It barely met the definition of a wetland. In fact, when I had the guy from the Corps come look at the wetlands at both sites, his first comment was, "Where are the wetlands you talked about?" I showed him the hydric soils, hydrology, and a few sedges that were desperately hanging out in thick stands of fescue. He replied, "Yes, they are jurisdictional wetlands, but just barely".

Bottom line: 9.88 acres of very low quality wetlands altered were replaced with over 17 acres of very high quality wetland.

The reference to "manufacturing" wetlands is misleading, and tends to lead the public to envision WWPS as one of those excavated flat-bottomed square-celled wetlands where non-native wetland plants such as bald cypress are planted. WWPS is anything but "manufactured". Our design preserved the existing micro-topography by not disturbing the prairie mounds. Very low elevation berms were built to follow the contours in a meandering pattern. The site will eventually be open to the public, but it is restricted to foot-traffic only; no bicycles, dogs, etc. It's a sanctuary.

This design not only saved taxpayer dollars for construction costs, it consumed less fossil fuels and created a very diverse hydrology, which in turn creates a very diverse plant community. Our original plant surveys identified only 47 plant species. It was definitely not preserved "exactly as nature made it" even before a shovel was stuck in the ground for the wastewater project. As of this Spring, our list has grown to 294 plant species. The only seeding/planting that has taken place is rattlesnake master seeds that I got from my own property, cold/moist stratified, and planted on June 19, and today when I planted over 50 tall-horned beak sedge that I had cultured at home. This is a very rare plant only found in 4 other counties in Arkansas. We also had to mitigate about 3 acres of forested wetlands. It is within my contract with the city to develop tree planting specifications for a bid package to be awarded to a contractor to plant the trees. With as few trees that needed to be planted, I figured there was a much simpler way, so I bought 500 tree seedlings of species native to NW AR and volunteers helped plant the trees in a pattern to create, you guessed it, a savannah. After meeting our tree planting criteria, volunteers took some of those remaining, including OMI who took them to the Noland Plant for planting. I include this tidbit as an example of what can be achieved if we all work together for a common cause. All of this was strictly voluntary work.

All the other plants we have observed had been there all along, dormant in the seedbed until conditions conducive to their germination kicked in. None of the "planted" species were included in our total count of 294 species.

In terms of selling wetland credits to developers, for the record, I have never supported that position. I have always presented the idea of creating a mitigation bank to build "credits" for future City infrastructure projects that permanently alter wetlands. This is called a "single-client" bank, whereby a party generates credits for their own use and does not sell them to another party. Consequently, these wetland credits would be "by the people" and "for the people". The benefits are that credits can be generated with 2009 construction costs and may not need to be "cashed out" for the next 20 years when constructing another mitigation site would be much more expensive. In the mean time, rare plants can be protected, wildlife can flourish in an urban setting, and Fayetteville can have a unique resource
that no other city has that will some day be "Central Park".

I know some may have the position that no wetlands should ever be impacted. I respect that position, but I ask that you re-read what I wrote about the wastewater design process. We did everything we could to avoid wetlands, and it will be inevitable that future city infrastructure projects (water mains, streets, etc.) may very well need wetland credits. We all flush, we all turn on the tap, we all drive or ride on city streets.

Expanding WWPS will serve to protect a small part of the Owl Creek watershed, and provide homes to vanishing plant and animal species that once thrived on prairies. There are 40 acres immediately to the west of WWPS that could easily have our successful design approach "plugged in". There is also another 30 acres under pending real estate contract for sale, that is a savannah with huge post oak, catalpa, black walnut, and pecan trees.

Here are some more interesting numbers: Of the original 100,000 or so acres of prairie in NWAR, only about 1% remain. At the time of European settlement, our country had an estimated 30 million acres of oak savannahs. Today, oak savannahs occur on just 0.02% of their original extent. Will they too go the way of the eastern elk and the passenger pigeon?

Has our generation not learned from those of yesteryear who shot millions of bison from the window of a moving train only to leave them to rot?

Will our great-grandchildren view what we do with savannahs and prairies, as we view our forefathers who totally wiped the passenger pigeon from the face of the earth, a species whose total populations may have reached 5 billion individuals and was
the most abundant bird on the planet?

For the record, I am the hunter/outdoorsman type, but these instances are absolute atrocities to me.

WE can all reference wetland mitigation with terms such as "drawback" and "compromise", but if done properly, it does not have to be that way. It does not have to be a "net loss" trade-off or losing gracefully. I call it "turning adversity into advantage". It is all a matter of how you go about it.

Today, at WWPS I saw two hen blue-winged teal, each with a brood of ducklings totaling 18, swimming on a clear pond that 3 years ago was a cattle-tromped foul smelling pit. The cow patties are no more!

So far, we have found 7 rare plant species at WWPS never before found in Washington County, and last week, we found a species of sedge that is only found in Washington County.

Birders have enjoyed seeing the multitude of shorebirds, waterfowl, and song birds that are rarely seen in numbers at other locations in the area.

I am very much in favor of avoiding impacts to aquatic resources whenever possible. Heck, I'm an ecologist by trade and by value system. But face it. None of these things would have been achieved had it not been for the project wetland mitigation requirements. It would have still been the cow-pattied pasture of fescue. It simply takes the mentality of making it "better" than it was before.

As with WWPS, the additional city land can be transformed from a fescue prairie ghost town to a restored prairie/savannah ecosystem.

