Open, Urban Wild and Wonderful
Park and recreation agencies have the task of preserving and / or develop property of the community they serve. Choosing to develop or not develop a resource comes with great responsibilities as well as great consequences.
The beginning of the agricultural era is also the beginning of urban sprawl. Urban sprawl is a threat to rural and pasture lands and natural habitats. According to the American Farmland Trust, more than 24 million acres of agricultural land was developed between 1982 and 2010. The 2005 collaborative study by the National Wildlife Federation, Smart Growth America and NatureServe found rapid consumption of land has the potential to threaten the survival of nearly one out of every three imperiled species in the United States. The study also mentions “existing parks and other public lands may help sustain these species and mitigate the loss of green space.” However, species will not benefit unless those lands are managed specifically for wildlife protection.
Benefits of Undeveloped Land
People value wild natural spaces with limited evidence of humans because they provide a source of inspiration, wonder and an escape from busy urban environments. Undeveloped green space also plays a role in maintaining physical and mental health. The areas can also serve as living classrooms, such Winnebago County’s Severson Dells summer program called Peak in a Creek. In addition to classrooms, natural spaces serve as important living laboratories for scientist to study areas with minimal human alteration.
Setting aside land for conservation also has other benefits, for example storm water absorption, air and water purification, microclimate regulation, reduction of greenhouse gases, carbon sequestration, flood control, erosion control, and supporting habitat for native plants and wildlife, including threatened and endangered species.
Protecting and Managing Undeveloped Areas
A Natural Resources Management plan is a valuable tool for park and recreation districts to provide a scientifically planning framework for protecting, restoring and managing natural undeveloped areas. The plan should start with inventories of the flora and fauna. The plan should also include provisions to control invasive species and restoring native plant populations to create biodiversity. Community members can be invited to help remove invasive species and restore areas to insure proper stewardship of the natural environment. Another management tool created by nature is fire. Although sometimes too difficult to conduct in urban areas, controlled burns are very helpful and are a better alternative to chemical treatments, in removing invasive plants and bringing back valuable native species.
All Citizens can reap the benefits, both physically and mentally, of wild areas. Natural habitats thrive from dedicated management when made a priority. With the available tools and resources, park and recreational agencies can ensure a future where the natural landscape can remain wild and wonderful for the enjoyment of everyone.