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Biohabitats Projects, Places, & People

Check out the latest Biohappenings, including an update on projects involving urban ecology.

By Amy Nelson

Article Index


NYC creates “Eco-Atlas”

The Jamaica Bay watershed contains one of the largest coastal wetland ecosystems in New York. Among many ecosystem services, it also provides wildlife habitat and buffers parts of Brooklyn and Queens from the impacts of storms. When the New York City Department of Environmental Protection wanted to take stock of city-owned vacant lands within the Jamaica Bay watershed, they turned to Biohabitats to assess their potential for ecological restoration and stormwater management improvement and create a GIS database of the results. The GIS database includes ecological restoration and stormwater management conceptual designs for each site developed by Biohabitats. The team then developed a model to use in selecting and prioritizing the opportunities. Thousands of vacant, city-owned parcels-each holding potential to improve the ecology and resilience of the city- are now captured in a useful “Eco-Atlas” that will guide future restoration and stormwater management initiatives.

Fort Collins , CO: the “best” gets even better

Fort Collins’ location in the beautiful foothills of the Rocky Mountains, along the banks of the Cache la Poudre River, is a key factor in the city’s consistent appearance in lists of “best places to live.”  And if the city’s Natural Areas Program has anything to say about it, life Fort Collins is only going to get better.  The Fort Collins Natural Areas Program is responsible for enhancing and protecting the biological diversity and sustainability of more than 1,000 acres of open space along the Cache la Poudre, while also ensuring that these areas can also be enjoyed by the community. While the river corridor provides access to relatively natural areas close to the urban core, these areas are far from pristine — having been impacted for over 100 years by agricultural diversions, armored banks, and gravel mining. In 2009, Biohabitats began helping Fort Collins prioritize opportunities for conservation and ecological restoration within its open spaces, and define values and goals for prioritized initiatives. Since completing that planning effort, we have had the honor of working with the city to develop concepts, design plans, and implement several of these projects.

At Sterling Pond, a section of the Poudre that was heavily scarred by gravel mining, construction is underway to remove the diversion dam, enhance fish habitat, create wetlands in the former gravel pond, and improve ecological function of the floodplain. At McMurray Natural Area, two former gravel ponds with unnatural berms and little wetland vegetation, are currently being transformed into   riparian and wetland landscapes with five different native habitats. We are also working with the City of Fort Collins Parks, Natural Areas, and Stormwater Departments, along with our teammates Anderson Consulting and bha, on the ecological component of a downtown master plan for the Poudre River. Yes, Fort Collins is likely to rise in those magazine rankings of “best places to live,” and we take comfort knowing that in the case of this city, the designation applies not just to people, but to the broader community of living things.

From golf course to urban ecological gem

Last winter, Cleveland Metroparks, with support from the Conservation Fund, acquired a 155-acre property in Lyndhurst, Ohio through which flowed the west branch of Euclid Creek, a tributary to Lake Erie. For nearly 90 years, the 155-acre site was home to Acacia Country Club and its expansive golf course. Recognizing the site’s potential to improve ecological conditions within the Euclid Creek watershed, Cleveland Metroparks intends to convert the site into a reservation dedicated to the restoration of native northern Ohio ecology. The property, now known as “Acacia Reservation,” will enhance wildlife habitat, filter and treat stormwater, reconnect people to the landscape, and build upon one of the most interconnected urban park systems in the U.S.- the nearly 23,000-acre “Emerald Necklace” of open space encircling the city of Cleveland.  Biohabitats has been busy assessing the site and meeting with a diverse and committed group of stakeholders and project partners. Next spring, Acacia Reservation will begin its multi-year transformation into a new, ecological gem, and we can’t wait to see it shine.

