I read with interest the Letter to the Editor about Bishop Woods by Vincent Cirrito, Miami’s Landscape Architect, in Tuesday’s issue of The Miami Student. Mr. Cirrito does an excellent job summarizing the unique history of this piece of natural forest between Hughes Laboratory and Upham, Culler and Shideler Halls. I also applaud his leadership in drafting a plan to make Bishop Woods more accessible. While that plan was only briefly described in his letter, I saw a more complete presentation of the plan on Feb 11, when it was presented to members of Miami University’s Natural Areas Committee.

Mr. Cirrito’s statement that the restoration efforts “are supported by the Miami University Natural Areas Committee” might give readers the impression that our committee approved this plan. We did not.

Members of the committee expressed concerns about some aspects of the plan at the meeting and in the following days.

Back in May of last year, we approved the general concept of making Bishop Woods more accessible.

But the brief outline we were shown at that time differs in some significant ways from version we were shown on Feb. 11.

Our major concern is the planting of lawn grass along all of the new walkways and in a large oval area in the center of Bishop Woods. The short document our committee was shown in May made no mention of planting grass.

Grass will inevitably spread from where it is planted to adjacent areas of natural vegetation. The forest understory community has developed since the Board of Trustees resolved, in 1982,  that the Bishop Circle Area is “deserving of permanent protection” (Resolution R83-26).

Bishop Woods is the remaining piece of what was a larger wooded area, the College Grove, which was valued by generations of students for its natural beauty and firewood.

In 1986, the mowing of Bishop Woods was suspended to protect existing trees from soil compaction and to allow for natural regeneration of trees and other native forest plants.

Many native wildflowers, including spring beauty and white trout lily, now grow in Bishop Woods, and the area is valuable to students in courses such as Field Botany.  This biodiversity is most attractive in April, May and June, when most of the wildflowers are in bloom.

Grass will not only compete with these native species, but  also raise the likelihood that lawn mowers will need to make ever wider passes along the pathways to ‘chase’ the grass invasion. This mowing will damage taller wildflowers and kill tree seedlings. Lawn grass also requires fertilizer and pesticide, which will run off to impact the native plants and animals in the adjacent forest vegetation.

Committee members like the idea of a small open area in the center of the woods, where students could sit on benches in the shade and appreciate a slice of nature that is linked to Miami’s history. But we think the planting of native wildflowers, such as wild ginger, would be more sustainable than a grass lawn.

There are several features of the new plan that the committee favors, including the routing of walkways to avoid impacting the magnificent large trees, the cutting of dead trees that pose a safety hazard to pedestrians, the planting of native species that are not yet represented in the Woods as well as the removal of Amur honeysuckle, winter creeper and other non-native invasive plants.

These and several other aspects of the plan are consistent with the 1982 directive from the Trustees, as well as subsequent decisions: the University Senate resolution from 2004 to designate Bishop Woods as a Natural Area to be preserved in perpetuity, the 2008 management plan drafted by the Natural Areas Committee and the approval of this management plan, in 2009, by the Campus Planning Committee.

Planting grass and opening up views across the woods by cutting small trees, as also envisioned in the current draft, are not consistent with those directives.

In recent years, Bishop Woods has been the subject of undergraduate research projects, including the Honors thesis of Jillian Hertzberg (‘11), who not only carried out ecological studies, but surveyed student opinion.

Among her findings, 73 percent of respondents indicated that they wanted Miami to protect Bishop Woods.At Miami we are fortunate to have leadership that recognizes the importance of integrating sustainability with planning.

The Natural Areas Committee is formally communicating our concerns to the Landscape Architect, and we look forward to working constructively with him and others in refining the plan so that it maintains the integrity of Bishop Woods while making it more accessible to members of the university community.

David l. Gorchov,

Professor, Biology

gorchodl@miamioh.edu

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