Construction Projects and Unintended Negative Impacts Threaten Arboretum

Cumulative Impacts Degrade Arboretum Resources; Compromise Restoration Goals

People—and our social/cultural institutions—interact with plant and animal communities/ecosystems in many ways, ranging from preservation to exploitation, and at a variety of scales, from local to global.  Many human interactions with the biotic world result in changes in ecosystem composition, structure, and function at the local scale, which may or may not be desirable from a restoration point of view.

Many undesirable human impacts on ecosystems are the unintended result of activities done in the name of social good, say construction projects which are often necessary to repair damaged infrastructure; but such projects can have unintended ( but preventable) negative impacts.  The UW-Madison Arboretum provides a series of examples of these regrettable impacts.  A recent research report issued by Arboretum faculty and staff detail three such case studies.

The full report: “Unintended Negative Impacts of Construction Projects in the Arboretum” See Arboretum Leaflet #23 September, 2011 discusses in detail three case studies of  unintended negative impacts:

WHA Radio Tower in the South East Marsh.

Pond #4 wetland retention basin.

Pond #2 storm water research project.

Construction projects in the Arboretum are often necessary to fix problems that arise on site (e.g. a clogged culvert and flooded service lane) or that result from the Arboretum’s low-lying position in the Lake Wingra watershed.  But, in the process of fixing problems, construction activities often cause unintended negative impacts that impede the Arboretum’s mission to restore its lands.

In general, the Arboretum experience is that:

  • Impacts happen quickly after a construction project starts.
  • Low levels of repeated disturbance also have negative impacts.
  • Impacts are cumulative and gradually degrade the natural resource.
  • Cumulative degradation becomes an excuse for further construction projects.
  • Restoration goals are compromised, and managers are unable to protect the resources because of increased restoration difficulty caused by the impacts of the projects.
  • Negative impacts cause visitor and staff dissatisfaction.
  • Community participation and support are jeopardized by negative impacts, whether intended, or not.

Secret Pond

Another prime example of unintended negative impacts is the Secret Pond project that we have blogged about extensively in this space.  This project, sponsored by the City of Madison and UW-Madison Facilities Planning and Management, and taking place on Arboretum land, will occupy 2.43 acres of land.    Together with other recent storm water ponds and the WHA radio tower, have taken up just over 26 acres of Arboretum land.

The Arboretum Dilemma

Arboretum neighbors and other stakeholders benefit from construction projects to keep up infrastructure, but such projects have little benefit to the Arboretum itself.  It is obvious that the Arboretum cannot absorb all the negative impacts or storm water runoff and other urban impacts.  Madison society needs to take steps to increase infiltration of rainfall upstream, capture nutrients, and engage in other “green” initiatives that are now common in other urban areas all over the world.


About Steve Glass

The blogger is a restoration ecologist, Certified Ecological Restoration Practitioner (#0093 SER) and writer living in the Midwestern United States.
This entry was posted in Ecological restoration, Lake Wingra, Negotiated landscape, Restoration ecology, Storm water and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Construction Projects and Unintended Negative Impacts Threaten Arboretum

  1. Pingback: Negative Impacts of Construction on Arboretum–Deja Vu All Over Again | WingraSprings

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