100% Water Reuse in Portland’s Lloyd Eco-District

In 2010, in an effort to test sustainable development at a neighborhood scale, the public-private partnership EcoDistricts (formerly the Portland Sustainability Institute) proposed the creation of five pilot eco-districts around the city of Portland.  Among the five pilot communities is the Lloyd Eco-District, a 300-acrea area located just east of Portland’s central business district. The district is primarily commercial and institutional, though thousands of people work there, very few call it home.  In the eyes of many, it has been seen as a land of parking lots. But that is changing. In September, ground was broken on Hassalo on 8th, a four-block sustainable urban development that includes three residential towers that are envisioned as adding over 650 apartments, new retail and community spaces, and a whole lot of life to the neighborhood. When the developers of this project, which is employing the latest innovative sustainable development technologies and anticipates LEED Platinum certification, sought help in designing a system that would enable them to recycle and reuse all  of the buildings’ water, they turned to Biohabitats. The Biohabitats team developed a decentralized water infrastructure solution that incorporates full wastewater collection, treatment, and reuse.  The treatment system, which includes trickling filters and constructed wetlands, will be incorporated into a pedestrian walkway bisects the site.  When fully operational, the system will treat over 45,000 gallons per day, and reuse more than 20,000 gallons per day for toilet flushing, irrigation, and cooling tower makeup.  Treated wastewater not reused in the buildings or landscape will be disposed of in two dry wells.  Not only does this project reduce potable water demand, it also minimizes flows to the municipal sanitary sewer.

Making the Most of Urban Parkland Forest

Philadelphia is ahead of many municipalities in terms of protecting and improving the natural resources in its parks. The city’s 5,600 acres of parkland forest have benefited from years of preservation, enhancement and restoration. Despite all of this, the region’s history of significant deforestation and land conversion resulted in an extended period of forest re-growth, and along with that re-growth has come an increase in nonnative species. Not an agency to rest on its eco-laurels, Philadelphia’s Parks & Recreation Department (PP&R) recognized that more work was needed in order to maintain a healthy urban forest long into the future. To help PP&R bolster its ability to plan, acquire funding for, and manage parkland forest resources in the face of emerging challenges and competing demands, Biohabitats developed a Parkland Forest Management Framework. The framework, which will guide long-term, holistic management of parkland forest resources, addresses resource conditions in need of ecological enhancement, restoration and management, and provides recommendations and strategies to protect, maintain and restore parkland forests for the benefit of the citizens of Philadelphia and the surrounding region. Unique strategies proposed include adaptive management through techniques such as deer exclosures, tree plantings, stream restoration, improved trail connections, parkway connectivity, invasive species management; innovative pilot projects such as the creation of a public food forest. The framework, which integrates stewardship throughout, also provides publicly accessible documentation of PP&R’s approach to and rationale for park forest management.

Leading Innovation in Resilient Waterfront Design

Earlier this year, in response to the devastation of Hurricane Sandy, the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development, AIA New York, and other sponsors organized the FAR ROC design competition, which solicited creative, resilient development strategies for an 80-acre site on the city’s Rockaway Peninsula. The intent was to develop best practices for sustainable development in waterfront areas that can be implemented throughout New York City and in vulnerable communities everywhere. Led by Ennead Architects Biohabitats’ FRED (fostering resilient ecological development) team was one of only four finalists selected from the contest’s 117 entrants. Our team’s design response began and ended with dunes. Dunes provide more than just coastal protection; they provide habitat, community and a sense of place. Taking cues from New York City’s Comprehensive Waterfront Plan, and using existing topography to our advantage, we proposed the creation of a robust ecosystem that can adapt to the rising tides over time. The dunes also allow the movement of sand, wind and water while supporting coastal housing and infrastructure.  Our bold, compelling solution, garnered the award for “Leading Innovation in Resilient Waterfront Design.”  Our award-winning team also included Atelier 10, Hargreaves Associates, Langan Engineering, and LERA.

