Thank you, Frances Lamberts, for drawing attention to the changing landscape at East Tennessee State University. As a long-time admirer of ETSUís arboretum and conifer garden and as a backyard bee guardian, I share your concern for the direction of changes that favor weed- free lawns at the expense of more natural habitats including gardens, native plants and grasses.
What are the assumptions underlying an increase in lawn areas on campus? Is the lawn seen by the landscaping architect as more beautiful or more functional than native or cultivated green space? Will these areas be places for students to relax, for children to play and for people to gather? If so, is the use of chemicals to eliminate weeds advisable?
Common chemicals used to treat lawns have been linked to a shocking range of human health problems, as well as environmental concerns. A growing body of scientific research indicates that exposure to pesticides has adverse effects on neurological, respiratory, immune and endocrine systems, particularly in children.
Grassy areas are part of an ecosystem, along with a community of plants, microbes, insects, earthworms and other organisms. As native vegetation and nectar-producing plants are replaced by manicured lawns, pollinators like honey bees lose their habitat, their food and nesting sites with dire consequences for food growers and gardeners.
Has organic turf management been considered at ETSU? Evergreen State College and Seattle University manage grounds without the use of synthetic pesticides. Western Washington University has established eight pesticide-free zones on campus.
Three of the parks in Portland, Ore., are now pesticide-free. The city of Santa Barbara, Calif., prohibits pesticide spraying within 100 feet of playgrounds and 25 feet of picnic areas.
Would it be possible to consider ways to enhance our campus by weed control methods using nontoxic substances, hand-picking weeds or simply viewing the dandelion as a wonderful food source for beneficial insects, a salad ingredient for the salad bar and a tea for what ails us?