December 22, 2009
Housing Development Near US Protected Areas

People into the United States are moving into areas around protected areas.

MADISON Conservationists have long known that lines on a map are not sufficient to protect nature because what happens outside those boundaries can affect what happens within. Now, a study by two University of Wisconsin-Madison scientists in the department of forest and wildlife ecology measures the threat of housing development around protected areas in the United States.

In a study published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), Volker Radeloff, an associate professor, and Anna Pidgeon, an assistant professor, looked at housing around every national park, national forest and federal wilderness area in the 48 contiguous states. Using data from the U.S. Census and local sources, they counted housing units built within 1 to 50 kilometers of these reserves, and produced maps and statistics that document the change since 1940 and project forward to 2030.

In 2000, 38 million housing units were within 50 kilometers of these conserved lands, compared to 9.8 million in 1940, and housing was growing faster inside that 50-kilometer range than outside it.

A house's sphere of influence extends beyond its own lot, because housing can encourage the spread of invasive species, alter drainage patterns and foster increased recreational use of the conserved land, which can, ironically, harm wildlife.

Nature is shrinking. The human domain is expanding.

I know people who are intentionally building near national forests in order to be close to natural areas that will be preserved. Some of them are hunters. Some are boaters. All this is more strain on nature. At the same time, I'd like to live inside a national forest.

One category of development that jumped out of the data was the 940,000 housing units built between 1940 and 2000 in private land inside the boundaries of national forests. These so-called "in-holdings" are surrounded by conserved land and therefore pose a special challenge for wildlife.

The Wisconsin scientists project that housing within 50 kilometers of wilderness areas will have grown 45 percent (10 million units) by 2030 compared to 2000. During the same period, they project housing to grow 52 percent within 1 kilometer of national forests.

Population growth will accelerate the spread of humans into wilder areas. The telecommunications revolution helps people live away from cities and they are moving toward nature when they are able. Population growth of 50% (as will happen to the US by 2050 under high immigration scenarios) would boost land usage for housing, highways, farms, factories, commercial buildings, mines, and other ways humans use land. The land not used for farms isn't as productive the land used for farms. So we take more of the useful habitats than we do of land overall.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2009 December 22 10:02 PM  Trends Habitat Loss

Fat Man said at December 23, 2009 8:48 AM:

"Nature is shrinking. The human domain is expanding."


Nick G said at December 23, 2009 2:53 PM:

One thing that leaps out: a need for building guidelines to minimize the impact of this housing: designing roads to minimize wildlife injuries and migration interuptions; reducing sewage impacts; etc.

jp straley said at December 24, 2009 7:13 AM:

The population of the US is driven mostly by immigration. The "heritage" peoples are neutral or declining in numbers.

Fat Man, you don't have a clue.


Randall Parker said at December 24, 2009 10:03 AM:

Fat Man,

You are competing against all the rest of the expanding human race for depleting resources. The fisheries are headed for collapse. World oil production has probably already peaked. World gold production has been declining steadily for about 8 years in spite of rising gold prices.

I'm reminded of an Eagles song about California: "There is no new frontier. We have got to make it here."

Scott said at December 25, 2009 7:25 AM:

If you build it, they will come. Why would a nature preserve be any different than a regular old tourist attraction in that respect?

The fact that the human domain is expanding is great. I love humans. We could probably expand our domain in smarter ways, but I'm all for expanding it nonetheless. If there are 45% more people close to a nature preserve, that's 45% more people who get to enjoy it. And unlike JPS, I'm not so arrogant as to think that I have more of a right to enjoy nature than a Mexican or Chinese immigrant. Nature should rightly be enjoyed by all of us, no matter where we're from or the color of our skin.

And really, if people living close to a nature preserve is a problem, what's the solution? Expand the nature preserve by 50km in all directions? But then the people who were 70km from the old preserve are only 20km from the new preserve, so they're causing problems and we'll have to expand the nature preserve again. Where does it end? As part of nature, as a species sharing this planet, don't we humans have a right to live too?

Bob Badour said at December 25, 2009 8:05 AM:
And unlike JPS, I'm not so arrogant as to think that I have more of a right to enjoy nature than a Mexican or Chinese immigrant.

Why can they not enjoy nature in Mexico or China?

Kralizec said at December 25, 2009 6:33 PM:

I long for the human race to collapse, for I suspect that so much that is weak, dull-witted, and ugly will die. I'm horrified only by the possibility of indiscriminate exterminations of entire populaces. Let the famines and resource wars come, if only they will leave behind a preponderance of what is strong, deep, innovative, and beautiful.

Brett Bellmore said at December 27, 2009 3:35 PM:

I beg of you, Kralizec: Make of yourself a good example for the rest of us.

Engineer-Poet said at December 28, 2009 8:16 AM:

I suspect that Scott is either willfully ignorant of the uses to which Mexicans put American nature preserves (poaching the protected animals and using the land to grow dope with lots of toxic chemicals), or he approves because he is anti-SWPL.  I bet the Mexicans would take better care of Mexico if they had nowhere else to go, and they can't trash Yosemite if they aren't there.  If Mexicans fail to take care of Mexico and collapse, the damage they can do is limited if they cannot emigrate to burden and damage other ecosystems.  This is one of the reasons I want the border fence built.

Even if the amount of nature remains fixed, adding more people means that each person can enjoy it less without damaging it.

If the USA stops immigration, population pressure will ease.  More nature per capita means a higher quality of life.  WANT.

Randall Parker said at December 28, 2009 9:11 AM:

Brett Bellmore,

Obviously Krazilecc expects to survive the coming collapse (as do I). So why should he kill himself?

An example? The people who are going to die aren't setting a moral example of higher moral behavior. They are setting an example of losing. That is all.

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