Overall Rating Gold
Overall Score 68.39
Liaison Brian Liechti
Submission Date March 4, 2020

STARS v2.2

Warren Wilson College
OP-9: Landscape Management

Status Score Responsible Party
Complete 0.53 / 2.00 Margo Flood
Sustainability Project Coordinator
Finance and Administration
"---" indicates that no data was submitted for this field

Total campus area:
1,050 Acres

Figures required to calculate the total area of managed grounds:
Area (double-counting is not allowed)
Area managed organically, without the use of inorganic fertilizers and chemical pesticides, fungicides and herbicides 133.50 Acres
Area managed in accordance with an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program that uses selected chemicals only when needed 275 Acres
Area managed using conventional, chemical-based landscape management practices 608.50 Acres
Total area of managed grounds 1,017 Acres

A brief description of any land excluded from the area of managed grounds:

Campus managed grounds are 1017 acres of the total 1050 acre campus. The remaining acres are building footprints and roads. All campus lands besides those are managed.Even land that does not have an official IPM program, or is organically managed, is managed with these principles foremost in decisions. For Warren Wilson, declaring the 608.5 acres above as being managed with a conventional, chemical-based approach is inaccurate. For this 608.5 acres, though we do not have an official IPM, we adhere to Pattern Language principles from that document that direct us to IPM practices.

Percentage of grounds managed organically:

A brief description of the organic landscape management program:

Warren Wilson's managed lands include 100 acres of Landscaping, 300 acres of Farm, 600 acres of Forest and 11 acres of Garden. Warren Wilson’s Garden and Forest each manage lands organically.

College Garden: For the 11 acres of College Garden, we follow USDA Organic practices but are not certified. We cover crop aggressively; use as little off-farm, organic fertilizer as possible in a calculated and precise manner; use no herbicides; and use minimal, organic pesticides that are targeted to specific pests and crops.

College Forest: 123 acres of Forest are managed without the use of inorganic fertilizers and chemical pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides.

Percentage of grounds managed in accordance with an IPM program:

A copy of the IPM plan or program:
A brief description of the IPM program:

Among the College’s managed lands, only the 300-acre College Farm has an official IPM program. The Farm manages pests using crop rotation, poultry, and by maintaining soil health through cover cropping. The spraying of organic management acceptable insecticides (such as insecticidal soap) is done only as a last resort in case of an outbreak. This plan is attached.

Though Landscaping (core campus lands)has no formal IPM plan, they manage their 100 acres as follows:
Core campus is managed using minimal chemical inputs. We primarily use organic fertilizers on campus, and manual or mechanical methods for weed control. Chemical herbicide use is primarily restricted to cut-stem application which minimizes chemical usage, non-target exposure, and soil contamination. Foliar application of herbicide is primarily restricted to controlling isolated patches of poison ivy, kudzu, or other invasive plants, and we are careful about timing of spray to minimize exposure of pollinating insects. Annual use of chemical herbicides is less than 1 gallon of active ingredient per 100 acres. We have also used biological controls in the form of goats to control invasive vegetation in difficult terrain and have utilized organic weed killers like horticultural vinegar to suppress weeds organically. We employ "green mulch" or native groundcovers to suppress weeds where possible, and also utilize fire for controlling woody plants in more natural areas of campus. The only use of chemical insecticide in the landscape is targeting invasive insects in our native tree species (hemlock woolly adelgid and emerald ash borer) and chemicals are applied in a targeted manner through stem injection or soil injection at the base of each tree. These chemical applications occur every 3-7 years, and we have released predatory beetles in hopes of achieving future biological control of hemlock woolly adelgid. We mostly use organic sprays (neem oil, insecticidal soap, Bt, etc.) cultural controls to manage other insect pests in landscape. The one exception is occasional insecticide for grub control on the soccer fields.

A brief description of the institution's approach to plant stewardship:

Forest: The Forest is managed with forest restoration and protection as our first and foremost objective. Our silvicultural practices generally mimic natural disturbance regimes appropriate for the region. There are several tree, shrub, and herb species that are managed according to specific conservation strategies (American chestnut, eastern hemlock, American ginseng, goldenseal, etc.) We use regeneration forestry methods and silviculture plant management to sustainably manage our forest inventory.

Garden: At the Warren Wilson College Garden, we manage 6 acres of land in production, 11 acres in all, to produce nutritious food for the Warren Wilson College community. We follow USDA Organic practices but are not certified. We cover crop aggressively; use as little off-farm, organic fertility as possible in a calculated and precise manner; use no herbicides; and use minimal, organic pesticides that are targeted to specific pests and crops. While the Garden’s main focus is on vegetables and some fruits, we also have a Horse Crew that manages two draft horses for the majority of our garden preparations; a Bee Crew that manages the college apiary, which is used as a teaching tool, for pollination of our crops and to harvest hive products when the bees have excess for the taking; and the Herb Crew which grows and wildcrafts over 50 species of medicinal herbs to then dry and process into herbal remedies for the community.

