Saturday, April 15, 2006
The tall prairie grasslands that are now Chicago streets and the mangrove forests that are now Miami suburbs are gone. But Arizona is doing something to preserve its Sonoran desert plants. In one America’s fastest growing states, where golf courses spread across land that was once barrel cactus and ocotillo, the Cactus Rescue Crew delicately removes and preserve native plants just ahead of the bulldozer, so that they can be replanted elsewhere later.
What’s interesting for land use policy is that developers are encouraged to support the rescuers. Law requires developers in some locations to inventory native plants (this is reminiscent of reports that Amazonian biologists merely try to catalog rare insects just before their forest is demolished and the species are made extinct) and to save large saguaros -- the slow-growing, anthropomorphic marvels that are the symbol the Sonoran desert.
Our ecological land preservation laws typically have been all or nothing. If a resident species is listed as endangered, the developer often must take significant steps, including habitat conservation, before harming them. If a plant or animal is not so threatened, however, law typically allows destructive land use to go forward without many constraints. Flora such as the Sonoran plants are not endangered, but their habitat is shrinking. It would be wise policy to exact from developers more “impact” requirements –- such as requiring that they take steps to preserve and replant important native species before digging up the land for split-levels and dog-legs.