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Storm Cleanup Sparks Ongoing Habitat Restoration

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by Scott Somohano

"When we’re students walking around campus, we just see green," said physical therapy major Cindy Roundtree. "This project helps us get our nose to the ground. It’s like when you learn a new word — you start to see it everywhere."

What began as a biology 213 independent project to clean up last winter’s storm windfall on the Sylvania Campus has turned into an ongoing habitat restoration project. Twenty students are involved, along with five faculty members, the PCC grounds crew, a senior volunteer and interest from the neighborhood.

Torri Fugate, a student in instructor April Ann Fong’s biology class, chose to organize an Earth Day event for one of her independent projects. Fugate spoke to environmental health and safety manager Chris Ells and grounds supervisor John Gwaltney-Beaumont.

They settled on a cleanup of windstorm debris in the forested area below the back parking lot on the west side of campus.

"The cleanup went well, but it became clear that more needed to be done than a one-morning cleanup!" said Fong.

Gwaltney-Beaumont had informed Fong and the students of intended logging in the area for safety and other purposes. "Torri knew I use the forested areas for ecology laboratories," Fong explained, "so she asked John if she could volunteer with the grounds department to write an assessment plan of the natural areas surrounding PCC Sylvania."

"I happened to be in the right place at the right time," said Fugate, of her involvement.

Gwaltney-Beaumont was also interested in launching a program himself — TQM, or total quality management — and the two ideas fit nicely. "Instead of taking care of the grounds ourselves, we actually try to incorporate that with the education programs. It means we take the people’s suggestions on board and work with them. It’s a more cooperative approach."

And it aims to be a more cost-effective one as well. There are nine grounds crew members to cover the estimated 250 acres of landscaped area at the three PCC campuses — Sylvania, Rock Creek and Cascade.

"One of the things I’m finding is that by working with different departments, we can share resources and help reduce the need for outside contractors," Gwaltney-Beaumont said, noting those contractors are now alerted to the new and sensitive undertakings in the wooded area.

The habitat restoration project grew from there. Fugate recruited fellow biology student Rebecca Shreve to help video each ‘natural area’ and another student Dylan Hogan to begin a wildflower collection.

"The plant collection will give people an idea what kind of plants and flowers and stuff are out here. It gives them something to start from," said Hogan.

The group also was put in touch, via the PCC Senior Studies Institute, with senior volunteer Irv Bloom, a Tigard resident and retired graphic artist with the Washington Department of Transportation.

"I just believe in restoring the environment to its natural state, especially in urban areas," said Bloom, who has helped build brush piles, which prevent rapid runoff from storms, as well as provide shelter for the critters that call the wooded areas home — including salamanders, chipmunks, raccoons, and lots of birds.

Project goals are that it will be ongoing and expand to include even more students and faculty from other departments. "We would like to involve the engineering students for surveys and to create GIS (geographic information system) maps of our sites," said Fong. "We would like to grid the areas so that my classes and others can monitor trees and other species over the years.

"We would also like to put up signs, bird houses, bat houses, and other helpful things in these areas where appropriate. Some neighbors at a meeting this summer expressed interest in our project, so hopefully more and more people will become involved."

"We envision different classes — art classes or writing classes — that are interested in going into the woods and writing or drawing," Gwaltney-Beaumont added.

"So far the consensus is the hard work is worth it. The main thing is just restoration and working in teams with people of similar interests," he added.

Fugate, who has at least one more quarter of dirty hands ahead at PCC, agreed. "I would encourage students to participate," she said. "It’s hands-on work I don’t think I could get in the classroom."

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