Monday, July 20, 2009

Wildlife Conservation & Land Development...A Perfect Marriage

I live, work, and bird at Avimor. Being a community developer / home builder and an avid birder, one might think that I am filled with immense internal conflict as it would seem that my vocation conflicts with my hobby. Yet I am not conflicted, but rather delighted. As a developer-birder, I feel a deep responsibility in preserving and restoring the native varieties of habitat to the greatest extent of my influence.

Wise development can be (and must be) part of the solution to the typical problems related to native species caused by urbanization. Identifying and preserving wildlife corridors with reasonable buffer areas are the main keys. Clustering densities and maintaining as much open space as possible are essential to the preservation of habitat. Avimor has employed the services of Environmental Conservation Services with Charlie Baun as our Conservation Director. He works with a variety of agencies to find the best ways we can be good stewards of the land here in these amazing foothills. Then he helps us execute and enforce those standards. Charlie and his team monitor big game, birds, and plants to assist us in mitigating our impact.

We have designated hundreds of acres as permanent conservation areas. We are at war with non-native noxious weeds. We are restoring riparian areas and creating new ones with plans to do a lot more over the coming decades. Slopes that have been affected by grading have been revegetated with native plant species. We have an approved plant list for residential and common area landscape that encourages the use of native and wildlife sustaining plants. I personally host monthly bird walks and maintain this Avimor Birding Blog to keep the public and our residents informed. We recently were awarded a mini-grant from Cornell to hold a Celebrate Urban Birds event at Avimor. Our type of development is very different from the “sea of rooftops” that has been so common for decades.

Spring Valley Creek, which runs along Highway 55, is one of Avimor’s principal migration corridors for birds. This stretch was not studied much by birders until two years ago, so I don’t have a “prior-to-construction” baseline to compare against. Two and three years ago we were in full-on land grading with lots of heavy equipment which I am sure temporarily impacted the birds' comfort. I am happy to report that the quantities of birds and the variety of species are way up from last year. Obviously we have replaced some native land with homes, streets, and parks. I am not sure which, if any, species we have displaced. One must remember that the Avimor area has been a sheep and cattle ranch for over a century and the impact of livestock on native habitat and species had been very significant.

I suspect that we have created new habitat that encourages American Robins, House Finches, and Killdeer judging by the numbers of their nests here. Our sand quarry has become a new nesting ground for Bank Swallows which feed in the hundreds over Avimor’s small town lake.

Last year I feared that some large hawk nests were abandoned and that we had scared off these precious birds of prey. I was so please that this season we have had four Red-Tailed Hawk nests, two Kestrel nest, and two Great Horned Owl nests right on Spring Valley Creek. One of the owl nests was very near homes and successfully fledged two chicks as we watched with wonder and awe.

I look at some of the developments along the Boise River in Eagle, Idaho where they have added dozens of ponds and impressive densities of trees and shrubs intermingled with homes. Those ponds now host an abundance of water fowl during the winter. As a birder I really enjoy that. I can’t help but wonder that we are favoring certain species over others, but whether it is for the overall good of Earth or not, only time will tell. It is a bit arrogant and unscientific for mankind to determine an “ideal” number of any given species. Populations of all wildlife naturally rise and fall. Some species naturally become extinct as others evolve and persist. Mankind should avoid being the cause.

It will be interesting to watch over the coming years how the bird species and quantities change at Avimor. I track all of my sightings on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s eBird website, so I am collecting lots of good data.

Developers are often painted as evil monsters that destroy the land for the sake of a buck. Some are. Many are not. Conservation-minded developers play a major role in restoring and maintaining habitat for birds and wildlife. There is a huge and growing market niche of people who want to live in harmony with nature and who will pay a premium to live in communities where nature-friendliness is a key lifestyle element.


  1. I am happy to say that all of the photography on this post was ours.

  2. Glad to see your post. It is comforting to see there are nature-wise (and bird-wise!) builders out there. I hope your standards become an industry-wide movement. People need nature, even those that (think they) don't.

  3. Robert it is so heart warming to see a land developer that is conscious of the environment. I relish the idea of conservation-minded developers and hope that you are in increasing species. If land must be developed (a question, the answer I am not so sure of) I would rather see it done in an environmentally conscious manner.

    It's nice to see the Bank Swallows and raptors doing well there at Avimor.