Somehow I missed some really big news – the October 31 announcement of new requirements for federal landscapes. Should I blame the less than eye-catching announcement itself, shown above? Or maybe the administration is trying to keep this tree-hugging move under the radar. Whatever – it's great news!
Warning to readers: we're about to get wonky here.
First promised in the fall of '09, the feds have completed the monumental task of compiling the Guidance for Federal Agencies on Sustainable Practices for Designed Landscapes.
This guidance is to be used by Federal agencies for landscape practices when constructing new, or rehabilitating existing, owned or leased facilities, or when landscaping improvements are otherwise planned.
The Federal government controls or owns more than 41 million acres of land and 429,000 building assets, comprising 3.34 billion square feet of space in the United States. Consequently, landscaping practices by Federal agencies can have significant impacts on the environment. Decisions regarding the development and maintenance of Federal landscaped property provide an opportunity to promote the sustainable use of water and land, conserve soils and vegetation, support natural ecosystem functions, conserve materials, promote human health and well-being, and ensure accessibility for all users, including those with disabilities.
First, try to imagine all federal buildings being surrounded by landscapes that actually do all of the above. Think post offices, courthouses, military facilities, and so on. Not just owned land but leased, too. That means that any developers hoping to someday find a federal tenant will presumably follow these guidelines.
"Reduce, with aim to eliminate, the use of potable water, natural surface water (such as lakes, rivers, and streams), and groundwater withdrawals for landscape irrigation." Just reading that one detail, I imagine the increased use for drought-tolerant groundcovers and decreased acreage of conventional turf.
In the realm of plant choice, here's what the guidance says:
- Preserve existing native vegetation
- Maintain existing historic landscapes and plantings
- Prevent, detect, control, and manage invasive plants
- Maintain existing historic landscapes and plantings
- Use native plants: Where practicable, use vegetation native to the ecoregion. (Note: not just "native", but "to the ecoregion".)
- Use vegetation to minimize building heating and cooling requirements
- Use trees and other vegetation to offset emissions of greenhouse gases from operations
- Reduce urban heat island effects
- Reuse salvaged materials and plants
- Support sustainable practices in plant production
- Use regional materials
And there's a whole section on "human health and well-being", nicely echoing the First Lady's Let's Move! campaign:
- Encourage outdoor activities: On-site amenities such as community gardens, bike trails, playgrounds, and workout stations should be provided to encourage outdoor activities. Appropriate support services, such as drinking fountains, emergency call boxes, and safety lighting should also be included. To the extent possible, on-site systems, such as trails and paths, should be connected to local and regional systems and access to parks and open space within 0.25 mile.
- Use vegetation to promote community/employee morale and well-being activities: Rooftop gardens, community gardens, and vertical gardens inside or outside of buildings, adjacent or connecting to the landscape should be considered in order to promote educational programs, food access, and gardening activities for morale and community engagement.
- Create quiet outdoor spaces for relaxation and restoration, small group interaction, and views… Where possible, seating areas with unique or beautiful views and minimal noise should be provided.following actions.
This is so comprehensive, I can't find anything missing – there's even a directive to reduce light pollution.
One sticky wicket must have been the concerns of the historic preservation folks because there's lots about respecting landscapes in "cultural or historic settings".
Plant materials in cultural landscapes and designed historic sites may be non-native, naturalized and in some cases managed invasive species. Plants that are character-defining features of a cultural landscape should be preserved.
So, English ivy doesn't have to be ripped out where it's deemed historic, I guess.
About maintenance, the directive is to "Implement sustainable site maintenance," which they define as: organic fertilizer, Integrated Pest Management, seasonal performance-based mowing (spring 3”, summer 4-5”, fall 4”), and annual pruning practices, as opposed to regular shearing. Also, recycling of organic matter (another term for composting?)
Sorry to report, leaf-blowers aren't outlawed but there is a directive to "increase fuel economy through acquisition of smaller vehicles, hybrid-electric vehicles, and alternative fuels vehicles and landscape equipment." That's something.
I have lots of them, like: How will this be enforced? And how much will existing landscapes be changed by this? And just curious: Would the EPA headquarters' low-impact landscaping comply, or does it have too many nonnative plants?
Readers, add your questions and comments and I'll try to get them answered – first by contacting the good folks at the U.S. Botanic Garden who shepherded this project through the bureaucracy. Thirty-one federal agencies participated in the process, plus 13 "advisors representing local and regional constituencies." Can you imagine how many meetings that meant having to endure?