September 25, 2006

Clearing the Forest to Spite Wildlife

Did anyone see this story from the AP?

BOILING SPRING LAKES, N.C., Sept. 23 (AP) — Over the past six months, landowners here have been clear-cutting thousands of trees to keep them from becoming homes for the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker.

The chain saws started in February, when the federal Fish and Wildlife Service put Boiling Spring Lakes on notice that rapid development threatened to squeeze out the woodpecker.

The agency issued a map marking 15 active woodpecker “clusters,” and announced it was working on a new one that could potentially designate whole neighborhoods of this town in southeastern North Carolina as protected habitat, subject to more-stringent building restrictions.

Hoping to beat the mapmakers, landowners swarmed City Hall to apply for lot-clearing permits. Treeless land, after all, would not need to be set aside for woodpeckers. Since February, the city has issued 368 logging permits, a vast majority without accompanying building permits.

The results can be seen all over town. Along the roadsides, scattered brown bark is all that is left of pine stands. Mayor Joan Kinney has watched with dismay as waterfront lots across from her home on Big Lake have been stripped down to sandy wasteland.

This kind of stuff makes my blood boil. Instead of waiting for the details surrounding the legislation (not to mention understanding the need for preserving these birds) landowners wanted to spite the environmentalists and so jumped the gun, assuming that the mapping would completely take away their rights to own land.

But this isn't the first time that endangered species listings have backfired.

Back in 2003, there was a study published in Conservation Biology about the endangered Preble's jumping mouse (excerpt from Conservation in Practice):

The researchers surveyed 379 landowners to find out how they responded to the 1998 threatened listing of the Preble’s jumping mouse, which lives in riparian areas in parts of Colorado and Wyoming. Much of the mouse’s known habitat is on private land.

While some landowners worked to help the listed mouse, others worked to discourage it from living on their property. The survey showed that a quarter of the land in the study had been managed to improve the mouse’s habitat, but another quarter had been managed to keep the mouse from living there. Landowners were more likely to have improved the mouse’s habitat if they had received information from conservation organizations. Landowners who depended on agriculture for their livelihoods were more likely to have destroyed the mouse’s habitat.

The survey also showed that most (56 percent) of the landowners would not allow a biological survey to determine the abundance and distribution of the mouse on their land--information that is essential for developing and fine-tuning conservation plans.

The University of Michigan research suggests that listing the mouse may have done more to harm than to help it. The researchers suggest better approaches could include letting landowners know how conserving the mouse’s habitat can benefit them; reimbursing landowners for the cost of fencing to keep livestock away from riparian areas, thus protecting the habitat; and reducing landowners’ fears of regulation by including them early in the conservation decision-making process.

These private landowners should be the main focus of educational environmental efforts. Since it has been estimated that 90% of the endangered animals' natural habitats is on privately owned land, attention must be focused on these landowners in order to make headway in preserving these animals.


  1. Niiiice....

    The article you cite is dead-on. An organization I work with here has been able to successfully clean up a very polluted river by educating landowners about how environmental cleanup benefits them. And not only that, the group tells people how different cleanup things are a good idea (like septic tank maintenance) but then offers them money to help with projects.

    Hopefully more groups will start having lucking with this approach.

    Maybe I'll actually post something on my blog today! The last two weeks have been ridiculous... what are you doing in ecology?

  2. We've been to a couple of swamps in the area (both of which are absolutely beatiful in the fall - I wish I would have brought a camera) and later in the semester, we'll be visiting a waste management facility.

    I hear you on the ridiculous factor. This past week was busy as hell (ecology & physics test); I'm surprised that I found time to update anything.

    Maybe I'll get a chance this evening...