Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Conservation, Paper Subdivisions, and the Google Age

I've been recording Florida Scrub-Jays recently on various sites on the Lake Wales Ridge. I had an interesting experience today trying to make connections between my google maps printouts, my map of the scrub and reserve boundaries, and my on-the-ground field-truthing of where these jays are. My target today was to record every jay in Silver Lake, a scrub reserve that is part of a network of protected areas on the ridge (see map). Here is the Google roadmap of the protected area, most of the area you see north of Columbus Boulevard and Minorca St:

Basically, besides the patch west of Silver Lake itself, it looks like all subdivision! Zooming in farther, the roads even all have names:

Now click from street map to satellite view and turn off the labels. Poof! Roads gone! It looks like a subdivision slated for development made it as far as being uploaded to Google Maps before being bought up for scrub conservation. Then I realized what a common pattern this is in Florida conservation. I couldn't be happier to never see those roads developed. We have too many already.

More depressing is the land not currently protected. Go ahead and click the "Show Labels" on Sat View on and off. Watch the habitat magically disappear!

If that makes you too depressed, like it did me, I checked around and it does look like that parcel is actually targeted for conservation acquisition. Check Appendices 2 and 3 under the "State of the Scrub" report here and search for the Silver Lake properties.

I've encountered other sites like these in my fieldwork in Florida over the past year. Here is a section of another one of these protected sites, Carter Creek. Unlike Silver Lake, this paper subdivision got as far as clearing lanes through the flatwoods and scrub for the roads. There are even a few holdout land parcels with houses scattered through it. Check it out, switch the labels on and off again:

My current work on the Bombing Range sometimes takes me up to another paper subdivision, this one with a very different history. That story was featured, not particularly kindly, in a book, Redneck Riviera. Basically the roads were never cleared (never even intended to be cleared, if you believe the stories in the book), and it is now under the governing of the River Ranch Property Owners Association. There is a big swath of land dedicated to setting up camp or RV or trailer, and an enormous tract of undeveloped land used for lots and lots of hunting. While it may be criss-crossed by an insane maze of ATV and 4wd and swamp buggy tracks, I don't think this is a particularly bad end for a paper subdivision. Some of the camps get really redneck, which makes working there fun:

Finally, last spring Eric and I, on a herping trip through south Florida, briefly visited the big granddaddy of all paper subdivisions: Picayune Strand. Read that link for the backstory.

It was a bit of a shock while roadcruising to pop out the back end of Fakahatchee Strand Preserve (that road coming through the wilderness on the right) and into a maze of cleared dirt roads and canals. These road scars through the state forest are easily visible on the zoomed-out satellite view, and they also have names in Google Maps, if you zoom in and turn the labels on.

Is this a uniquely Floridian conservation strategy? I can't recall encountering anything like this in New York, but then upstate NY isn't besieged by swarms of retires looking for nice gated communities.

Edit, postscipt:

I came across a relevant quote in the old Pat McManus book I've been re-reading:

"City planners have shown beyond doubt that old orchards, meadows, and pine woods, which once threatened the outskirts of many of our towns and cities, can be successfully eradicated by constructing a housing development on top of them. To my knowledge there has not been a single recurrence of an old orchard, meadow, or pine woods after one application of a housing development."
(Patrick F. McManus, "The Backyard Safari" in A Fine And Pleasant Misery)

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