Friday, September 20, 2013

Conservation Development without Conservation Biologists?

A new paper on conservation development provides oodles of information about conservation development in the western United States while pinpointing shortfalls with current ordinances. Conservation development for the uninitiated is well... pretty much exactly what it sounds like. It is a land-se planning strategy that requires conservation measures for new development. It can take the form of conservation easements, cluster development, conservation-oriented planned development, etc. A common feature is setting aside some portion of land for conservation in a residential development project. Many counties and local governments have laws promoting conservation development (often pledging faster project review or bestowing density bonuses).

Although not yet available in print, you can get an early view of an article in the upcoming issue of Conservation Biology by Sarah Reed, Jodi Hilty, and David Theobald that examines conservation development ordinances in 11 western states. The authors did an impressive job of reviewing ordinance for 402 counties (97% response rate-- wowzers). As conservation biologists, the authors were interested to see if the county ordinances promoted sound ecological principles.  A few interesting things coming out of the study:

  • over 30% of the counties actually had conservation development ordinances
  • most required protection in perpetuity, but not all
  • most required conservation of some portion of the land, but set no minimum sizes on protected area, rarely required connection with other protected lands or even other lands within the site
  • very few ordinances required ecological analysis
  • only 8% required some type of consultation with an ecologist or conservation biologist
  • few required management plans

These  are just a few of the points that they make, and I recommend getting the full article to learn more. This is a good article for lawyers and planners to read because it highlights some of the problems we have communicating with each other. One thing they don't answer but I wondered about is how many conservation biologists were consulted when the counties actually wrote the ordinance.

Here is the full title and abstract:

Guidelines and Incentives for Conservation Development in Local Land-Use Regulations

SARAH E. REED, JODI A. HILTY, & DAVID M. THEOBALD

Article first published online: 3 SEP 2013

DOI: 10.1111/cobi.12136

Effective conservation of biological diversity on private lands will require changes in land-use policy and development practice. Conservation development (CD) is an alternative form of residential development in which homes are built on smaller lots and clustered together and the remainder of the property is permanently protected for conservation purposes. We assessed the degree to which CD is permitted and encouraged by local land-use regulations in 414 counties in the western United States. Thirty-two percent of local planning jurisdictions have adopted CD ordinances, mostly within the past 10 years. CD ordinances were adopted in counties with human population densities that were 3.0 times greater and in counties with 2.5 times more land use at urban, suburban, and exurban densities than counties without CD ordinances. Despite strong economic incentives for CD (e.g., density bonuses, which allow for a mean of 66% more homes to be built per subdivision area), several issues may limit the effectiveness of CD for biological diversity conservation. Although most CD ordinances required a greater proportion of the site area be protected than in a typical residential development, just 13% (n = 17) of the ordinances required an ecological site analysis to identify and map features that should be protected. Few CD ordinances provided guidelines regarding the design and configuration of the protected lands, including specifying a minimum size for protected land parcels or encouraging contiguity with other protected lands within or near to the site. Eight percent (n =11) of CD ordinances encouraged consultation with a biological expert or compliance with a conservation plan. We recommend that conservation scientists help to improve the effectiveness of CD by educating planning staff and government officials regarding biological diversity conservation, volunteering for their local planning boards, or consulting on development reviews.

 

- Jessie Owley

 

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/land_use/2013/09/conservation-development-without-conservation-biologists.html

Community Design, Conservation Easements, Density, Local Government, Planning, Scholarship, Subdivision Regulations | Permalink

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