Monday, August 30, 2004
According to a recent report in The Oregonian, residents of the small town of Brookings are concerned about a new urban development that may threaten their way of life and rare Marbled Murrelets. The story illustrates the lengths development companies go to in preparing their site plans, including millions of dollars in studies and site improvements before building a master-planned community. Local residents often feel overwhealmed when facing development companies with millions of dollars to spend.
Friday, August 27, 2004
The Point Reyes Bird Observatory (PRBO) has published DEVELOPING AND IMPLEMENTING AN ADAPTIVE CONSERVATION STRATEGY: A guide for improving adaptive management and sharing the learning among conservation practitioners. The guide features five case studies, as well as information on achieving conservation results, monitoring, partnership building, communication, fundraising, and how to create a plan. The suggestions in this guide could be implemented at various landscape levels, including neighborhoods, municipalities, counties, and Metropolitan Statistical Areas.
Wednesday, August 25, 2004
A model urban planning effort involving wildlife is Metro Greenprint: Planning for Nature in the Face of Urban Growth. Published in 1997, this citizen's report offered suggestions on how to plan for greenspace and wildlife in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area. In 1998, this effort led to the establishment of a Metro Greenways program run by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
Resources developed for this program include an innovative Land Cover Classification System that includes urban development, vegetation types and species, and soils. The program also provides resources on maintaining roadsides for wildlife and Metro wildlife corridors.
Saturday, August 14, 2004
According to an August 13 story in The Desert Sun (Palm Springs, California):
"The nation’s fastest-growing large county has won approval to protect dozens of threatened and endangered species by locking out developers from a half-million acres of land.
Anti-sprawl groups, environmentalists and builders worked together on the conservation proposal, part of Riverside County’s nationally recognized effort to integrate planning for development of roads and homes with protections for delicate wildlife and plant habitat."
The Western Riverside plan is the latest MSHCP and Riverside County is sited as a model for urban conservation planning for wildlife. The plan requires the purchase of 153,000 acres from willing sellers in the next 25 years at an estimated cost of more than $812 million.
The cost will probably go up, and other plans (including the much celebrated Balcones Canyonlands Conservation Plan in Austin, Texas--more here) have been difficult to complete as public land purchases have tended to fuel higher land prices as unpurchased land becomes scarce.
Defenders of Wildlife has published an important evaluation of the problems in using the Endangered Species Act for conservation planning--see Frayed Safety Nets: Conservation Planning Under the Endangered Species Act by Laura C. Hood.
Friday, August 13, 2004
There have been some interesting recent urban bird conservation stories in newspapers around the country. Joan Lowy of the Scripps Howard News Service has a story out on green lawns and the move to ban or reduce pesticide use on lawns--at least partially spurred on by concerns about birds being killed in residential areas. The Portland Tribune has a story about Portland's famous urban Vaux's Swifts. The Canadian mining firm Phelps Dodge has been fined $15,000 for bird deaths at one of their Arizona operations. There's also a story about the damaging implications of the Bush administration's Healthy Forest Initiative.
Portland Oregon's metropolitan planning for wildlife continues to draw debate, as evidenced in a recent Oregonian opinion piece by Jim Irvine, chairman and chief executive officer of the Conifer Group and past president of the National Association of Home Builders.
While it is easy to feel like urban bird and wildlife issues are back burner to other social problems, there are efforts around the country to address the needs of urban birds and wildlife. While I try to keep up with events and stories such as these in local newspapers, feel free to send me any stories I may have missed.
Thursday, August 05, 2004
Luis A. Vivanco, assistant professor of anthropology and director of the Latin American Studies Program at the University of Vermont, published an interesting chapter in Reconstructing Conservation: Finding Common Ground (Island Press, 2003).
In "Conservation and Culture, Genuine and Spurious," Vivanco argues that while most of us would now agree that successful conservation depends on attention to social relations and cultural context, we often fail to realize that culture is not a mere tool to change anti-environmental behaviors. According to Vivanco, conservationists often portray others--be they natives of third world countries, rural residents, or modern urban dwellers--as having a culture which is "spurious" in the sense that it is unauthentic and disconnected to nature. Conservationists then try to change this culture or, viewing these others as obstacles, try to remove them from their conservation area.
However, locals are people to be negotiated with, not obstacles to be removed from the landscape.