Federal Courthouse Gets Sustainability Makeover

Every drop of rain has value, particularly in the high desert of the American southwest. But not long ago, thousands of gallons of untreated stormwater from the parking lot and one-acre rooftop of the Pete V. Domenici U.S. Courthouse in Albuquerque, New Mexico were being pumped directly into the storm sewer and put on a fast track to the Rio Grande. Today, it’s a whole different story. A key member of a team led by Rios Clemente Hale Studio, Biohabitats helped design a plan to enhance the sustainability of the site’s 3-acre landscape.

The project involved replacing turf grass to native, xeric plants, harvesting rainwater from the rooftop for use in irrigation, and diverting stormwater into depressed planting beds, where it is intercepted, slowed and filtered through bioretention.  Any excess enters the existing stormwater infrastructure. The site’s three-acre landscape has truly transformed over the past year. Vast expanses of turf grass, impermeable paving, and high water-use plants have been replaced with xeric plantings appropriate for the Rio Grande valley and inviting permeable pathways. Removed paving has been repurposed in landscaping walls and stormwater management features. Drainage patterns designed for the front plaza, which reflect chevron patterns common to Pueblo weaving, now direct water to a rain garden. The 16,000-gallon rainwater harvesting system we designed for the courthouse has reduced potable water use for irrigation by more than 75%. The project was so successful that it earned the Sustainable Sites certification by the American Society of Landscape Architects.

Squaring up an Urban Park

Behind one popular branch of Baltimore’s Enoch Pratt Free Library is a 1.1-acre wedge of green space that is surrounded by blocks of impervious surfaces in all directions. Known as “Library Square,” the land sits directly atop Harris Creek, a buried stream that conveys a tremendous amount of stormwater when it rains. This stormwater has been the cause of flooding in the neighborhood, and a major source of pollution and trash to Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, which drains to the Chesapeake Bay. When Blue Water Baltimore, in partnership with Banner Neighborhoods, won a Chesapeake Bay Trust Fund Grant to create buildable design plans to redevelop Library Square, they turned to Biohabitats for help. Incorporating key aspects of previous master plans for the site, we are crafting a design that will maximize stormwater management while improving the park’s safety, sustainability, and responsiveness to the needs of its users. The new Library Square will feature raised crosswalks, flexible permeable pavement, raingardens, a canopy of mature Linden trees. The plantings will be part of a larger “pollinator garden” that is planned for the  local elementary school, a nearby vacant lot, and the front of the library. The design, which has already garnered the support of the community, will treat runoff from more than two acres of previously uncontrolled impervious surfaces.


Earlier this month, Biohabitats president Keith Bowers joined eight mayors and a team of five other design professionals in Baton Rouge, Louisiana for the Mayor’s Institute on City Design South, a two-day problem solving session on urban design. The Mayors’ Institute on City Design is a National Endowment for the Arts leadership initiative in partnership with the American Architectural Foundation and the United States Conference of Mayors. Since 1986, the Mayors’ Institute has helped transform communities through design by preparing mayors to be the chief urban designers of their cities.  With an emphasis on southeast cities, Keith and the other design professionals worked with mayors from  Houma, Louisiana, Wheeling and Huntington, West Virginia, Hinesville, Georgia, Covington, Kentucky, San Marcos, Texas, Juniper, Florida and Portsmouth, Virginia, on critical urban design challenges facing their cities.   Keith’s experience in urban ecology, green infrastructure and regenerative design complimented the group’s experience in urban planning.

Days ago, Biohabitats President Keith Bowers was in Seoul, South Korea attending the Forest Land Forum International Symposium on Conservation and Restoration of Mountain Forest Landscapes. Keith was invited to speak at this event, which was jointly hosted by the Korea Forest Conservation Association, the Korea Land Forum, the Korea Forest Service, and the Korea Forest Research Institute. Keith joined distinguished speakers from around the world in presenting the latest advances in science and research related to mountain forest landscape protection and restoration. Keith will share insights and observations from the symposium on the Rhizome blog, so stay tuned!

Tom Denbow and Kevin Greiser from Biohabitats Great Lakes Bioregion office wouldn’t miss the Northeast Ohio Regional Parks Conference on January 7 in Kirtland, OH. Would you?