The Farm:
The Farm currently manages 300 acres of the College’s property. The farm is actively cropping about 275 acres, meaning that we are producing food on 275 acres. The balance is in riparian buffers, a CRP plot, and a wildlife pond area. Corn, wheat, barley and oats are grown in rich bottomland soils in rotation with an alfafa-based hay mix. No pesticides or herbicides are used in the farm’s crop production. The Warren Wilson College Farm is a working farm. With 300 acres divided among 25 fields in the Swannanoa Valley, we are a diversified “mixed crop and livestock” farm, with beef cattle, hogs, sheep, and poultry making up the majority of the livestock. We strive to practice “sustainable agriculture” – systems that work with nature, rather against it. Our plant stewardship is intimately connected to our carbon management. We try to keep our carbon on the farm. We are one of the only, if not the only farm in Western North Carolina that is raising 85% of the feed needed to feed our hogs and chickens, while also grazing beef cattle and sheep, and harvesting stored feed for those animals. Diversified crop and livestock operations are rare, and operations at this scale are even more rare. If carbon is removed from the ground at Warren Wilson, in the form of hay or grain, it is fed to animals living on this land. Their waste is deposited directly back onto the land. Carbon leaves the Farm as meat, exhaust, and respiration. Many Farms are exporting their carbon by growing products like corn or hay, and then selling them. In this way, they are selling their carbon. Animals are the key in closing that loop.

We graze our ruminants using managed grazing, which goes by many names (Management Intensive Grazing MIG, Adaptively Managed Paddock grazing AMP, holistic grazing, rotational grazing). We are constantly assessing and re-assessing the amount of grass in a pasture, the needs of the animals grazing, and the weather. In this way, we never graze the Farm the same way twice. We move the animals at least once per day to a new paddock using temporary electric fence. They are not allowed access to the ground they grazed the day before for more than 40 days. Depending on the season, this is more than enough time for the plants to recover. At first, this was simply seen as better for the animals and better for the environment. Land that is not continuously grazed has time to regrow plant cover. The plants hold on to the soil, build more root networks, host more soil microbes, shade the ground and increase water holding capacity. The animals are not exposed to their feces as much, which is where many of their parasites begin their life cycles. They are also always given fresh feed that is high quality.

While these reasons were more than enough, the new lens on the scene is called “regenerative agriculture.” In managed grazing, the focus is on the carbon sequestration potential of grassfed beef. When we move animals constantly, we allow the grass to grow high and strong, both above and below ground. This growth represents an enormous amount of carbon captured. We are adding carbon to the soil, and therefore rebuilding soil that has been ravaged by years of continuous commodity cropping. In an environment like ours, where we can grow a full crop of grass and graze it multiple times, we may be sending a large amount of carbon back into the earth multiple times per year. In a continuous grazing context, the grass is never allowed to grow back due to constant animal pressure, and that carbon evades us. Additionally, pasture-based systems with minimally disturbed soil columns may be more hospitable to soil microbes, including methanotrophic bacteria. New evidence points toward methanotrophic bacteria in pastured systems captured a large quantity of methane produced by cattle ruminating.

At Warren Wilson College, we emphasize the use of native plants in our landscape and strive to maintain and increase plant diversity on campus, being mindful of the ecological implications of plant selection. New plant installations are often arranged to mimic the structure and composition of natural plant communities and many areas within campus are managed as natural areas to benefit pollinators and other wildlife. We have been recognized as a Tree Campus USA, Native Plant Sanctuary, Certified Wildlife Habitat, and Monarch Waystation for our commitment to tree preservation, promotion of native plants and plants that benefit pollinators and other wildlife. We also strive to provide functionality for the campus' human population, selecting a large proportion of edible, medicinal, and useful plants such as those used by fiber arts crew for material use.

Students are instrumental in selecting, installing and caring for new plants, and are responsible for the ongoing care of existing gardens, landscape beds and trees. The crew harvests seeds in the fall that we propagate in the winter to plant in the spring or fall.The Tree Crew scouts for trees that need pruning or may have a disease, over time developing an eye for tree health. This creates a culture of nurturing and sense of ownership for the campus landscape. When crew members graduate we plant a tree, together, in their honor, for future crew members to care for.

Native plants are used extensively and we strive to eliminate areas of turf that are not utilized and plant them into meadows of native grasses and wildflowers. The current Landscaping management plan calls for 100% native plantings. To date, the 60 acre core campus has reduced turf grass to 8 acres, 5 of which are athletic fields. We currently have over 6 acres of native grass and wildflower nurseries to supply plantings for campus and, when we have excess, the community at large. An example is our Goat Hill Project— restoring for aesthetic and ecological benefit. We are using goats and fire to control a multi-tiered approach over time; and, replanting banks from the campus greenhouse. With a USFS grant, we developed a hoophouse where we grow native grasses.

