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Americans are 'loving [their] protected areas to death'.
Housing developments within 50 kilometers (31 miles) of America's national parks have nearly quadrupled in sixty years, rising from 9.8 million housing units to 38 million from 1940 to 2000. The explosion of housing developments adjacent to national parks threatens wildlife in a variety of ways, according to a new study in the Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
"We are in danger of loving these protected areas to death," says co-author Anna Pidgeon as assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Housing developments introduce domestic species like dogs and cats; attract raccoons opossum, and skunks; threaten vital migration routes; give off extensive light pollution; and bring with them increased recreational use to important conservation areas.
The authors provide numerous examples of how the close proximity of houses hurt wildlife. Elk migrate from the mountains in the summer to the valleys in winters, but as Pidgeon points out that "in the Cascades, the valleys are now filled with orchards and houses."
Ground-nesting birds are threatened by alien predators like domestic cats and dogs. Window in homes also kill over a billion birds a year in the US, while cats kill approximately 400,000 birds a year.
Light pollution can interrupt hunting, travel, and migration for a variety of species including moths and other insects, amphibians and reptiles, bats, birds, and even some plants.
The researchers say that the trend of building adjacent to parks is not slowing down anytime soon: they estimate that by 2030 housing developments will grow by 45 percent from 2000 levels, including another 10 million units.
"I was shocked to think that these protected areas aren't doing the job we believe they were doing. There are now rings of housing around national parks like Yellowstone and Yosemite. I don't think it's occurred to people to think about how that may affect biodiversity. These parks, wilderness areas and forests are intended to protect biodiversity, so we need look at what is going on," says Pidgeon.
Many countries have established buffer zones around national parks, putting in place regulations to protect species and ecosystems.
'Obama slower than Bush in protecting America's endangered species'
In George W. Bush's eight years as president, he placed 62 species under the protection of the Endangered Species Act (ESA), an average of eight species per year. While, Bush's slow pace in protecting endangered species frustrated environmentalists in light of continued decline among many species, Obama is moving even slower.
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