Urban Ecology: Baltimore Site Visit Highlights Ecological Revitalization, Education Efforts

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The Ecological Society of America sponsored a field trip to the Baltimore Ecosystem Study (BES) Oct. 22. Participants included representatives from science and education organizations, federal agencies, and Congress.

The BES is funded by the National Science Foundation with support from the USDA Forest Service and the Environmental Protection Agency Its mission is to demonstrate how an urban area functions as a socio-ecological system. The overall focus of the trip, as one speaker put it, was to introduce the concept of "Baltimore as a city within a park."

The trip began at the Gwynn Falls stream within Carroll Park. Local officials and scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) told participants about watershed research and "stream-gaging." Hydrologist Ed Doheny demonstrated how stream-gaging is used to measure stream-flow discharge and how identifying long-term trends can inform land-use and other management decisions.

Beth Strommen, with the Baltimore City Department of Planning's Office of Sustainability, discussed how her office was working in collaboration with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Housing and Urban Development on watershed sustainability issues, making the most of their tight budget and the need for a greater federal focus on storm water management. She also discussed her work with public works officials, and other city departments to restore the water quality and habitat to make the city a healthier place in which to live.

In addition to the stop at Gwynn Falls, site stops included USGS's Baltimore office where participants heard from University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC) administrators as well as BES scientists and researchers and then toured  the research labs at UMBC.

The final stop at Franklin Square Elementary School, featured representatives from the Parks and People Foundation who discussed their efforts to promote  a Baltimore Green Schools Network.  The program seeks to engage and educate grade-school children on environmental science as it relates to the local urban ecosystem. Five young students from "KidsGrow," an afterschool program geared towards 2nd to 5th graders, enthusiastically recounted their experiences learning about different ecosystems, studying microorganisms, animal populations, and taking field trips to state parks.

The KidsGrow program was the first of several environmental education programs students graduate to as they advance into their secondary education. Project B.L.U.E. (Baltimore Lessons in Urban Ecosystems) targets middle school students while the Building Resources & Nurturing Community Health and Environmental Stewardship (B.R.A.N.C.H.E.S.) program caters to high-school students and young adults ages 14-21.

(Source: ESA Policy News: October 29, 2010)