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Houston Sprawl Leaves Wildlife Stranded


Houston, Texas, and its surrounding suburbs are growing fast and sprawling out into natural forest areas that are the habitat for many species of indigenous wildlife. Local leaders as well as environmentalists are seeking some sort of balance between growth and preservation of nature. But time is running out.

On a ranch in the woods northwest of Houston, several young deer who were left orphaned when their mother was killed, are growing to maturity within a safe, fenced-off area.

Nearby, at the Friends of Texas Wildlife Center northwest of Houston, volunteers help care for a variety of injured animals. There, a red-tailed hawk is recovering from what may have been a collision with a glass window.

Center Director Lisa Wolling is helping him exercise his wings so he can be returned to his natural world.

"He needs to be in this flight area to be able to [be in] flight condition and get his endurance back up," she said.

Animals throughout this area are facing a crisis as developers build more homes and more roads to link them to Houston.

Friends of Texas Wildlife President Janette Winkelmann says her privately-funded organization can only help a small percentage of the displaced animals.

"They have nowhere to go. They end up on the street, they end up running around in people's yards," she said.

Because land is relatively cheap and abundant around Houston, the metropolitan area sprawls out in every direction.

"You can actually fit the cities of New York, Washington, Boston, San Francisco, Seattle, Minneapolis and Miami inside Houston," explains Ann Taylor, executive director at the Houston office of the Urban Land Institute, a non-profit group devoted to urban planning and development.

The answer, she says, is to promote more density.

"That is one of the keys: to put more people on less space so that you can preserve more of the natural environment," she said.

The city has made efforts to create more parks and nature areas, as have some of the suburbs like The Woodlands, where the master plan included preservation of trees.

But Houston's economic success creates a big challenge, says Taylor.

"We know that in the next 15 or so years we are going to add another two and a half million people to our population, and they have got to go somewhere," she said.

The good news is that many young professionals and entrepreneurs prefer living in areas near downtown, where they can walk to many attractions.

Developing more city dwellings and less outward sprawl could be the key to giving the area's wildlife more room to survive.

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