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The Original Ecology of the South

The Original Ecology of the South

馃尦 Ancient islands of grass 路聽LPRs return 路聽The Duck River 路聽Arming teachers 路 Much more!

Good afternoon, everyone.

I dug up a piece from the archive on Austin Peay's Southeastern Grasslands Institute, which does some amazing work on the forgotten ecology of the Southeast. They were recently granted $8.8 million to restore native grasslands in national parks across the eastern United States. Hope you enjoy.



"One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds."

Aldo Leopold

It鈥檚 called 鈥楳ay Prairie', a wedge-shaped bit of land that stands along US 41, a busy highway slicing through Manchester, Tennessee. It鈥檚 nearly 500 acres, but the part that really matters 鈥 the reason why May Prairie even exists 鈥 is a little patch of planet measuring a mere twelve acres plus, hardly enough sod for a decent par four. Here, and all-but-surrounded by a county jail, an industrial park, and an auto salvage yard, still lives a remnant, old growth grassland鈥攁 biodiversity hotspot with roots reaching back tens of thousands of years.

"This is one of the most special places I can think of," says botanist Dwayne Estes, co-founder of the Southeastern Grasslands Institute (SGI), an initiative based out of Austin Peay State University that is working to save southeastern grasslands. "May Prairie is truly a sacred gem when it comes to landmarks within the eastern United States."

Dwayne knows of what he speaks. May Prairie is home to scores of rare plants native to Tennessee, including one endemic to May Prairie itself: Symphyotrichum estesii, or Estes's aster. Found nowhere else on the planet, Dwanye discovered the perennial plant鈥攇rowing one to three feet in height and sprouting with white flowers鈥攊n 2008. The mind reels at how many people have clomped over those deeply unique twelve acres over the past two centuries, harvesting hay or blasting birds or just sucking suds by a bonfire, but all united across time by their shared obliviousness to the rarity of the life around them.

Southeastern Grasslands' other co-founder, botanist Theo Witsell and Dwayne's best friend, quotes at some length on this theme the father of the modern ecology movement, Aldo Leopold: "Much of the damage inflicted on land is quite invisible to laymen. An ecologist must either harden his shell and make believe that the consequences of science are none of his business, or he must be the doctor who sees the marks of death in a community that believes itself well and does not want to be told otherwise." In a nutshell, or, in this case, a Symphyotrichum estesii's seed, the Southeastern Grasslands Institute exists to tell us otherwise.

The SGI grew out of the Midsouth Prairie Symposium in 2016 that Dwayne and Theo held at Austin Peay, their home university. The botanists' contentions were that, contrary to popular belief, meadows, savannas, prairies, and glades were once common to the Southeast; that there never was an unbroken sea of forest stretching from the Atlantic Coast to the Great Plains; that no squirrel ever went nuts from a Virginian beach to the Mississippi River without once touching the ground. Instead, vast and innumerable pockets free of trees鈥攐ld growth grasslands fertile and profuse with life鈥攆ormed farm-ready oases that the equally innumerable settlers rolling west with their Old World seeds found irresistible.

A philanthropist from the BAND Foundation was in attendance at this symposium and sagacious enough to know that, if the scattered shards of the Southeast's once mighty meadows were to have any chance of squeezing through the anthropogenically-induced 6th wave of extinction, i.e., our own times, then Dwayne and Theo were the two dudes to lead the effort.


馃 LPRs: THE CONVERSATION CONTINUES Two weeks ago, the mayor announced his administration would host three 鈥渃ommunity conversations鈥 concerning LPRs. The meetings would include presentations from both MNPD and the Nashville Community Review Board, followed by a Q&A. O鈥機onnell indicated that the community input would influence the final implementation of the technology in Davidson County. Yesterday, Coleman Park Community Center hosted the first event.

Former council member Dave Rosenberg, now Metro鈥檚 Director of Data and Innovation, gave those present a quick rundown: 鈥淎fter a great deal of debate, and a few years off a lot of people鈥檚 lives, the council voted in February 2022鈥o allow the use of LPRs.鈥 This decision led to a six-month pilot program, which yielded 112 arrests for a laundry list of crimes: auto theft, robbery, burglary, misdemeanor assault, violent felony, and gun and drug theft. A year later, the council passed a resolution to install the LPRs permanently; now, before the program moves forward, the council has to finalize contract agreements with LPR vendors.

Attendees' main concerns seemed to revolve around data mining. 鈥淐an Tennessee state government force Nashville to share the data?鈥 asked one person in attendance. Lieutenant Ricky Huddleston assured the crowd that data is deleted after ten days before emphasizing that  data sharing would be a 鈥渂reach of contract,鈥 something both MNPD and the LPR vendors would be held accountable for.

There will be another meeting today at the Southeast Regional Community Center, and on Thursday at the IT Creswell Middle School of the Arts. MEGAN PODSIEDLIK

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馃懇鈥嶐煆 ARMING TN TEACHERS A bill authorizing faculty or staff members in schools to conceal carry handguns will be heard on its final reading today. The legislation, which has already passed in the Senate, comes with a few guardrails. To conceal carry, school employees must complete at least 40 hours of training each year and undergo extensive background checks and psychological evaluations, all on their own dime. 

Of course, the legislation has had its fair share of pushback. On Monday, Covenant School parents submitted a letter with over 5,000 signatures urging legislators to kill the bill.  As of this writing, the bill is expected to secure enough votes to pass the House. From there, it would continue on to the governor鈥檚 desk. MEGAN PODSIEDLIK

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馃挊 STAKE THROUGH THE HEART The dust has settled on the ESA push, but the animus some lawmakers have toward challenges to the public school system will remain intact. Last week, Rep. Bo Mitchell (D-Nashville) offered a suggestion for what to do with underutilized public school properties.  I have a new high school in my community, the old property is not being used. Probably the most valuable piece of property in Davidson County right now,鈥 said Mitchell. 鈥淚 suggest to Metro: bulldoze it before you ever give it to [charter schools].鈥 DAVIS HUNT

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馃帲 I LOVE HER, BUT I LOVE TO FISH In other environmental news, Tennessee鈥檚 Duck River is the nation鈥檚 third most endangered waterway due to 鈥渆xcessive water withdrawals,鈥 according to the American Rivers report. It currently supplies water to about 250,000 people, but as the state has grown鈥 well, that number has increased, and so has demand for fresh water. Environmental groups want protections in place; the state wants its water. DAVIS HUNT


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View our calendar for the week here and our weekly film rundown here.

馃搮 Visit our On The Radar list to find upcoming events around Nashville.

馃帶 On Spotify: Pamphleteer's Picks, a playlist of our favorite bands in town this week.

馃懆馃徎鈥嶐煂 Check out our Nashville farmer's market guide.


馃幐 Twang Tuesday @ Acme Feed & Seed, 7p, Info

馃帣锔 Headliners featuring Ari Elle, Drew Now, Maya Manuela, and Pretty Sister @ Analog at Hutton Hotel, 7p, Free, Info

馃幒 Todd Day Wait @ The Underdog, 11:30p, Free, Info鈥屸屸屸屸屸屸屸屸屸屸屸屸屸屸屸屸屸
+ Honky Tonk Tuesday afterparty, down the street

馃幐 Honky Tonk Tuesday @ American Legion Post 82, 5p, Free, Info鈥屸屸屸屸屸屸屸屸屸屸屸屸屸屸屸屸屸
+ two-step lessons @ 7p, The Cowpokes @ 8p