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Sustainable Landscaping & Land Use

Ecology and Sustainable Landscaping

ORNL is located within the 32,000 acre DOE Oak Ridge Reservation (ORR). ORR is home to major stands of forests, grassland, and aquatic habitats. The ORNL Nature Resource Management Team is tasked with the conservation efforts for the entire ORR, making ORNL uniquely suited for real-world, practical applications for natural resource management in natural and urban settings. The ORNL Landscaping Committee and Sustainable ORNL promote sustainable landscaping practices.

Ecological landscaping at ORNL uses sustainable practices to improve habitat, protect water quality, minimize erosion, and promote native wildlife. Cultivating local plant species highlights the laboratory's uniqueness strengthens its relationship with its natural surroundings, and demonstrates its dedication to conserving and showcasing the environment. Over the years, ORNL has greatly reduced mowed turf areas by incorporating native plant beds, planting fields of native grasses, and allowing the beauty of the surrounding ORR to provide a more natural backdrop to the campus. Minimizing turf reduces the need for frequent mowing and maintenance, and thus reduces fuel consumption, pollution, and emissions associated with mowing. Native landscaping is not only aesthetically appealing but is important to showcase the benefits of sustainable landscaping with indigenous species.

"Incorporating Natural Infrastructure Ecosystem Services into Federal Decision Making," is an executive memorandum issued to integrate the consideration of ecosystem services benefits into Federal decision making. Sustainable landscaping policy on the ORNL campus provides many of the ecosystem services listed in the memorandum including improved water quality, increased wildlife habitat, enhanced climate resilience, storm mitigation, pollutant buffering, and ecosystem resilience as well as aesthetic values, and recreation. Recent projects have included stream riparian buffer zone enhancement and increased native grassland areas on campus.

ORNL: Home to a New Arboretum, Wisdom is Stored in Trees

After completing an inventory of more than 1,200 campus trees, a portion of the campus was selected to sponsor an accredited arboretum. Designating an arboretum within the ORNL campus was primarily the results of a strategic vision among ORNL, the Tennessee Division of Forestry, and UT. Collaboration with numerous state agencies and UT departments/programs was essential for this unique partnership to support research efforts for the university, the state, and ORR. In 2019, the ORNL Arboretum was certified through the internationally recognized ArbNet Arboretum Accreditation Program, for the benefit of conservation, science, and the public. The new ORNL Arboretum, which is accessible to all badged employees and visitors, contains 52 different species of trees native to East Tennessee - including the Tennessee state tree, the tulip poplar, and the common hackberry. The new certification will showcase ORNL and DOE efforts within the ORR boundary to preserve native tree species and improve pollinator habitats. The arboretum website contains maps, information, benefit to wildlife and ecosystem services, and strategic partnerships that created this sustainable landscaping feature.

With 52 of 62 tree species on ORNL's campus featured within the arboretum, the arboretum is a diverse example of native trees found in the area. This allows the Landscaping Review Committee to promote sustainable practices by presenting employees and visitors a wide ranger of native tree species they might try planting in their own yards. Although urban trees in general provide environmental services such as reducing air pollution, preventing runoff, and sequestering carbon, native trees have added benefits. In addition to their natural beauty, native trees help provide food and suitable habitats for other native species, including important pollinators such as birds and insects. The native eastern redbud trees found in the arboretum flower in early spring and produce a vital food source for pollinating insects in the dormant period before other species bloom in early summer.