It will take public support, even from those opposed to any type of banking, and wetland banking (single-client) may be the only way this can come to fruition. Otherwise, you may only be able to show your grandchildren "pictures" of prairies and savannahs. Will they perceive your generation as being any different from the guys with the buffalo rifles? Will they grow up thinking this is normal and perpetuate the example of nothing? Will you tell them, "We fought but we lost?"

There are times when you have to pick and choose your battles, but now citizens need to band together. Hold back for fear of what may be interpreted as the "C" word and you may very well have another Wilson Springs.

I firmly believe that if any citizenry can make this happen anywhere in Arkansas, it will be in the City of Fayetteville, and I do not even live here.

An opportunity is before you.

This may very well be Fayetteville's "Perfect Storm"

Thanks again for your blog!

Bruce Shackleford, President
Environmental Consulting Operations, Inc.

"Woolsey Wet Prairie Sanctuary"

"Banking on the future by restoring the past"

Anonymous said...

Shame on whoever did the original post... Aubrey (I hope not)? Whoever it was didn't have their facts straight and took the typical "NWA Times" attitude of anything odne by the city MUST be EVIL.
The fact is the wetland mitigation has gone way ABOVE AND BEYOND what is required and has created wetlands much more valuable and effective than the previous fescu swamp & cow pasture that had been there for the last several decades .

I would advise you get your facts straight before trying to make the city look bad at the expense of the truth.

Smearing such an environmentally progressive and valuable effort such as this is why the city isn't able to do more of these type of projects. If they can get the support they deserve for their valiant efforts, why should they continue to try to do more than is required? No wonder the city is leary about making extra efforts... they get burned by people like you no matter what they do.

Again, shame on you.
Great Job Bruce, THANK YOU!!!

Bruce Shackleford said...


I want to thank you again for starting this blog! Again, I view it as an opportunity! Therefore, I will take another opportunity to use this as a public forum to explain some of the WSIP behind the scenes things of which most Fayetteville citizens are not aware.

The average person cannot begin to comprehend the complexity of an infrastructure improvement of this magnitude, but the WSIP has become a reality that benefits all citizens of Fayetteville.

It has been the most incredible pleasure for me to work with a WSIP Team of the highest character. The details of getting things done was mind-boggling, and the highest priority was getting bids awarded and construction contracts completed. Much to my surprise, making things happen at Woolsey Wet Prairie Sanctuary (WWPS) did not play second fiddle in the process. Taking time to preserve, improve, and protect this ecosystem was a group effort by numerous dedicated individuals who ALL went above and beyond what they were required to do to help. Seeing the fruits of their labor, they are all very much on the same page when it comes to supporting an expansion to WWPS.

So here goes with some examples:

David Jurgens has been an incredible team leader who has made numerous public references to WWPS as the diamond jewel of the whole WSIP. As Water & Wastewater Director, he had a tremendous responsibility, but still took the time to be very much involved in WWPS.

When a news article was published about helpers needed to plant trees at WWPS, guess who showed up to help? It was Lynn Hyke and Lori Johnson who were hired by the City to work for the WSIP Team, Frou Gallagher of the City Channel, Joyce, a citizen (I am sorry I never got your last name) and Stan Williams with a crew from OMI. Stan and his crew has always helped with virtually everything we have asked them to do. These are OMI people who were hired by the city to operate the Noland and Westside Wastewater Plants. They did not have to do all the things they have done, including mowing fescue before it went to seed, but they had the compassion to support our cause.

As my subcontractor, Joe Woolbright, of Ozark Ecological Restorations has spent countless hours hand pulling Queen Anne's lace, serecea lespedeza, and other invasive species on his own weekend time.

There are many others that deserve recognition in planning and strategizing, including Peggy Bell and Shannon Jones with the city WSIP, Lane Crider with McGoodwin, Williams and Yates, and Erin Billings and Theo Witsell of my staff.

Brasfield & Gorrie was an awesome contractor who was under pressure to complete the Westside Wastewater Plant, but gave the best of the best with WWPS. As they were building the earthen berms at the mitigation site, one day I came across a killdeer nest with 4 eggs on top of one of the berms. B&G's excavation foreman had driven steel T-posts on each side of the nest so that others would not step or drive across the eggs. The mother killdeer successfully raised her young!

As WWPS will soon be open to the public, I also would like to recognize people like Julie McQuade, and Susan Thomas who have been a great help in public policy issues, and getting the word out to the citizens of Fayetteville about WWPS.

Mayor Coody and the City Council have also been extremely supportive of WWPS throughout the entire process.

There are many others names that I will probably think of after I finish writing this that also deserve credit. If I have left anyone out, I apologize.

The City of Fayetteville should realize how fortunate they are to have these individuals working on the WSIP Team to make WWPS what it is! My hat is off to them! They deserve special recognition because they cared enough to contribute!!

These are only a few examples. These people have also helped in many other ways that I could go on and on about.

WWPS is a valuable resource that will be accessible to the public for all to enjoy, and a safe haven for prairie life because these people are givers.



Bruce Shackleford, President
Environmental Consulting Operations, Inc.

Woolsey Wet Prairie

Banking on the future by restoring the past"

Bruce Shackleford said...


The presentation about WWPS at the June 19 Fayetteville Council of Neighborhoods meeting is now on line at:

Scroll down to the June 19 meeting and click on "video".

The City is evaluating the expansion of WWPS. We need your support!! Now is your chance to make a difference!

Thank you,

Bruce Shackleford, President
Environmental Consulting Operations, Inc.

Woolsey Wet Prairie Sanctuary
"Banking on the future by restoring the past"