Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Urban Wildlife

Back when I was the Wildlife Specialist for University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension I traveled the state to work with landowners and foresters on managing lands for wildlife habitat. These were primarily rural lands and the emphasis was on wildlife and forestry. While it was all interesting and mostly of value (but not always), I sometimes felt constrained in my role. Although the position and the profession has evolved toward thinking more broadly about biodiversity and ecosystems, we are not quite there yet. This is one reason I opted to start working on my own, so that I was free to work in whatever direction I desired.

Another aspect of the program that still surprises me, is how little emphasis is placed on urban wildlife and the urban/suburban human community. Granted managing larger parcels has the potential to yield greater benefits for wildlife. Yet, four out of five of us live in cities or suburbs. Most people interact with wildlife in these places, and often it is a negative interaction, leading to "nuisance" wildlife calls and actions. Somewhat contradictory though, people often have positive views of wildlife, but negative views of wildlife habitat.

With these thoughts in mind I was eager to attend the International Symposium on Urban Wildlife and the Environment, held the past three days at the University of Massachusetts. It was one of the better conferences that I have attended from the perspective of the diversity of ideas presented and the diversity of expertise of the presenters. This included landscape architects and planners, social scientists, wildlife biologists, private consultants, animal welfare advocates, and others. Despite this diversity we still struggle with ethnic diversity; it was a largely white Anglo audience.

Many interesting tidbits, ideas, and challenges were discussed. Several papers on feral and free-roaming cats were presented. I will devote my post tomorrow to that topic. Here are a few diverse ideas and concepts that I took away.................
  • "Gotham is wilder that you think" -- with 12,000 acres of natural areas New York City is home to high concentrations of rare plants, one of the largest colonial wading bird rookeries in the region, and is restoring wetlands, forests, and grasslands. A positive trend considering that from 1900 to 1964, NYC filled 90% of its wetlands with demolition debris and garbage and then built on them.
  • Chicago, one of the largest cities in the U.S. lies within Cook County metro area, one of the most urbanized in the country, yet has 11% or 68,000 acres as forest preserves
  • Phoenix has 1,600 Homeowner's Association, which are a "black hole" in terms of managing natural landscapes
  • Between 2000 and 2030 46% of the built environment in the U.S. will be new or replaced; providing countless opportunities to "get it right" this time
  • Invasive woody plants -- those not from the local food web -- host very few native caterpillars. The larvae of butterflies and moths evolved to feed on certain plants and can't shift to other species. The presenter began with a picture of his neighbor's yard that had 10 trees, all of which were from other countries. Native caterpillars are the base of the food web for most of our breeding songbirds.
  • Installing flow devices -- fences around culverts and pipes in beaver dams, is the best way to prevent flooding of roads and other structures; this allows beaver to remain in the wetland and for humans to co-exist. Trapping is the least effective, since beaver will return.
  • Mountain lions are successfully living in the Santa Monica Mountains above Los Angeles. They need green corridors to enable safe passage to other large open spaces beyond -- well-designed underpasses and bridges across major roads is critical. They avoid humans as much as possible.
  • Rather than always trying to keep the effects of suburbs out of open space, how about extending the values and benefits of open space into developed areas

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