Walking Away: Biology professor abandons bird research in face of tree removal

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Contributed by Brian Walker

After $24,000 and four years of research, Assistant Biology Professor Brian Walker is throwing in the towel.

Walker’s decision to terminate his research of birds on campus was brought on by the construction in the Quick Center parking lot, which forced him to take down two bird houses nestled in the trees that once stood there.

“It’s no longer possible for me to continue this project that I have done for four years,” Walker said. “Almost $24,000 which was meant for this project is now gone.”

The research was one of the highlights of campus research for the biology department because it offered students hands-on experience without having to travel long distances.
When Walker received a call on March 1 from the campus Facilities Management telling him to take down one of his research bird houses in the south-end forest on campus, he couldn’t believe his ears. This was not the first time his research with birds on campus had been affected by campus construction.

Frank Spizzoucco ‘10, a biology major who had been working on the project for two years, said Walker had to take down about 10 bird houses prior to the new construction. Every time, it set back his research because “it takes time to establish the birdhouses in the environment,” said Spizzoucco.

Walker said the decision was made because he feels his efforts are fruitless, despite his hard work and contributions to the on-campus research portfolio.

After the reduction of 20 percent of this forest, the data that tracked the bird activity through 80 different houses on campus would have changed dramatically.

“Not only are the bird houses that we took down affected, but so are the surrounding 12 houses that are now on the edge of the forest,” said Spizzoucco.

“It’s really unfortunate,” continued Spizzoucco. “If we had known two years ago, we wouldn’t have done that work. It wasn’t directly communicated to us, even though we were being directly affected by it.”

Many students had worked on the project since its inception. Spizzoucco, John Haskins ‘10, and Mike De Lea ‘10 spent summers on campus working on the research.

“It was really hard taking down the bird houses,” said De Lea. “Basically everything I worked on all summer was for nothing.”

But the students involved said they have more concern for the legacy they now cannot leave behind to other students looking to participate in research projects.

“This is a big deal,” said De Lea. “It’s student research. It could’ve provided students with a good opportunity.”

This development adds more flame to the fiery dispute between administration and environmental faculty, staff and students on the parking lot expansion. The Environmental Steering Committee claims that it should have been consulted on the new development plans for the Quick Center much earlier than Feb. 1, when it was informed of the decision to cut down 60 trees was already made.

“The ball was already rolling by the time we got wind of this,” said De Lea.

Although the construction on the parking lot began over spring break, students of the environmental clubs on campus — Green Campus Initiative and Student Environmental Association — protested every day last week, including outside the Board of Trustees meeting on Thursday.

Zach Gross ‘12, secretary & treasurer of SEA, said, “It’s sort of in the administration’s court now to come up with a formal proposal describing how to protect the campus environment in the future.”

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