Landscape Architecture and Horticulture hosts SER Conference

Temple University Master of Landscape students study ecological restoration.

Since its inception, the Department of Landscape Architecture and Horticulture’s Master of Landscape Architecture (MLArch) program has placed a strong emphasis on ecological landscape restoration.

The mission of the MLArch program is to integrate ecosystem and design principles in order to restore degraded landscapes. Students apply scientific knowledge of landscape restoration, native plant communities and local ecosystems to transform vacant lots, brown fields and suburban sprawl into creatively designed parks, campuses, gardens and neighborhoods.

Furthering that mission is a strong bond between Temple University and the International Society for Ecological Restoration (SER). The ties between the University and SER include students, faculty and staff — from a very active SER student chapter on campus to members on the Mid-Atlantic and International SER Boards of Directors to a Master of Landscape Architecture Instructor, John Munro, who is a charter member of the SER.

On Friday, March 21, the Department of Landscape Architecture and the SER Mid-Atlantic Chapter will welcome ecological restoration experts, professionals and students for the 9th Annual Society of Ecological Restoration Mid-Atlantic Chapter Conference, part of a three-day event that will be held at the Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve, the Ambler Campus Learning Center and conclude with a day of field trips throughout the region.

According to Michael Leff, President of the SER Mid-Atlantic Chapter, SER International has 2,500 members globally. More than 200 attendees are expected to attend the three-day conference.

“This is our ninth annual regional conference and each one just seems to get better than the last,” Leff said. “We attract a great bunch of kindred spirits from a wide range of disciplines related to ecological restoration. In addition to learning about current thinking and the latest advances in the field, everyone comes together for a good time and plenty of professional networking.”

The conference will kick off on Thursday, March 20, at the Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve in New Hope with an SER Mid-Atlantic Conference Workshop from 8:45 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The hands-on workshop will focus on “Plant Stewardship Index (PSI) and Floristic Quality Assessment (FQA): Tools to Evaluate the Ecological Integrity of Native Plant Communities.”

According to the Society for Ecological Restoration, FQA is a method “used to measure the ecological integrity of a plant community.” The PSI is an FQA tool specifically developed for plants within regions of New Jersey and the Pennsylvania Piedmont. FQAs and the PSI are currently receiving attention from Federal and State regulatory agencies “as appropriate methods to evaluate conservation value.” Bowman’s Hill is a leader in PSI development and training.

On March 21, Pauline Hurley-Kurtz, Chair of Temple’s Department of Landscape Architecture and Horticulture; Dr. Mary Myers, Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture; and John Munro will provide opening remarks for the program in the Ambler Campus Learning Center — speakers and breakout sessions will continue throughout the day from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.

According to Hurley-Kurtz, Ambler Campus faculty and students — in particular members of the campus SER chapter — have been substantially involved in bringing the conference to Temple Ambler.

“Sue Ann Alleger, a graduate of the MLArch program in 2012, and Carol Maxwell, a current MLArch student, have both very involved in the conference organization and various committees,” she said. “Of course John Munro is participating and encouraging students to submit posters. Bill Young, a new adjunct faculty member in the MLArch program, will be a plenary speaker at the conference.”

Young, a Project Manager and Wetland Specialist at Young Environmental, LLC, and Doug Janiec, Senior Project Scientist at Cardno Entrix, will speak about “Hybrid Living Shorelines: A Systematic Approach to Maximized Coastal Resiliency and Ecology.”

Adjunct faculty member, Kevin Selger, who teaches engineering courses in Temple’s Landscape Architecture program, will also be presenting on the topic of “Community, Water, and Landscape Improvement: Green Infrastructure Applications in Philadelphia.”

“I’m going to focus on Kensington CAPA High School and Panati Park, both of which incorporate sustainable design and green stormwater infrastructure (GSI) into their designs. In terms of the role for landscape architects in stormwater work, I believe it is, can be, and should be significant,” Selger said.  By training, landscape architects are a sort of ‘jack of all trades’ meaning we have background in many disciplines, which gives us the ability to coalesce multiple perspectives - landscape, engineering, aesthetics, water resources, ecology - into a single design concept that marries them together in a logical way.  While making something buildable and functional is critical, many of the features we design are visible to people, so bringing an aesthetic perspective into the plan is equally important. We need to balance the engineering and making it work aspect with sustainability and ecology, with design, aesthetics, and beauty.”

Additional topics include the potential role of wetland and conservation mitigation banks in ecological restoration; forest restoration outcomes; case studies of unique restoration projects; mined land restoration; effective soil restoration and more.

The conference concludes on Saturday, March 22, with three field trip options to four restoration projects in the Wissahickon Valley; community-based restorations in Montgomery County and the Pennypack Ecological Restoration Trust; or a tour of the 150-Acre Barkers Brook Wetlands and Riparian Zone Mitigation Project and Native Plant Nursery in Westhampton, New Jersey.

According to Maxwell, the conference, entitled “Ecological Restoration, how well does it work?” seeks to “address concerns of efficacy of restoration.”

“This is very important because there seems to be a lot of funding going to restoration right now and as practitioners we need to evaluate how well our projects are working for the long term,” she said. “SER’s mission is to promote ecological restoration as a means of sustaining the diversity of life on Earth and re-establishing an ecologically healthy relationship between nature and culture. Ecological restoration becomes a fundamental component of conservation and sustainable development programs throughout the world by virtue of its inherent capacity to provide people with the opportunity to not only repair ecological damage, but also improve the human condition.”

Maxwell said connections between Temple and SER run deep. Alleger and Young, she said, currently serve on the Board of Directors for the Mid-Atlantic region.

“Additionally I am the only student to be elected to sit on the Board of Directors of the International SER, a position that lasts two years where I represent the interests of all of the students studying restoration. I travel to different conferences spreading the word about Temple and our program,” she said. “This position is really about strengthening the network of SER students all over the world. All of the students I meet are sincere, hardworking and dedicated to the betterment of the natural world. The students really serve to inspire each other in the organization.”

Maxwell is also a satellite member of the Mid-Atlantic Board, working closely with the board’s student representative.

“Teresa Pereira and Taylor Keagan, MLArch students and members of the Temple SER Student Association, won an international restoration video contest held at  SER's Mid-Atlantic Conference in October. Our SER Temple student group is also planning to start our own nursery; will be conducting a planting project on campus; and has completed numerous community outreach projects,” she said. “I hope that the conference attendees become as inspired as I was when I left my first conference. I hope for those who are looking to help solve the current environmental crisis, they find the inspiration, community and knowledge to continue in their efforts.”

CEU Credits are available for all parts of the conference — see the conference website for additional information.

For additional information, contact the Department of Landscape Architecture and Horticulture at 267-468-8181 or visit the SER Mid-Atlantic Chapter Website. Register for the conference online.