Thursday, December 24, 2009

Conservation areas threatened nationally by housing developments

Science Daily: Conservationists have long known that lines on a map are not sufficient to protect nature because what happens outside those boundaries can affect what happens within. Now, a study by two University of Wisconsin-Madison scientists in the department of forest and wildlife ecology measures the threat of housing development around protected areas in the United States.

In a study published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), Volker Radeloff, an associate professor, and Anna Pidgeon, an assistant professor, looked at housing around every national park, national forest and federal wilderness area in the 48 contiguous states. Using data from the U.S. Census and local sources, they counted housing units built within 1 to 50 kilometers of these reserves, and produced maps and statistics that document the change since 1940 and project forward to 2030.

In 2000, 38 million housing units were within 50 kilometers of these conserved lands, compared to 9.8 million in 1940, and housing was growing faster inside that 50-kilometer range than outside it. A house's sphere of influence extends beyond its own lot, because housing can encourage the spread of invasive species, alter drainage patterns and foster increased recreational use of the conserved land, which can, ironically, harm wildlife.

Ground-nesting birds are particularly vulnerable to houses and the dogs and cats they contain, as well as to the raccoons, opossum and skunks that are attracted to residential areas, says Pidgeon. The affected species in Wisconsin's northern forest include the ovenbird and black and white warbler.

…Another area of concern is light pollution, Radeloff adds. "People don't always think about this, but a lot of wildlife species base their way-finding on the stars or the moon, and a lot of outside light can be confusing and harmful."...

A mountain lion, shot by Malcolm, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.0 License

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