By Anne Cosgrove
From the March/April 2015 issue
What are your responsibilities at UC Davis? Please describe your role in this initiative.
I am responsible for all of the day-to-day management and operations for Grounds and Landscape Services at UC Davis. I applied for the PGMS Landscape and Operations Accreditation, which included completing a site survey questionnaire, compiling management documents such as workload studies and organization charts, and responding to all their questions in the three main categories and 38 sub-categories which all focused on the environmental stewardship, social responsibility, and economic performance of our organization.
What have been the motivating factors and goals for the sustainable practices implemented in recent years?
We had an obligatory 20% water reduction mandate by the governor of California in 2014 and a 30% budget reduction five years ago. To address budget cuts, we’ve looked for new ways of completing job functions with the use of new technologies and moved from assigned areas for grounds staff to more of a hybrid crew format, such as pruning in crews.
Please describe the characteristics of the grounds managed at the UC Davis campus.
The site where UC Davis is located was formerly home to the award-winning Jerome C. Davis stock farm. Except for the areas located along the banks of our nearby waterway—Putah Creek—the over 12,000 trees there now were planted since the university’s founding in 1908.
The campus land mass is 5,300 acres, of which 920 are landscaped and includes a 100 acre arboretum that houses scientific collections and demonstration gardens. The rest is primarily dedicated to agricultural research land and a riparian reserve. The mostly flat conditions are conducive to the large biking community for which our campus is known.
Can you share a few highlights of how your department has improved the landscape quality while also conserving resources?
We’ve taken out lawns and installed low water, easy care, region appropriate landscapes. We use organic fertilizers, and we follow an integrated pest management (IPM) and tree management plan. The only issue that we have had to deal with in introducing organic fertilizer is the smell; we have had a few complaints about the smell. The goal in our IPM plan is to protect human health and the surrounding environment by employing a range of preventive strategies and using least toxic products for pest control. We inspect and monitor pest populations to enhance control strategies.
Over the course of many years we’ve installed and/or converted much of our irrigation to a computerized central control system that includes drip and subterranean irrigation when possible. We participate in intensive safety and horticultural training programs, and reuse green waste as mulch to conserve water and reduce herbicide use.
What is the timeline of these improvements? What are the resources you and your team have found valuable in evaluating and executing improvements on the UC Davis campus?
The timeline is ongoing with the exception of water savings. We have saved over 85 million gallons of water, or 30%, from last year. We removed turf in some areas of campus that were not being used and replaced it with climate appropriate drought tolerant landscapes. The most important strategy was to categorize landscape areas on campus and reduce watering in low category areas such as low use turf areas, watering only once per week.
Green waste is always reused. And new landscapes are designed to reduce stormwater runoff, conserve water, and minimize use of pesticides and herbicides.
I use workload metrics to determine the cost and time necessary to complete tasks; this also functions as a management tool.
Any other comments?
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the group of employees we have working to maintain the health and safety of our campus environment is top-notch. They care about each other, this place, and the environment.
Many people think that we are just a “mow and blow” operation. They’d be wrong. We have a hand in everything that happens outside. We take care of all the sports turf, including lining the fields for athletic events and prepping for large and small events including graduation and picnic day. We manage everyday trash and recyclable collection as well as event clean up, zero waste operations, and tree care and maintenance. We also help faculty with tree care demonstrations for students and use landscape installations as teaching opportunities. We put up and take down light pole banners, give directions to visitors, restock campus map stands, manage storm and wind clean up, sweep the streets, maintain regulatory signage… the list goes on.
If the team members can help, they will be there. They are incredible people.