Sprawl imperils California species: Research has national implications

provided by National Wildlife Federation

new National Wildlife Federation White Paper finds for the first time on the basis of quantified research that sprawl is the leading cause of species imperilment in California. Outranking all other factors, sprawl contributes to the imperilment of 188 of the 286 California species listed as threatened or endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act, or 66 percent of the state's listed species.

    “This research underscores that wildlife imperilment is not just something that's happening 'out there,' far removed from metropolitan areas, but is increasingly occurring 'right here,' where the majority of people live and work,” said Mark Van Putten, President of the National Wildlife Federation, who released the findings in conjunction with the formal opening of NWF's Western Natural Resource Center in San Diego. “These findings give added urgency to developing smart growth solutions to sprawl, solutions that conserve vital wildlife habitat,” he said.

    The White Paper, Paving Paradise Sprawl's Impact On Wildlife And Wild Places In California, also finds that sprawl is linked to several other causes contributing to species imperilment in California. Road construction, for example, which is often driven by sprawl, contributes to the imperilment of 84 of the 188 species that are also imperiled by sprawl.

    “Research established some time ago that habitat loss is by far the major contributor to species imperilment in the United States,” said Kevin Doyle, Director of the Western Natural Resource Center and coordinator of NWF's Smart Growth and Wildlife campaign efforts there. “Paving Paradise adds a finer-grained definition by breaking habitat loss down into its constituent parts, as well as considering other causes of species imperilment. The findings are a strong signal that wildlife and habitat need to be considered along with housing, transportation, and other land use planning elements as we work for smart growth alternatives to sprawl.”

    While the white paper analyzes data on California species, the research is expected to have implications in other regions of the country. “As we extend this work beyond California, we have good reason to believe we'll find sprawl is emerging as the major contributor to species imperilment in other large, fast-growing states such as Florida and Texas,” Van Putten said.

    Brian Czech, a PhD and certified wildlife biologist, was the white paper's chief researcher. He coauthored with two colleagues a peer-reviewed report entitled “Economic Associations Among Causes of Species Endangerment in the United States” in the July, 2000, issue of BioScience. Czech used the data and research protocols from that report, updated it and analyzed it for California to produce the findings in Paving Paradise. The work involved reviewing the relevant scientific literature to determine the specific causes of endangerment attributed to the decline of each of the 286 species in California listed under the Endangered Species Act. (Three listed marine species were not included in the data, two sea turtles and the short-tailed albatross, whose ranges include the Pacific Ocean off California.) The causes of imperilment were classified into 18 categories, consistent with the method used in the BioScience report.

    The findings present a quantitative analysis of the causes of species imperilment in California. As such, the white paper collects and analyzes data identifying which factors contribute to the imperilment of each of California's 286 listed species; it does not attempt to rank the relative contributions of these factors to each species' imperilment. However, it is noteworthy that several of the non-sprawl causes that contribute most frequently to species imperilment have a direct connection to sprawl.

    Ranking second behind sprawl, the findings show interactions with nonnative species contribute to the imperilment of 132 (or 46 percent) of the state's 286 listed species. The clearing and grading of large tracts of land in preparation of a new residential subdivision, in turn, create an environment in which nonnative species thrive.

    Paving Paradise underscores the need to make a place for wildlife in land use planning to accommodate California's rapidly growing population,” Van Putten said.

    NWF's Western Field office is location in San Diego. Contact: Kevin Doyle, 619-296-8353. www.nwf.org.