Opinion: Conservation and Affordable Housing Can Coexist

Encouraging denser development in urbanized areas is an effective way to protect sensitive flora and fauna from human encroachment.

Read Time: 2 minutes

March 15, 2022, 8:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

Mountain Lion

P-22, a male mountain lion, has roamed his territory in Griffith Park for over a decade in practically total isolation from other mountain lions. | National Park Service / Flickr

Protecting sensitive wildlife and building more housing don't have to be mutually exclusive, argues J.P. Rose, senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. "For decades we have built in areas without careful consideration of how it affects wildlife. Sprawling overdevelopment has helped bring us to this extinction crisis — one in which the Quino checkerspot butterflies that once thrived in Southern California are now extremely rare and iconic mountain lions are suffering from inbreeding and genetic isolation."

But protecting wildlife doesn't have to come at the expense of affordable housing, a point brought into sharp relief in February, when the Northern California town of Woodside attempted to evade state housing mandates by designating the entire community as mountain lion habitat. 

When my colleagues at the Center for Biological Diversity and I petitioned the California Fish and Game Commission to list Southern California and Central Coast mountain lions as a threatened species, we were not proposing to ban development throughout the state.

Instead, we wanted state officials to help these imperiled cats by building wildlife crossings, prohibiting rat poison use and factoring in how new development affects connectivity.

As Rose writes, the solution is infill development. "It’s time to stop seeing large swaths of open space as the best places to build. Cities and counties must steer development toward jobs and transportation centers to address the need for affordable housing. Focusing on wildlife-friendly infill development and building up, not out, is the thoughtful way to grow."

"In Ventura County, the board of supervisors passed two ordinances that increase protections for wildlife corridors by setting development standards and requiring environmental review for projects that block connectivity." Rose praises these ordinances, saying he hopes that similar policies will follow in more communities.

Saturday, March 12, 2022 in Ventura County Star

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