From plant life to wildlife, caring for campus grounds is a collaborative effort

Winter Storm Uri impacted much of campus life, landscaping not excluded. The unprecedented extreme weather resulted in dead or damaged plant life across campus.

When Landscape Services discovered the plants in front of the Flawn Academic Center (FAC) needed to be removed and replaced, they carefully considered how to do this using existing resources without disturbing the surrounding habitat.

Jim Carse, Landscape Services manager, explained that each project to restore the damaged plant life has been unique and case-by-case. The process is a collaborative effort between Landscape Services installation and maintenance teams, campus project design teams and campus construction inspectors.

For the FAC project, they were able to use six large whales tongue agave that were no longer being used in a different part of campus. These specific plants retail in the $400–500 range. They also planted yucca and bi-color irises to match others on the West Mall.

Yucca plants are native to dry and hot parts of the Americas, meaning they fit right into the Texas climate for the larger part of the year and will thrive on campus. Bi-color irises are known to be freeze hardy, meaning they should easily withstand inclement weather like the kind campus recently experienced.

“Some plants are meant to impress with color or shape, and others are meant to serve a certain utilitarian purpose, for example reducing erosion or supplying habitat or food for animals and insect pollinators,” Carse said. “We may even use a thorned plant to keep people out of an area or an evergreen vs. deciduous plant for various reasons.”

When making decisions about where to relocate or plant new vegetation, Landscape Services also does their due diligence to make sure their work doesn’t impact the animals that call campus home. As many of our university community members know, it is not uncommon to see different types of animals on campus. From cats to bats, they are not only cute to look at, they are also very much a part of the carefully curated and protected campus ecosystem managed by Landscape Services in coordination with Environmental Health and Safety’s Animal Make Safe program.

Recently, some campus community members showed some concern for Domino, a beloved campus cat who spends a lot of his time in the area around the FAC.

Carin Peterson, training and outreach coordinator with Animal Make Safe, explained that Landscape Services made it clear precautions are taken and want the campus community to rest assured that campus wildlife is not being overlooked.

“Moving forward, Environmental Health and Safety will continue our relationship with cat caretakers,” Peterson said.

Landscape Services, Environmental Health Safety and the Animal Make Safe program will always work together and consider wildlife and plant life when making decisions about and changes to campus grounds. 

Landscape Services is aware of the cats on campus and reaches out to the Animal Make Safe program prior to making changes to areas known to be inhabited by cats. The Animal Make Safe program then reaches out to the Campus Cat Coalition, a group of volunteers who serve as caretakes for cats on campus, to make them aware of any landscaping plans and to assure them the cats will be safe throughout the process.

“Animal Make Safe notifies Landscape Services of any significant wildlife or cat activity such as animals living, nesting or noticed to be frequenting certain areas.,” Peterson said. “Likewise, Landscape Services will notify Animal Make Safe of wildlife they are aware of or become aware of in areas where they are working. If Landscape Services needs to work in an area where one of the campus cats lives, Animal Make Safe can help communicate that information to the Campus Cat Coalition. It’s a collaborative effort.”

By working together, we can be better at managing issues like animal disease, overpopulation, feral cats or protected species while still ensuring the safety and wellbeing of workers.

At the time of writing this article, many organizations on and around campus have received new updates on Domino. Recently, Domino was taken to the vet and was diagnosed with an upper respiratory infection and other health issues. Because of his health and his age (13 years old), he is now retiring on a comfy couch with a foster and will soon be in a permanent retirement home. Thank you to everyone who has cared for Domino throughout the years. He is in good hands!

Feb. 22, 2022