Please--Lay Artificial Turf, Sports Fans!
Back in January of the first year of this blog, I praised Astroturf. This praise fell on deaf ears, because hardly anybody at that time was reading this blog.
So let me say it again: Artificial Turf is a Good Thing. And now you're asking yourself what this topic has to do with native ecosystems, etc.
Before you skip to another blog by someone else, let me suggest you stay a moment. Let me justify this for you as a community expenditure, in the context of ecosystem preservation. After all--do we really think that climate change is going to make us stop loving football and other field-based sports?
I don't think so, either.
Schools all over the country are making the conversion, largely based on the economics of maintaining grass fields. Our local field, as I mentioned in January 2010, was frequently a mud pit, and not just because Pisgah National Forest is a temperate rain forest. It was a mud pit because the high school, the college, the middle school and various other youth groups were ALL using it. As heavily used as the field was, converting to turf was really a no-brainer--it was "simply" a matter of raising the funds to make the transition happen.
In fact, artificial turf is making a comeback wherever sports are played. Consider one of the biggest reasons any environmentalist should support the use of turf in non-garden areas: drought. This article from The Guardian lays out the costs and realities of grass very clearly. In addition to the costs associated with just watering the stuff, you have the health impacts of fertilizer, herbicides and pesticides that grass is drenched with to keep these fields green and growing. A list from the University of Tennessee of the "management practices" associated with bermuda grass fields includes: mowing, irrigation, fertilization, liming, core aerifying, matting, top dressing, insect control, perennial ryegrass removal, weed control and field painting. Jumping Jehoshaphat!
Artificial turf is not just for sports, anymore. Lots of people who are tired of the maintenance of grass lawns but still love the look (or are compelled by their HOA) are installing "fake grass." I would imagine that cities like Los Angeles would be actually promoting it, so desperate are the conditions of drought out west, now. Some people will never embrace xeriscaping. Let them have (artificial) turf!
This is not to say that there are no evils associated with artificial turf. No artificial turf field is ever going to make the robins happy. Those that have rubber pellets mixed amongst the blades can leach heavy metals (if not remediated or constructed with lead-free product). But it also won't send tons of fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides into our rivers and streams. And it won't suck water--to the tune of 50,000 gallons a week--out of aquifers that could be put to better use. So put your community cap on and encourage the use of artificial turf for those areas that are best served by it. Especially, if like me, you're a sports fan.
For some fascinating history on artificial turf, I recommend the post on Wikipedia.