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Building to live with wildlife

Sidebar by Martha Quillen

Wildlife – April 1994 – Colorado Central Magazine

Some of the biggest fiascoes in America in the last few years have been directly attributable to poor zoning, planning and, building. California wild fires. Mudslides. Homes on faults. Homes built on mudslides next to faults. Homes built on flood plains. Florida homes designed to litter the countryside like so many toothpicks.

Surely such sheer waste can’t be environmentally sound. And it can’t be good for natural habitat, either.

The tendency we’ve shown to compound natural disasters with naturally vulnerable dwellings, has alerted people to the importance of building homes with climatic and geological hazards in mind.

Yet few people realize that building plans should also reflect the needs of wildlife. According to Bruce Goforth, Senior Wildlife Biologist in charge of Planning and Environmental Protection for the Southeast Region of Colorado, people should build out of flood plains, out of riparian areas, and out of wetlands. Before finalizing their plans, they should identify wildlife movement corridors, and then position their homes as far away from those trails as possible.

The Division also makes suggestions about fencing, advising people to avoid barbed wire, and to put in fences that are no higher than 40 inches tall. Where there are antelope, it’s important to place the lower strand of the fence ten to fourteen inches above the ground. And for those with acreage and dogs, Goforth suggests interior fencing to keep the dogs in, with exterior fencing that lets the game animals through.

“People should realize that whenever someone builds, there will be a resulting loss of habitat,” Goforth says. But he feels that careful planning can mitigate some of the less desirable consequences. “The more you can find out, the better judgments you can make,” he says.

Hoping to assist counties before problems arise, the Colorado Division of Wildlife has been working with county planners throughout our region, offering advice on zoning and wildlife habitat. County maps provided by the Division show areas of low, medium, and high value for wildlife, and Division biologists furnish information and education to those involved in making planning and zoning decisions.

When a proposed development falls in a medium or high impact area, the county can ask the District Wildlife Manager for a mitigation plan. In essence, that means that a local wildlife officer actually visits the site before he makes recommendations.

When offering planning information, the Division of Wildlife acts solely as a consultant, not as a regulatory agency. And it tries to reach developers before too much money has been spent on planning and design — so that wildlife suggestions have a better chance at implementation.

Most of the Division of Wildlife’s information is currently geared toward subdivisions and large developments, but Goforth believes that the Division’s recommendations can help anyone who is building a home or looking for land.

For those who need advice, he recommends calling your local wildlife office and your county planner. For more information about planting, it might also help to contact your local Soil Conservation Service office and your Extension Service office.