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Where Did the Grass Go? EPA’s Duluth Facility Plants Sustainable Landscape

Release Date: 08/21/2008
Contact Information: Corlis West, (218 529-5125) /

(Duluth, Minn., – Aug. 21, 2008) As summer draws to a close, the staff of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Mid-Continent Ecology Division can contentedly look out their windows and see their labor of love in full bloom. Starting in the fall of 2003, local EPA staff members developed a plan to replace approximately two acres of mowed lawn with a sustainable landscape of native grasses and flowering plants. Now five years later the meadow is firmly established and is providing habitat for local wildlife, better water efficiency for the laboratory, savings in lawn upkeep and an educational opportunity for visitors.

Many EPA staff volunteered to help transform the laboratory’s lawn, located near the Lester River on the east end of Duluth, into a meadow. First the sod was removed, then the soil was tilled, and finally thousands of seeds were sown and hundreds of small plants were added. As the meadow grew, the community of gardeners weeded out invasive and non-native plant species by hand instead of spraying with herbicides. Though the lawn occasionally looked a little unpolished during the past four years as it has transitioned to an upland meadow, the native plants and grasses have now become established and are thriving.

Lab Director Carl Richards said, “We hope that our upland meadow landscape and our other green efforts will serve as inspirations and sources of educational tools for the Duluth and Superior areas.”

Why go to all this trouble over a patch of grass? The most obvious answer is that a sustainable landscape is consistent with and supports many of the land use ideals that EPA promotes. A second reason stems from an Executive Order issued in 2000 mandating sustainable landscapes at federal facilities. In addition, the EPA staff realized that a meadow of native plants would save the laboratory a lot of money in lawn maintenance costs—about $3,000 a year, so far. Finally, native trees and shrubs require far less water than non-native species, and the new meadow has reduced the laboratory’s water use significantly.

But the meadow’s benefits extend beyond the monetary. The new landscape also provides a better habitat for wildlife. Foxes, deer, woodchucks, birds, butterflies and dragonflies have been seen moving in to take advantage of the new natural space. And the native flowers in the meadow are attracting bees and other beneficial insects.

In March of 2007, the U.S. EPA awarded the Duluth Landscaping Team the Agency’s first annual Green Thumb Award for its work implementing onsite sustainable landscaping. In addition to their sustainable landscape, the Duluth EPA laboratory also has created programs to reduce energy consumption and purchase renewable energy, and many of the laboratory’s waste products are recycled.

The EPA’s Mid-Continent Ecology Division provides scientific information for use in predicting and assessing the effects of pollutants and other stressors on our nation's freshwater resources. The Division is a leader in freshwater ecology and ecotoxicology; it is advancing scientifically sound approaches for monitoring trends in ecological condition within the Great Lakes and rivers, identifying impaired watersheds and diagnosing causes of degradation, and establishing risk-based assessments to support restoration and remediation decisions.
EPA relies on quality science as the basis for sound policy and decision-making. EPA’s laboratories and research centers, and EPA's research grantees, are building the scientific foundation needed to support the Agency’s mission to safeguard human health and the environment.

For more information about EPA’s Mid-Continent Ecology Division:
Before and after images of the landscaping available.
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