Population Growth and Conservation

This morning there were six to eight deer in the woods behind my home.  It was hard to tell exactly how many since they blend into the woods so well.  That camouflage helps with survival in a harsh world full of predators.  The wild turkeys that make an appearance almost daily around the area sport similar camouflage.  It’s no coincidence that both are rebounding in record numbers in New England. While there’s some irony that this is happening while development encroaches on more and more of the undeveloped areas that they live in, wild animals enjoy the relative security that comes with fewer predators.

I know a few hunters, but I know a lot more people who don’t hunt.  According to the Quality Deer Management Association, there are 5-8 hunters per square mile in New Hampshire, Maine and Massachusetts, 9-12 hunters per square mile in Connecticut and Vermont, and 13-16 per square mile in New York and Rhode Island.  Pennsylvania leads the way with more than 20 hunters per square mile.  Of course, when you factor in the length of hunting season, and restrictions in where hunters can hunt, you see why deer and turkey populations continue to increase.

I’m not a fan of urban sprawl, and I hate to see new developments pop up in the town where I live.  I recognize that the very neighborhood I live in was once woods that someone else valued for it’s pristine condition.  Being a preservationist or a conservationist is tricky business.  Ultimately, the market determines real estate values and the appeal of new developments.  Towns determine zoning restrictions, size of lots, and how many building permits are issued annually.  Towns like Carlisle, Massachusetts have a lot of conservation land, mixed with unbuildable wetlands.  Real estate prices escalate as a result of supply versus demand.  Carlisle happens to be in a desirable part of the state and shares a school system with another desirable town (Concord), so those two factors combine for one of the more expensive towns to live in.

Contrast that with neighboring towns Billerica or Chelmsford.  Each of these towns have conservation land, but they’ve also allowed significant development as residential and commercial development has snatched up much of the available land in these towns.  The train has left the station for large tracts of conservation land.  What they have is largely what they’ll have going forward.  Even in neighboring Concord, which has large tracts of conservation land and significant cultural and historical value, the fight to save Waldon Woods from developers has taken decades and millions of dollars to secure, and that fight is long from over.

Perhaps the future of development will be Serenbe, the “progressive community connected to nature on the edge of Atlanta” that blends large tracts of preserved natural areas with properties for sale or rent, restaurants and recreational facilities.  As rural areas become increasingly developed, this may be one way to stem the tide of urban sprawl.  As we’ve seen with the current President, designating lands as public doesn’t necessarily protect them from those who would profit from them.

My own development was built when there was a four acre minimum for each house.  This restriction created a natural buffer that theoretically limited development.  My neighborhood utilized a loophole where the lots could be smaller – my lot is 3/4 of an acre – while still preserving large tracts of the land as natural buffers.  So the land behind my home is preserved for wildlife and for us all to enjoy.  Sadly this hasn’t been the norm, and many of the developments that have popped up in this and surrounding towns are designed to maximize the profits of the developer versus ensuring open space.

While cities seem to be gaining more popularity, there seems to be a parallel explosion in 55+ and condo/townhouse developments spreading into previously rural towns.  Hunters and conservationists can work with developers to protect large tracts of land for future generations, but the time to do it is now.  Ultimately money and political will drive much of what will happen.  Time will tell who wins.

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