SIUE now has protected nature preserve

SIUE can now claim to have one of the largest campus nature preserves in the U.S., according to several SIUE faculty members.

Kurt Schulz, professor of biological sciences, is excited about the nature preserve, as are his fellow faculty members.

“This is entirely a winning proposition for the university. There are very few campuses that have anything like this,” said Schulz. “The existence of a preserve of this size is a rarity. Some very large state and private universities, renown for their environmental programs, do not have anything this large.”

Jenn Rehg, assistant professor of anthropology, on sabbatical and responding by email from a field station in Peru, chaired the roundtable discussion that spawned the nature preserve.

“The preserve is 380 acres, and includes an area of high quality, old growth bluff forest (commonly called Sweet William Woods) and an area of restored Prairie (Whiteside Prairie). It also includes a Western Habitat Corridor, which ‘connects’ with Bohm Woods, an IDNR preserve just across New Poag Road from campus,” said Rehg.

A map of SIUE and the Nature Preserve Proposal. The demarcation lines of the preserve have yet to be surveyed.

Rehg stated the principal purpose is to protect natural habitats on campus so that students, faculty, and staff can use them for teaching and research activities. Rehg also said the preserve is truly a collaborative effort.

“We were lucky to have faculty from humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences participating because it contributed different perspectives on human uses of natural areas to our discussions,” said Rehg. “As roundtable coordinator, I was the contact person, but this initiative is truly a case of collaborative efforts in all respects.”

The preserve, which now has Board of Trustees approval, will be set aside for 50 years to facilitate long-term research projects and will most likely be extended into the future, according to Chancellor Vaughn Vandegrift’s Report to the University.

Schulz is filling in as the leader on the project for Rehg while she is on sabbatical. He listed some of the goals of the nature preserve aimed at limiting ongoing damage.

“Our foremost goal is to maintain the ecological integrity of the area. The preserve presently has an abundance of branch trails and entry points,” Schulz said. “We are likely going to ask that the number of branch trails be reduced to limit ongoing damage to natural values.”

Schulz stated this reduction is in hopes of fostering responsible usage of the preserve while at the same time allowing students, faculty and local residents to use the preserve to learn about the local ecosystems.

Rehg echoed this purpose in an email.

“For the preserve to serve its principal purpose, there needs to be protection of those natural habitats to an extent that the natural ecosystem functions are not upset (for example, no above-ground construction). There are currently projects and class activities occurring in these natural habitats, so the preserve area was already being used in this way,” Rehg stated.

Rick Essner, assistant professor of biological sciences, believes the natural beauty and wildlife is another reason for the necessity of the preserve.

“A strength is the aesthetic value of the preserve. Many students select SIUE over other institutions because of the beauty of its natural areas and its wildlife,” said Essner.  “Where else can you go in Illinois to see flocks of turkey or coveys of quail on your way to class?”

The faculty that participated in Fall 2009 through Fall 2010 include (in alphabetical order): Elaine Abusharbain, associate professor of biological sciences; Rick Essner, assistant professor of biological sciences; Connie Frey-Spurlock, assistant professor of sociology and criminal justice studies; Susan Hume, assistant professor of geography; Jennifer Miller, assistant professor of historical studies; Peter Minchin, associate professor of biological sciences; Chris Pearson, assistant professor of philosophy; Laura Perkins, emerita professor of speech communication; Kurt Schulz, professor of biological sciences; and Beth Walton, assistant professor of geography.

Rehg hopes the preserve is something that everyone from students in school to retiring professionals can look to with pride.

“We hope both the university and broader communities become invested in preserving these habitats. SIUE has a beautiful campus—and this is something everyone in the community can really be proud of and appreciate,” said Rehg.

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