Nicodemus Wilderness Project
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NWP Global Registry of Apprentice Ecologists - Texas Christian University, Fort Worth, Texas, USA

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Texas Christian University, Fort Worth, Texas, USA
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Registered: December 2021
City/Town/Province: Fort Worth
Posts: 1
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“If you build it, they will come.”
That's what the campus landscaping manager said to me as we watched bees dance among the flowers in our new garden. The sunny 550-foot plot will serve as a wildlife refuge, providing food and shelter for birds, bees, butterflies, and other native wildlife at the heart of the university.
This year, I proposed, designed, and planted TCU’s first-ever native pollinator garden as part of my efforts to make a difference for wildlife and inspire a sustainability movement on my campus.
From a young age, I knew I wanted to work with animals. I’ve always been drawn to mammals, like the world’s wiry cats, lumbering bears, and oddball pangolins. However, it wasn’t until I began volunteering with the Dallas Zoo in high school that I learned just how important - and imperiled - many animal pollinators are.
Thousands of animals, from lizards and lemurs to bees and bats, can pollinate flowers, but the most common pollinators are bees, butterflies, and birds. Globally, scientists estimate pollinators produce about a third of the food we eat, like blueberries, cherries, and even chocolate. These animals also help preserve local biodiversity by pollinating native plants that many other wild species need to survive.
However, the U.N. recently found bee and butterfly populations have crashed because of habitat loss and pesticide use - and that without them, local ecosystems and economies could collapse.
This is where nature-minded people come in. By landscaping our homes, schools, and businesses with native plants, we can create safe havens for pollinators to rest and refuel so they can fulfill their ecosystem services. Since we learned about pollinator plants, my mother and I have added pots full of bee- and butterfly-friendly natives to our own backyard. The plants not only bring in pollinators by the fistful, but they also require less water and can withstand the Texas heat.
Since I first came to TCU, I wanted to bring some of the colorful native flowers I knew from home to the school’s gardens so we could protect our campus biodiversity.
However, my university has not historically prioritized sustainability. Single-use plastic filled the shelves of campus stores; landscapers planted exotic grasses and eschewed composting. Many students did not recycle or even know what sustainability meant.
Then I discovered the Sustainability Committee, a group of faculty, staff, and students that propose sustainability measures at TCU and shout out initiatives where students can get involved.
I knew the garden would be a hard pill to swallow since our university prides itself on its manicured appearance, but if anyone would get behind my idea, the committee members would. Starting in January, I began seeking support. I brought the garden up at committee meetings and in conversations with friends, and consulted with a wildlife professor on whether the garden would be possible at TCU and how to frame it so Facilities - the grounds and maintenance staff - would accept it.
Overwhelmingly, professors, staff, and students on the committee and across campus were enthralled with the idea. One professor planned to take her students to the garden for outdoor lessons; another offered the talents of his art studio class to create a water feature for wildlife. People from all departments and knowledge levels suggested favorite plants or places where we could acquire seeds and shared the idea with their friends.
With the support of the Sustainability Committee, I continued pitching the idea to a Facilities spokesman until the spring, when he put me in touch with someone who could help.
From there, the project started to move more quickly: I helped choose a plot, measured it, drew it up, visited it at different times of day to determine if it was full or part sun, and researched North Texas pollinator plants. Some of the names were familiar to me from my experience with the zoo and buying plants for my home, but to make sure the garden would fit TCU’s aesthetic standards, I made sure to find plants with different colors, heights, and bloom times. (I also checked for characteristics that could rule out certain plants: the white gaura looked lovely, but smelled like cat urine!)
Along the way, I heard of Carol Clark, a Native Plant Society member who was a leader in my community on gardening for wildlife. I reached out to her for help with choosing the best plants, and she was instrumental in supporting the garden during the final stages of the project and ensuring the garden would meet the requirements for a Monarch Waystation.
Each fall, monarch butterflies migrate 3,000 miles through Texas to the dense oyamel fir forests of Central Mexico where they overwinter. However, in the past twenty years, monarch populations have plummeted 90 percent because of pesticide use, habitat loss, and the disappearance of milkweed, the only plant where monarchs can lay their eggs.
Carol and I worked together to make sure the garden was eligible for the Waystation designation, which requires that we provide fall-blooming nectar plants so the butterflies can refuel on the long journey south and milkweed plants where they can lay their eggs in the spring.
This is important not only because monarchs are endangered, but because for many people in my area, it is the only butterfly they can name. The monarch serves as an ambassador species for other pollinating insects - If members of the TCU community see that the garden benefits monarchs, they will be more likely to support it and in turn help thousands of other wonderful species.
With layouts prepped, I felt prepared to plant the garden by the end of the summer and took my plans to the sustainability chair at the beginning of the fall semester. However, after new hires in Facilities, the project had to be reapproved and the new leadership worried the garden would look unkempt and get complaints.
The sustainability committee chair and I worked with the new landscaping manager to find compromises that would work for everyone. We agreed to add in temporary nonnatives that would help the garden blend into the TCU aesthetic until the garden flowers flourished, and we also limited our flower selection to only purple, blue, and white blooms to match the school colors (with the four-nerve daisies as a pop of cheery yellow).
Finally, all our T’s were crossed and I’s were dotted, and this November, we planted the flowers - at last. Mealy blue sage and fragrant white mistflower, liatris and buddhlea filled the garden plot before my eyes. It was so satisfying to plant them knowing some will remain long after I graduate. No pesticides will ever be used, and the garden is specifically reserved for natives, so I have hope that even as the garden evolves, it will remain a safe space for pollinators and contribute to their conservation.
Ever since its installation, I like to sit on the bench a few feet away and watch the garden at work: The verdant colors and smells of the pollinators’ favorite flowers draw in insects of all species and sizes. I’ve even spied a lizard or two!
If the pollinator community has endorsed the garden, so have the people at TCU. Already, we’ve also received a great deal of positive feedback on the project. Student and faculty volunteers came bright-eyed and bushy-tailed to help us on planting day, and many voiced support and commented on how lovely the garden looked. We will add more native plants after the last freeze, but it’s an encouraging start.
The landscaping manager even said he has thought of more locations on campus where we could add native plants - so the garden has set an important precedent that could leave a legacy much larger than a single plot.
Adding this garden also means that a bee needing to travel between areas can use our plot as a stepping stone, helping the entire Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex come into bloom.
That’s what I love about conservation: Everyone can make a difference on whatever scale they are able to contribute. We don’t have to take on the overwhelming task of restoring butterfly habitat across the state; if each of us start in our own backyards, we can save wildlife, and that’s something worth celebrating.
On a personal level, planting the garden has been a passion project; its impact feels tangible and significant to my values and future. After I graduate, I plan to work in wildlife conservation, helping people and wildlife coexist by protecting habitat for endangered species and educating people on how to live alongside wild animals. This project provided a great opportunity for me to start fulfilling my dream: My hope is the garden will help people understand more about the small wonders present in nature all around us and bring sustainability to the forefront of people’s minds, like working at the zoo did for me. We have not only improved sustainability on campus, but in TCU’s culture and even the metroplex - and I believe that legacy is here to stay.
While I am working to improve sustainability on TCU’s campus, I am also a low-income student attending college on a partial scholarship. Please consider me for the Apprentice Ecologist Project Scholarship and I will put your generosity to good use by continuing to make a difference for wild and human communities.
Date: December 30, 2021 Views: 2971 File size: 27.7kb, 1928.0kb : 3024 x 4032
Hours Volunteered: 100
Volunteers: 10
Authors Age & Age Range of Volunteers: 20 & 19-60
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