Biology seminar discusses urbanization

Gregory Doyle

Urban sprawl and the environment were the subjects of a seminar presented by Hood College’s Dr. Eric C. Kindahl in Mendel Hall on Thursday, Sept. 25.

Dr. Robert Curry, a professor in Villanova’s biology department, served as moderator of the event, titled “Restoring Streams in Urbanizing Landscape.”

As the director of the Environmental Science & Policy Program at Hood College, Kindahl has taken steps toward improving the environmental state of Frederick County, Md.

His work focuses on the revitalization of a once-rural neighborhood and the improvement of the water quality in the area.

Mass urbanization caused the deterioration of Frederick County’s ecosystem.

Kindahl and his research team use land satellites to detect how urbanization is damaging the city’s environment.

They see what is happening on a regional scale using their “space to place” cameras.

What they have seen are “isolated habitats in a sea of urbanization,” according to Kindahl.

In 1970, approximately 20,000 residents occupied the city of Frederick.

It was an oasis of some sort, ideal for those who wanted to avoid the city life found in nearby metropolitan cities such as Baltimore and Washington D.C.

Today, however, Frederick is home to over 60,000 residents and is currently the second largest city in Maryland.

This wave of urbanization has been problematic to the natural habitat of the area.

Kindahl’s regional projects have a national perspective.

Both he and Curry agreed that the environmental improvements in Frederick are relevant to Villanova and its students.

“Urban sprawl causes environmental problems and loss of quality of life, whether it is in Central Maryland or Eastern Pennsylvania,” Kindahl said. “This is part of every American’s natural heritage, and it is something we should fight to save.”

“The work [Dr. Kindahl] and his students are doing on ecological restoration of some of the most severely degraded streams in the Frederick region could also serve as a model for similar work that could be done in our region,” Curry said.

Curry noted that the greater Philadelphia region experienced similar urbanization within the last 50 years.

“The region has seen tremendous movement of people moving out of the city and into what used to be the rural landscape of Delaware, Chester, Montgomery and Bucks Counties, with similar changes in southern New Jersey, as well,” Curry said. “The resettlement of all these people has brought with it a great deal of urban development; just look at the King of Prussia Mall and surrounding area for an obvious example.”

Kindahl engages in more “hands-on environmental science” projects, including the restoration of local rivers and the Carroll Creek Wildlife Park.

Both have suffered degradation in their environmental state. The water quality, bank erosion and diminishing wildlife have become focuses for Kindahl and his researchers.

“The [Chesapeake] Bay provided major ecosystem services for the region,” Kindahl said. “Ecosystem services are things that nature does for us for free that would be prohibitively expensive or logistically impossible for us to replace.”

With the installment of riparian buffers, which enhance the banks of the rivers and provide habitats for wildlife, Kindahl said he believes a progressive improvement on the water quality in Frederick County will begin.

He said he also hopes to revitalize Carroll Creek Wildlife Park by creating a “passive recreation area.”

“Cleaner surface waters offer more recreational opportunities for hiking, nature watching and fishing,” Kindahl said.

These trails could also act as an alternative transportation source that would connect the park to the urbanized areas of the town.

Kindahl also said he has plans to create a “living lab” that is dedicated to environmental research and education.

He has already begun to raise awareness of all that Frederick County has to offer, including two species of fish that are exclusive to the area.

Kindahl’s works attract a diverse group, from college students to attorney generals.

“Time spent with nature has been one of the most important formative influences on who I am,” Kindahl said. “I want my daughter to be able to enjoy nature in the same way I could.  How can I not do everything possible to make that a reality for her?”