Biodiversity and Smart Growth
Decades of unbridled sprawl have taken a huge toll not only
on the quality of people's lives, but also on the quality of our natural environment.
Uncontrolled development has led to increasingly congested traffic, fewer options
for outdoor recreation, and often, higher taxes. In contrast, smart growth
represents a new approach to planning our communities in a way that provides
more options for where we build and how we live. It is an approach that allows
us to make considered choices about the future of our communities.
The very nature of our communities is at stake. As development pushes further and further out, farmlands and wildlands disappear, and with them the habitats on which wildlife depend. Even at low densities, poorly planned development can fragment natural habitats, greatly reducing the value of remaining open spaces for biodiversity. And as many communities have experienced during recent fire seasons, building homes in wildland areas where periodic fires are a natural phenomenon can be hazardous to property and lives.
It does not have to be this way. Around the country communities
are taking a fresh look at how to more intelligently plan for their future.
Many of these efforts focus on creating what has been termed green infrastructureparks,
preserves, and ecological corridors that complement the more traditional built-infrastructure,
such as roads, sewers, and electrical grids.
Protecting and maintaining ecologically important areas for the benefit of people and wildlife is key to creating healthy and stable human communities. National surveys of the most desirable and livable communities routinely show the importance of easy access to open space and natural areas. Unfortunately, in most places planning does not take into full account the biodiversity found in and around our communities.
What is NatureServe Doing?
Biodiversity is often not incorporated into land use planning efforts because ecological information is still difficult to find, and many planners are unfamiliar with how to effectively use this information in their work. NatureServe is working to promote smart growth by creating a decision-support system designed to help planners incorporate biodiversity considerations into planning efforts. Known as NatureServe Vista, this advanced GIS-based software allows users to harness the power of advanced computer mapping to visualize the environment and project alternative scenarios for the future. Now available in version 1.0, NatureServe Vista will enable users to:
- characterize the existing biodiversity resources and values in an area;
- relate these biological features to physical, social, and economic factors;
- identify ecologically sensitive areas to identify where development is less or more suitable, or where the best conservation opportunities exist; and
- assess the biodiversity implications of alternative land use scenarios.
NatureServe is also actively engaged with other organizations
involved in the smart growth issue through the Consortium on Biodiversity and
Land Use. Consisting of four leading non-profit organizationIsland
of Wildlife, Environmental
Law Institute, and NatureServethe consortium members are individually
and collectively developing a series of analytical products and tool kits designed
to embed biological concerns into the heart of the planning process.
Related NatureServe Products and Services
NatureServe Vista: An important new software product that provides a tool for incorporating biodiversity considerations into smart growth and land use planning.
Analyses: NatureServe and its member programs regularly provide data and
expertise for statewide and ecoregional conservation planning, selection and
design of nature preserves and conservation easements, and planning of open
space, greenways, and biological corridors.
Review: Most U.S. natural heritage programs and Canadian conservation data
centers routinely conduct environmental reviews of proposed development projects
to identify potential ecological conflicts.
Other Key Resources
Smart Growth America: A nationwide coalition offering a variety of resources promoting the application of smart growth principles at the state
and local level.
Growing Smart Project: Model planning and zoning legislation
developed by the American Planning Association.
Growth and Wildlife Campaign: An initiative of the National Wildlife Federation
to protect and restore species and habitats threatened by sprawl, by promoting
smart growth alternatives.