It’s nice when an academic study confirms what you thought you knew all along. So it is a much-cited study that appeared last week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences about housing development near parks, wilderness areas, and conserved lands.
The title of the study pretty much says it all: “Housing growth in and near United States protected areas limits their conservation value.” A summary can be found on the New York Times website. Or the entire document in PDF can be found here.
Funded by the U.S. Forest Service, the study was conducted by researchers from the University of Wisconsin, the Forest Service’s Northern Research Station and Rocky Mountain Research Station.
Our study shows that housing growth in and near US protected areas has been strong for 6 decades, and that lands near protected areas are attractive for development. If development continues unabated, it will further limit the conservation value of protected areas, and biodiversity will be impoverished. Management tools and land-use policies exist to ameliorate development threats, but historic housing growth suggests that these tools have either not been implemented or have not been successful in redirecting housing growth away from protected areas. Stronger efforts focusing on housing development within and near protected areas are needed if the conservation benefits of protected areas are to be enjoyed by future generations.
While conservationists may not have had access to the convincing data in this paper, they have been focused for years on preventing inappropriate development near and within national parks, national forests, and wilderness areas. For example, this is one of the prime goals of such TPL efforts as the Montana Legacy Project and the Sierra Checkerboard Initiative.
Coincidently a story in the Oregon Buisness Times highlights wildlands development in that state and efforts to create community forests on private timber lands that might otherwise be developed.
Oregon loses an average of 2,600 acres of wildland forest a year, 80 percent of which is converted to low-density residential, according to the Oregon Department of Forestry.
“Economically, those counties are going to be better off if that land doesn’t go to development,” says economist Ray Rasker, who studied the impact of development in Montana’s forests. “From a firefighting standpoint, any tax benefit would be outstripped pretty quickly.”