Invasive species specialist Kevin Heatley will head to Naples, FL January 9-11 for the Everglades Coalition Conference, the largest annual forum for debate about the conservation and restoration of the Everglades.

Ecological engineer Chris Streb and senior environmental scientist Peter May will be in Gainesville, FL January 16-18 for the 8th Biennial Emergy Research Conference. Peter will present “Environmental Accounting of Tidal Freshwater Mudflats and Emergent Marsh Restoration” and a poster entitled “Emergy Anaylsis of the Planned New Deal Community of Greenbelt, Maryland.”

Biohabitats is proud to sponsor the January 22-26 meeting of the Southern Division of the American Fisheries Society in Charleston, SC. If you plan to attend, don’t miss Keith Bowers’ talk on ecological restoration.

From January 28-30, more than 1,200 people will gather in Washington, DC to advance solutions to climate change a 14th National Conference and Global Forum on Science, Policy and the Environment: Building Climate Solutions. One of them will be Biohabitats Kevin Heatley. At this event, organized by the Natiional Council for Science and the Environment, participants will develop strategies and tactics that advance solutions to minimize the impacts of anthropogenic climate change.

Erin English, Justin Lyon, and Neil Williams from Biohabitats Southwest Basin & Range office will be in Albuquerque, NM February 20-21 for the Land & Water Summit. Hosted by the Xeriscape Council of New Mexico, the event will explore the theme of Drought as an Opportunity for Change.

Biohabitats is delighted to be a sponsor of the 2014 2/23-26, Upper Midwest Stream Symposium. This year’s event, which will take place in Lacrosse, WI, includes presentations by Suzanne Hoehne of Biohabitats’ Ohio River Bioregion.


Matt Koozer, Senior Restoration Ecologist and Construction Manager

Matt Koozer has always loved the outdoors. In the 1990s, he spent his college summers working in Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks with one main goal in mind: get into the back country and spend some quality time with grizzlies. Though he was able to do that, he was surprised by another outcome of the experience: the joy of forging human connections, particularly those he made with senior tourists who treated him like a grandson as he coaxed them up serious climbs. Fifteen years that have passed since Matt’s last summer in Glacier, and he has spent every one of them applying both his knowledge of the natural world and his appreciation for human connections to the restoration of Pacific Northwest ecosystems. Throughout Oregon, Matt has helped design and construct projects involving floodplain reconnection, dam removal, levee breaching, and large, woody debris habitat structures.  “I’m proudest,” says the Portland resident, “when I can look over my shoulder on the way home and see habitat restored that will live on and function in perpetuity.” We’re pretty sure all of those surrogate grandparents would be proud, too.

Nick Schreiner, Water Resources Engineer

If there’s one thing Nick Schreiner is not, it is risk averse. For fun, he competes in cylo-cross, a muddy, adrenaline-filled sport described as a steeplechase on a bike. As a kid, Nick dreamed of exploring space as an astronaut, and though his career aspirations ultimately shifted toward engineering, he remained fearless in his pursuit of meaningful life and work experience. After graduating college, he traveled nearly 5000 miles from his Iowa hometown to West Africa, where he serves two years in the Peace Corps in Mauritania and Mali. Before joining Biohabitats’ Cascadia Bioregion earlier this month, Nick worked as a water and sanitation engineer for Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) in the conflict-torn, unstable South Kivu region of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Drawn to Biohabitats by the firm’s non-traditional, holistic approach to environmental challenges, Nick believes that truly comprehensive design engineering must take into account the social, cultural, economic, and environmental factors at play in every project. We’re thrilled to this intrepid engineer apply his pioneering spirit and engineering expertise to projects involving the design of water and wastewater systems that incorporate natural systems and integrated ecology. We’re delighted to have Nick on board, and we wish him well this holiday, which he has chosen to spend helping the Médecins Sans Frontières Belgian relief team develop water infrastructure for temporary medical facilities in the Central African Republic.

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