E&E Breaks the Mold


(This 1055th Buffalo Sunday News column was first published on June 12, 2011.)


Paul Fuhrmann, Mike Morgante and Greg Coniglio in the E&E woodlands


I am saddened when I drive out into a rural area and find one of those modern homes stuck artificially in the midst of farmland but surrounded by an acre or two of grass. Not a tree or bush breaks up this monoculture, just tightly trimmed lawn, of course completely free of dandelions.


It doesn't have to be that way. The pressure is always on in suburban areas to have your yard exactly like your neighbors', but in the countryside? On our Christmas bird counts in East Aurora, I see homes that fit perfectly into their surroundings, some of them with not a blade of grass around them. Those are the homes that belong in House Beautiful instead of those impositions on nature.


Companies too should think about this. Corporate lawns are not only artificial but they are costly as well.


We have a perfect example of more appropriate corporate responsibility in the national firm Ecology and Environment, Inc., whose main office is located on Pleasant View Drive in Lancaster.


Drive out that road and you will almost certainly miss the E&E offices, even though they are located on a half mile of property. Instead of turning that area into lawn, the company administration under the stewardship of Paul Fuhrmann and his staff maintains the property in near natural form: a mixture of meadows and woodlands that extends all the way back to Ellicott Creek.


And yet 200 employees work at that site.


I asked Fuhrmann if he had any idea how much the company saved by maintaining the property as they do instead of replacing the natural setting with lawn. "I have no figures," he told me, "but I'm sure that it amounts to thousands of dollars each year." He was careful to add, however, that the property is not simply left wild. "We bushhog our meadows every three years; otherwise they would pass though a series of successions until they became uniform forest, and we also manage invasive plants." I was pleased to hear of those controls because some of our most stressed birds are grassland sparrows and meadowlarks.


A few weeks ago I joined Fuhrmann, Mike Morgante and Greg Coniglio for a walk along the nature trail that leads back through their property. Although, coming near the end of May, we more often waded than walked, for me it was a wonderful excuse to get out for some birding.


And indeed, even though the spring migration had ended for this area, we found over forty species, almost all of which will nest on this property.


Red-eyed and warbling vireos sang from the hardwoods and their less common cousins, yellow-throated vireos, sang their hoarse imitations along the creek. Woodpeckers, now busy breeding, were becoming difficult to find, but we did see downy and red-bellied woodpeckers, flickers and even one of those crow-sized pileated woodpeckers.


Our warbler list included yellow, yellow-throat, redstart and Northern waterthrush. A wood thrush caroled from across the creek, an inquisitive gnatcatcher examined us and I added a species to my year list: purple finch.


We found crested and least flycatchers and wood pewee in the woods and out in the meadowlands added phoebe and willow flycatcher. A towhee admonished us to "drink your tea" and dozen waxwings visited some of the trees still bearing last year's fruit.


We missed three species, one that I am sure nests in this woodland, scarlet tanager, and another that has been seen here, the rare prothonotary warbler. Although we found turkey tracks everywhere, we didn't see any of the dozens that inhabit this property.


None of these birds would be here if this were maintained as a corporate lawn.


E&E's stewardship of the environment extends to their building as well. Over the past ten years, the company has reduced its annual consumption of electricity by 27%, natural gas by 40%, and water by 68%. This effectively reduces its contribution of CO2 to our environment by over 450 tons annually.


Not everyone approves. The company receives occasional complaints about its "failure to maintain its property" (where's the grass?), and one caller claimed that its wildlands were reducing his property values. When they checked the caller's address they found that he lived nine miles away.