Here is how I responded to the two rather narrowly focused questions posed by the Athletic Practice Field Siting Evaluation Committee:
1. Do the woods have special significance for campus or local community life?
Yes- as of today, 1,909 Blacksburg residents have signed the on-line petition opposing the siting of the athletic practice facility in stadium woods.
Yes- both the University and the Town of Blacksburg have worked hard to be known as a “cool city” and a campus that supports sustainability. Siting the practice facility on an old-growth forest makes a mockery of these efforts. It will produce 5,669 metric tons CO2, according to one estimate, and will send 31,255 cu. ft. of storm water into the already impaired Stroubles Creek.
Yes- both the campus and town have worked hard to obtain tree campus and tree city status from the National Arbor Day Foundation. Once again, siting the practice facility makes a mockery of this process.
Yes- stadium woods could be one of the “crown jewels” of campus life, as significant as the duckpond and drill field. This is quite likely one of the best examples of an old-growth white oak forest in the eastern US, with trees in excess of 300 years old, and it is in the central core of our campus. How fortunate can we be? Is there a campus anywhere with this great an asset?
2. To what extent are the woods currently being used by the local and campus community?
Many classes across campus (forestry, wildlife, biology, Army ROTC) use the woods for research/instruction/outreach activities. The CNRE already has to charge students for transportation to field activities away from campus, in addition to tuition. Losing the woods as an outdoor classroom exacerbates the situation.
Natural features such as stadium woods contribute to public safety by reducing crime, violence, and aggression. Our increasingly urban campus needs stadium woods as a place where people can go to decompress, relieve stress, to grieve, and otherwise find a calming environment. See the research at: http://lhhl.illinois.edu/
Interestingly, many football fans have commented on the i-petition that the woods in fall color are essential to their Hokie experience. Will people want to come to Blacksburg if there is no more natural beauty left?
Over 80 species of birds, 42 species of wildflowers, 24 species of trees, mammals, and many more creatures live in the woods. They, too, are part of our community. They need the woods in order to live. To them, loss of habitat means loss of life.