During construction projects at Los Alamos National Laboratory, trees and shrubs are often removed. It’s the nature of the business of growth to support the mission, but that isn’t the end of the story.
Dave Teter, director of the Associate Laboratory Directorate for Infrastructure and Capital Projects, saw an opportunity to promote environmental stewardship with a short- and long-term tree removal mitigation plan that kicked off in April.
In the first phase of the plan, just in time for Earth Day, 11 trees and seven shrubs were sunk into the ground in Technical Area-03, which is the center of the Laboratory.
In the weeks ahead, 20 perennial pollinator plants will be added to the TA-03 areas.
And in the fall, 15 more trees and shrubs will be planted at other Lab locations.
“Trees and other plants contribute to a healthy and attractive Lab campus as well as benefiting the environment,” Teter said. “We wanted to replace some of the trees that were removed for construction and with the ongoing construction activities in the Pajarito Corridor, we will also develop an ongoing tree replacement plan.”
Native, drought-resistant trees and shrubs benefit habitat and pollinators
Planting trees and shrubs reduces storm water runoff and improves the land’s capacity to adapt to climate change. Program manager Lynne Knight, who is organizing the tree mitigation project, reached out to the Lab’s Forest Health program manager, Karla Sartor, to advise on native, drought-resistant trees and shrubs that benefit habitat and pollinators.
The trees and shrubs purchased by the Laboratory were two boxelders, one desert willow, one honey locust, four New Mexico olives and three golden currants. Priority selection was given to native tree and shrub species to follow the Lab’s Invasive Plant Species Management Plan. Additionally, the pollinator plant species selection aligns with recommendations from the Lab’s pollinator protection plan.
Seven piñon pines were also transplanted from an area being excavated as part of the construction at TA-63. Considering the need for assisted migration of plants and animals in response to climate change, this transplanting exercise will move lower elevation piñon pine to higher ground at TA-03.
The team of stakeholders brought together by Knight identified potential locations for the trees where they can be enjoyed by employees, allow visual enhancement to the landscape and provide shade. Care was taken to choose locations with existing stormwater catchment basins where these native cultivar trees will successfully establish and survive with limited long-term supplemental watering.
Mitigation hierarchy at heart of project
Utilities Infrastructure Facility Operations Director Monica Witt prioritized the team's resources for the tree planting to happen during Earth Week.
Phase two of this project is to develop a long-term integrated Tree Mitigation Plan that is coordinated with the various Lab organizations with interest in trees and their maintenance.
“This plan will have the mitigation hierarchy at its heart: first, try to avoid tree and habitat destruction and preserve old trees where possible, since those are very difficult or impossible to replace in our lifetimes. Then look to minimizing the number to impact, and finally offset the impacts with mitigations like relocating trees or stabilizing watersheds,” Sartor said. “We are looking at a future climate that is warmer and drier, so more trees may not be the answer — we often need fewer trees on our open space landscape and more drought tolerant species, so that the remaining trees can better survive with limited resources.”