Davidson Students Work Towards Sustainability by Joining Local Environmental


By: Tess Finke ’24 (she/her), Staff Writer

Treasure Tree in Charlotte, NC.  Photo by Chris Chao ‘22.

“Data: Americans Care Less About The Environment Than The Rest Of The World.” “Why Don’t Americans Give A Damn About the Environment?” “Exclusive poll: Amid COVID-19, Americans don’t care about climate change anymore.” 

Sound familiar? Sentiments about American apathy towards the environment are nothing new to the media, as the United States continually expresses less concern than the rest of the world when it comes to responsible environmental actions. 

However, the pessimistic superlatives offered by these headlines certainly do not tell the whole story — not all Americans are indifferent about sustainability and environmental stewardship. Need proof? Look no further than the Davidson students working diligently to change their community’s behavior and outlook towards sustainability and environmental conservation. 

Azella Markgraf ‘21, one of these environmental change-makers in the Davidson community, serves on the board of Davidson Land Conservancy (DLC), a private land conservation organization aimed at protecting land “in perpetuity” from future development. 

According to Markgraf, “the board collectively identifies pieces of land in Davidson that have high conservation value, which are pieces of land in the town that are important to certain species or important for migration for certain animals or protection of certain waterways.” 

The DLC currently consists of 11 volunteer board members and two paid staff members, all of whom are passionate about promoting environmental stewardship. Markgraf joined the board three years ago as a student representative of the college to help the board make decisions with a younger perspective from the Davidson community. 

Currently, Markgraf is working to define “what lands conservation means for social justice in the town of Davidson, and how the organization can balance promoting conservation and environmental preservation in the area with a just and welcoming Davidson community.”

Markgraf is also responsible for starting a land acknowledgement initiative, which asks those that use and value any piece of land to recognize and defend not just the environmental importance of the land, but also the cultural significance that it holds. This land acknowledgement means “acknowledging the colonial legacies of the land that [we] are residing on — it is not just open space that exists without history,” Markgraf said.

While Markgraf works to promote environmental justice awareness in the DLC’s preservation efforts, Ethan Landen ‘21 is spearheading one of these efforts, known as the wildlife corridor project. A wildlife corridor is an area of land used by animals in their migratory routes and are essential for preserving the rich variety of wildlife in and around Davidson.  

A part-time intern for the DLC, Landen spent his summer gathering informational materials to inform landowners in the area about the process of qualifying their backyard as wildlife certified. Part of this research included utilizing Geographic Information System (GIS) software to identify areas that could qualify as wildlife corridors. For the pilot program, Landen is focusing on the Schenck Creek area, which is vital for the survival of many species important to the Davidson ecosystem.  

Protecting trees is critical to conserving wildlife corridors — a project which Chris Chao ‘22 has undertaken as the Sustainability Scholar for the Office of Sustainability at Davidson. Chao was tasked with restarting the Mecklenburg County Treasure Trees Program, and he “spent all summer tracking down trees and tracking down people who live there now and know about [the trees’] past, like when they were planted. The program launched with all new information.” 

According to Chao, “a treasure tree is any tree in…

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