A brief description of the institution's approach to hydrology and water use:

Warren Wilson’s Forest, Garden, Farm and Landscaping all practice water conservation. In addition, a major project began at Warren Wilson College in 2019 to restore campus streams back to their original meanders and natural courses. The project involves restoring 11,455 linear feet of the college’s streams to their natural meanders, removing invasive species, enhancing streams and planting about 25,000 trees including edible products such as pawpaw and persimmon. The project will help improve water quality in the Swannanoa River, reduce sediment load, diversify and improve wildlife habitat, improve the farm infrastructure and increase the aesthetics of the campus. “The largest impact of the project is the establishment of planted riparian buffers around the restored streams,” said Worth Creech, vice president-Southeast of Restoration Systems. Restoration Systems is a third-party company that is doing the work. “These vegetated areas provide a lasting water quality benefit immediately for the Swannanoa and ultimately the French Broad River. Reduced nutrient and sediment loads into these receiving waters means a healthier ecosystem all around.”

Forest: Appropriate riparian buffers are designated and protected on the College Forest. All stream crossings have appropriate structures. Natural disturbances such as flooding are allowed in riparian areas. In some cases, species enrichment has occurred in riparian areas.

Garden: The majority of our water usage is from a well at the garden core and surface water from the Swannanoa River in our outer fields. We use municipal water in our propagation greenhouse.

Farm: Land that is not continuously grazed has time to regrow plant cover. The plants hold on to the soil, build more root networks, host more soil microbes, shade the ground and increase water holding capacity. Warren Wilson College has the Swannanoa River running through the farm. A riparian buffer zone of well-established trees is maintained all along the river, and cows are not allowed to enter the river. We water all our hogs from a well using permanent watering infrastructure. This is very efficient with little waste. All our cattle and sheep are watered off of city water with some permanent infrastructure and a lot of temporary mobile tank usage. In two specific pastures without any water infrastructure we pump water from the river to water the cattle.

Landscaping: There is one irrigation system, which was recently installed on an athletic field, and no others on the 100 acres of core campus. Only newly established trees, shrubs and garden beds are watered. We attempt to slow down and retain as much stormwater as possible on campus. A few constructed wetland areas on campus help to slow down stormwater flow and allow percolation into the soil, trapping sediment and pollutants from roadways before the water reaches the Swannanoa River. We rarely water turf in the main part of campus, except when establishing new grass seed during hot, dry conditions. We select plants that are well adapted to the soil moisture of a site and only water during the first year or two when the plants are getting established. Watering plants occurs in the early morning to minimize evaporation.

A brief description of the institution's approach to landscape materials management and waste minimization:

Warren Wilson does not pick up grass clippings as they contribute up to a third of required nutrients and are left where they lay. Weeds are composted on campus. Any trimmings that are woody are chipped if they are large enough or burned if they are too small to be chipped. Nothing is taken off site, all hardwood and softwood waste is sawed into lumber for buildings, or rendered into firewood or chips.

A brief description of the institution's approach to energy-efficient landscape design:

We strive to choose native plants well-suited to the site when designing new plantings. A low maintenance landscape ensures that we won't have to spend time watering, fertilizing, or treating for pests. We always consider the right plant for the right place to reduce maintenance, but also to avoid constant pruning to maintain visibility and clearance for pedestrians, vehicles, and buildings. We consider factors such as heating and cooling of buildings and other parts of the built environment when planting trees by selecting species that will provide shade for buildings, roads, or parking lots and reduce wind in exposed areas, but still allow for solar gain in the winter months.

We have converted many of our turf areas to other functions in an effort to reduce the amount of mowing that needs to be done and to improve the structure, composition and functionality of the plants in that site. For example, we have converted steep, turf banks to native grass and wildflower meadows, which improves wildlife habitat and plant diversity, but also reduces our emissions from mowing and weedeating. Adding wide mulch rings around our trees serves to reduce the amount of turf that is mowed, but also helps protect the trees from mechanical damage and soil compaction while reducing competition with tree roots, regulating soil temperature and adding organic material to the soil.

A brief description of other sustainable landscape management practices employed by the institution:

We grow many of our own native grasses and wildflowers from seeds on campus to utilize local genetics in our plantings and to reduce the carbon impacts of travel and transporting plant material. We leave seed heads and plant stems in place over winter as much as possible, to preserve bird food and habitat for insect larvae. We collect leaves to compost and use as a soil amendment. We have utilized propane-fueled mowers for several years, which are cleaner burning and more efficient than gasoline-powered mowers. We have begun using battery powered equipment like chainsaws, weedeaters and blowers to reduce our 2-cycle fuel emissions (and reduce noise pollution) on campus. Our long-term strategy is to incorporate a solar charging station for these batteries to further reduce carbon emissions from electric power usage.

Website URL where information about the institution’s sustainable landscape management program is available:
Additional documentation to support the submission:

All data for this report was gathered from the College land managers and the Dean of Land Resources.To learn more about our land management practices visit https://www.warren-wilson.edu/about/land-innovation/.

The information presented here is self-reported. While AASHE staff review portions of all STARS reports and institutions are welcome to seek additional forms of review, the data in STARS reports are not verified by AASHE. If you believe any of this information is erroneous or inconsistent with credit criteria, please review the process for inquiring about the information reported by an institution and complete the Data Inquiry Form.