Are wildlife subdivisions designed for conservation helping? 

Large projects built by weathy developers have the best ecosystem impact track records

click to enlarge PHOTO BY SANTA LUCIA PRESERVE -  precious preservation A homesite at Santa Lucia Preserve in California, where 7,300 hectares are permantently preserved.
  • Photo BY Santa Lucia Preserve
  • precious preservation A homesite at Santa Lucia Preserve in California, where 7,300 hectares are permantently preserved.

Page 2 of 4

Then there's the question of who manages the conserved land once the houses are built. Reed found that few ordinances require any sort of post-development oversight: That's left up to homeowner associations. Some make weed control, wildfire reduction, habitat restoration and riparian management a priority and set up funding; others don't. And there are other flaws; Wyoming and Colorado, in particular, are notorious for allowing reserved land to be reopened for development after 65 and 40 years, respectively.

Another problem is lot size. In 2011, Reed examined 372 conservation developments in Colorado and found that the average total size of a single project was 203 hectares, with varying amounts set aside as open space, mostly in small, scattered parcels. A 2006 study of developments near Boulder with open-space parcels ranging in size from 80 to 200 hectares found that they were no different in terms of wildlife variety than traditional exurban sprawl.

"We should have been seeing vesper sparrows, grasshopper sparrows, the specialized species of conservation interest," says ecologist Buffy Lenth, the study's lead author. Instead, she and her coworkers saw starlings, grackles and robins, the same old generalist species and invasives that characterize the fragmented habitat of traditional development. The reason was not entirely clear. Lenth suspected heavy use of the open space by residents and their pets might be a factor, along with its small size and a design intended to maximize views rather than conservation.

All of these issues contribute to a growing sense that clustered development is not living up to its promise. "I've watched the Land Preservation Subdivision program as it was developed and used over the years, and from a habitat preservation standpoint, it's not great," says Jim Haskins, wildlife manager with the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Steamboat Springs office in Routt County.

Marabou Ranch, one of the newest and most upscale LPS developments in Routt County, offers hints as to where the problems might lie. The 695-hectare subdivision five miles west of Steamboat Springs fulfills Routt County's guidelines to the letter and circumvents many, but not all, of the issues identified by Reed. It has reserved 217 hactares as open space; a lot map in the sales office marks the location of a lek site for Columbian sharp-tailed grouse and an elk-calving area, both of which are off-limits to development and subject to seasonal closure. A resident manager is responsible for stewardship. But 62 homesites are scattered throughout the site; the open space, though large, is fragmented, with lots of edges. The sensitive habitat is at the edges of the property; the lek lies along the road and the calving area is crowded by homesites.

Latest in Environment

© 1994-2020 Pique Publishing Inc., Glacier Community Media

- Website powered by Foundation