Landscapers removing best assets from NIU

By Bradley Fish

If our community does not confront the NIU Environmental Committee soon, 43 trees will be cut down, a new parking lot will be constucted on “swamp land,” and some old campus incinerators will begin spewing forth pollutants into our air.

Last year, the committee approved the cutting down of 11 trees at the East Lagoon to open up “vistas” that would, according to Landscape Architect James Murphy, enable traffic on Lincoln Highway to view the remodeled Holmes Student Center and Altgeld Hall. The committee is now poised to build a new reserved parking lot that will invite yet more cars into an already over-congested campus.

The chair and agenda-setter of this committee is James Harder, vice president of Business and Operations. Last year, following a flurry of letters, phone calls and direct action, Earth First pressured Harder into stopping all further tree removal until the committee re-convened and actually went out and looked at the trees Murphy wanted to saw. Harder admitted outright that the trees were cut over winter break to prevent student intervention.

During this process, Earth First managed to get a few additional students appointed to the Environmental Committee, but students are still out-numbered about three to one by administrators and bureaucrats who are more concerned with dollars then the trees they come from. These students can only watch as Harder and Murphy use deception and secrecy to railroad and rubberstamp this campus into asphalt oblivion.

At a typical environmetal committee meeting, Murphy will show beautiful full-color slides of trees that need to be mildly pruned, while showing only an obscure map of trees he claims only once a semester at strategically opportune times, when issues can be railroaded through the committee.

This sememster, for instance, Harder conveniently waited until November, after trees were mostly bare of leaves, to call a meeting to approve the removal of 43 “dead” trees on campus. While many of the trees may be truly dead, some are not, and many of the dead trees pose no threat to humans, and serve as habitats and stomping grounds for small animals and birds.

At the time of this writing some of these “dead” trees still have leaves, and one of them, by strange coincidence, seems to be blocking the view of the student center and other “vistas” from Lincoln Highway.

Last spring, Harder called a last-minute committee meeting to seek the approval of Murphy’s replanting plan at the East Lagoon. We were told by Harder at this meeting that because it was so late in the season, we must accept Murphy’s replanting plan, or have NO trees replanted until the following year. Needless to say, the plan went through.

It was also last spring that Harder promised, in negotiations with a united front of the environmetal groups SCAW, SEAC, SA Recycling, GeoForce and Earth First, that there would be a better then one-to-one ratio of trees planted at the East Lagoon for those that had been hacked down. This still has not happened.

We challenge the Environmetal Committee to start living up to its duties as spelled out in the Constitution and Bylaws handbook: “The committee shall meet on a regular basis to consider all immediate issues affecting the university environment and to formulate policy and long-range plans designed to protect and to enhance the quality of that environment.”

If the committee operated as it should, then meetings would be held more than twice a year. If the committee took a true preservationist approach towards our environment, then trees would be perceived as an asset, as worthy in and of themselves, regardless of what “vistas” they may be blocking. If the committee was really concerned about long-range environmental protection, then public transportation would be encouraged and single-passenger cars discouraged.

This committee needs to cut right to the heart of the proposal to activate our long-dormant incinerators by forcing the ban of throw-away food packaging on campus.

This committee must work with the city to reconnect DeKalb to the Metra train line that curretly stops in Geneva. This would greatly reduce the single-passenger cars coming into DeKalb, making it a safer and cleaner place to love and reducing he need for more parking lots.

This committee should view all tree-cutting plans with skepticism and encourage instead more tree-planting plans.

A committee operating from such a philosophy would work to make NIU a very progressive environmental campus. Unfortunately, the current committee works completely against such a philosophy. Where the city of Urbana, which houses much of the University of Illinois campus, has the distinction of being named “Tree City, USA,” the NIU campus, once a heavily wooded area, is, sadly, becoming an environmental disgrace.

Bradley Fish

Earth First