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New Perspectives on Development and Rural Communities

Room to Roam

By: Alison Berry

Date: Feb, 06 2013

What does wildlife habitat have to do with the business of building strong communities? In our office, we like to think of it as two sides of the same coin: when we build great neighborhoods in which people want to live, we reduce the number of homes that get built out in the countryside, leaving more room for wild critters to roam. IWilson_i-4TB6Fgz-LA recent position paper Exurban Housing Development and Wildlife Position Statement from the Montana Chapter of the Wildlife Society recognizes this relationship. It addresses “exurban housing development and wildlife,” noting, “wildlife biologists across Montana have long recognized that exurban housing development is the primary threat to wildlife in western Montana.” And exurban development in western Montana is expanding, with nearly 1 million acres converted from open space or rural land uses in the last 25 years. The Wildlife Society notes that the impacts of development on wildlife reach far beyond the immediate footprint on the landscape. Development can interfere with migration corridors and provide a pathway for the proliferation of exotic, non-desirable species. Exurban housing can also put humans in conflict with wildlife—creating a situation where people see wildlife as “problem animals,” rather than a valued natural asset. In fact, wildlife-related recreation (hunting, fishing, and wildlife-watching) is an important part of Montana’s economy. These activities brought in $2 billion in 2006—putting them on-par with more traditional industries like ranching and logging. So the connection is clear: the business of building strong communities is inherently linked to wildlife habitat. The more people want to live in towns, and not out in areas where wildlife live, the more open spaces can remain intact. Thanks to the Wildlife Society for the reminder.

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