Vivanco claims that in order for conservation to work, "we need a conservationist culture based on dialogue--not domination--that is not about simply facilitating an exchange of wisdom in order to convert people to some predetermined expectations of what conservation "should be." This dialogue should also involve a process of mutual enrichment in which the means and ends of conservation themselves are open to new contingencies and intercultural negotiations." (72)
These arguments apply not only conservationists working in Latin America (Vivanco examines projects in Monte Verde, Costa Rica and Oaxaca, Mexico), but for those of us trying to protect birds in urban areas of North America. We all have to realize that there are multiple issues and concerns that need to be addressed, and that we can't impose our ideas upon local neighborhoods or residential communities. As others have argued, Vivanco states that we need to "join claims for nature to ongoing struggles over the social and political realities of rural and urban communities" (60) and "conservation must be defined in terms that strengthen community structures and relationships" (70).
To conduct urban bird conservation, we need to tie the needs of birds to the needs of urban residents of all socioeconomic, educational, racial, and other backgrounds. We need to work with other people and organizations to pursue shared interests, and explore the connections between poverty, joblessness, homelessness, environmental justice, crime, education, and other urban social issues.
In addition, since our work seeks to change urban culure, we need to ask a series of questions posed by Vivanco:
- What new social orders does conservation seek to validate and implement?
- What is the vision of acceptable cultural relationships, institutions, and attitudes?
- Who defines these new realities, and for whom do they apply?
- What are the hierarchies of relevant knowledge in specific conservation initiatives?
In a democratic society, bird conservation has to be addressed through community-building. Efforts to impose state or federal regulations will fail without community support. Even if immediate policy goals are met, the backlash from imposing new institutions and relationships will make future work harder and undermine the ability of agencies enforce their regulations on the community. The Endangered Species Act, while a powerful tool to protect rare species, is often perceived as a political weapon and resented by local communities.
As long as bird conservation seeks to create a new social order, this new order should be negotiated and harmonized with the interests of the community. Negotiation, community-building, listening to the concerns of others, lots of meetings with food...all make for better conservation work than angry public meetings where local residents feel defensive about being imposed upon by additional regulations.
Vivanco gives us cause to pause in our conservation work, and ask ourselves the hard questions about how we see those other individuals and groups we are working with, and what kind of social vision we are seeking to impose or (more hopefully) create. The ends do not justify the means. In this case we need to see that the means, community-building, is also the end--healthy urban communities that sustain people and birds.
Wednesday, August 04, 2004
According to a story in today's The Bakersfield Californian (sign in required):
"Friction between Tejon Ranch Co. and environmentalists opposed to its development plans escalated this week with allegations by an environmental group that the ranch is responsible for the death of a condor killed on its property last year by a hunter.
Attorneys for the Center for Biological Diversity announced this week that the environmental watchdog group based in Tucson, Ariz., has formally asked the state Attorney General and state Environmental Protection Agency to investigate the incident. Last year, a Tehachapi man shot a condor from a tree during a pig hunting party hosted by Tejon Ranch.
The center's charges follow a recent application by Tejon Ranch to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for an incidental take permit. The permit, in conjunction with a required condor Habitat Conservation Plan, would free the ranch from liability for the incidental or accidental death of a condor during construction of its proposed 23,000-home Centennial residential project. The permit would also protect the ranch for 50 years after the development is built."
The dead condor was AC-8, the last wild female condor to be captured for captive breeding in the 1980s. In 2000, she had been re-released after 14 years in captivity. Read more of her life history here.
On a personal note, she may have been one of the three condors I saw as a kid, 19 years ago this week (6 August 1985). For sure I saw AC-9, the young male condor Igor (my friend Jim Johnson got a photo of him as he soared overhead) that mated with AC-8 in 1986.
The California Condor is one of the greatest challenges for urbanization in southern California. How can we develop cities that aren't a threat to such large, wide-ranging birds?
Tuesday, August 03, 2004
A Los Angeles Times story (sign in required/archive story for purchase) recounts attempts to develop part of the 270,000 Tejon Ranch, which is critical habitat for the California Condor. According to the story, "Tejon Ranch has pledged to set aside a preserve for the endangered bird on the ranch's wildest backcountry — about 100 square miles of rugged ridgelines up to 6,800 feet high — but only if the federal government will shield the company from liability if condors are accidentally harmed or killed by ranch activities or development."
For more info on this topic, check out topix.net as well as the official announcement in the Federal Register.