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Posts Tagged ‘prairie’

Heron-small

A Yellow-crowned Night Heron stalks the new wetland on the grounds of the Johnson Space Center.

Visiting the Johnson Space Center (JSC), you probably anticipate a vision of a high tech future in space.  But to address a more down-to-earth aspect of the space center’s operation, Chris LaChance and I were invited to NASA by Sandy Parker of the JSC Environmental Office to consult on transforming a landscape problem area from boggy lawn to JSC’s first created wetland.

The JSC landscape maintenance contractor, Prodyn EPES, needed a way to deal with the water that pooled in a low spot between a weather station building, parking lots, and a jogging trail. It tended to be too wet to mow, so something else had to be done—and done on a tight budget. At about 2200 square feet, it was too large to be economically practical as a rain garden, which can sometimes require considerable excavation, an underdrain, porous soils, and a selection of predominantly nursery-raised native plants. Chris thought the site had more potential as a created wetland, so she brought me along on the mission.

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endless prairie

A glimpse of saltmarsh prairie. Imagine the hamlet of Houston is somewhere just over the horizon.

Do you ever wonder what the land where you live looked like before you arrived? Playing around with the historical photos in Google Earth* can give you an idea what one might have seen, at least from the air, as far back as about 1940.

But what about 150 or more years ago, before the tangle of highways and sea of rooftops? If you live along the Texas Gulf Coast, can you picture the millions of acres of tall grass prairie? Coastal prairie, steeped with marshland and traced with shady bayous, was the predominate landscape in our area from the Pleistocene Era to a few decades ago.

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What is the connection between endangered habitat for ducks on the Katy and other prairies and walkable neighborhoods in Houston?  The connection is that walkable neighborhoods are much more compact than conventional, large-lot neighborhoods. A walkable neighborhood might use as little as 1/10  the space of a conventional neighborhood.  Developing as we have, Houston will consume an additional 1000 square miles of farmlands, prairies, and forests.  So the connection for Houston is 900 square miles!   For a little more detail on this, read this Houston Chronicle editorial on how the light rail could help save some of those square miles of habitat.

Photo Credits: Jim Charlier and Joe Fischer (http://www.pbase.com/joe_e_fischer/image/107684325)

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