To "fuse the wants of humankind with the needs of creation," we need to weave the habitat needs of plants and animals into the open space movement, says Interior Department secretary Bruce Babbitt in the June issue of Conservation Biology.
The public cares deeply about open space, as evidenced by the passage of more than 140 "smart growth" initiatives nationwide last year. Babbitt envisions taking advantage of this keen public interest by combining smart growth and conservation biology in a new discipline called "urban bioplanning". For instance, when deciding what areas to preserve as open space, we could choose biodiversity hotspots and corridors between protected areas.
The best example of this approach is in Southern California, where growth between Los Angeles and San Diego was destroying the coastal sagebrush habitat inhabited by the California Gnatcatcher and about 85 other at-risk species. When the gnatcatcher was listed as threatened in 1993, people from biologists to county supervisors to economists to land-use planners worked together to decide what habitat to save, what land to develop and how to pay for it all. The resulting series of Habitat Conservation Plans covers 210,000 acres in San Diego and Orange Counties. "It is the most comprehensive and imaginative urban habitat plan in U.S. history," says Babbitt.
Babbitt advocates this approach for the many other urban areas where at-risk species live and where the public wants to preserve open space, including Austin, Denver, Las Vegas, Miami, Sacramento and Tucson. Conservation biologist can make it happen by getting involved in local planning efforts, he says.