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Houston Sprawl Leaves Wildlife Stranded

Houston Sprawl Leaves Wildlife Stranded i
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August 16, 2013
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, as VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Houston, time is running out.
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Greg Flakus
— 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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by: Tony from: Oregon USA
August 21, 2013 1:07 AM
Houston has no topographic barriers such as rivers or mountains to hinder development. This naturally leads to low land prices which draw developers to build wherever they choose. Couple the cheap land with little past political willpower to enact land use laws and the result is endless sprawl. The metro area needs stronger leadership to resist the political environment that continues to encourage building further & further out. Houston prides itself on its economic prowess, but unless there's a collective effort to increase urban density and implement smart land usage, choking traffic and vast distances between affordable housing and employment/entertainment centers may very well be what kills the growth.


by: Paul from: Houston
August 19, 2013 11:40 PM
Overpopulation is never even brought up in our local, regional or national political agenda. I'm sure the rest of the world "can't wait." It's as if our "freedom" to own as big of a house, or automobile, or just about anything "outweighs" wildlife and nature itself.


by: miss_msry from: USA
August 19, 2013 4:48 PM
"You can actually fit the cities of New York, Washington, Boston, San Francisco, Seattle, Minneapolis and Miami inside Houston," explains Ann Taylor...

And yet, Houston has no true mass transit system.


by: Yoshi from: Sapporo
August 19, 2013 3:21 AM
Huston is a bit larger than Sapporo both in space and population. It is the same there remains nature and wild lives near the down town area. We also can see dear, fox, raccoon on our way back to home in the evening. Sometimes bears are witnessed at backyard in spring and we are restricted to keep staying home. What different between Sapporo and Huston is their future population. It is expected to decrease one fifith in Sapporo in contrast to increase two folds in dozens of years. I know Texus, Huston is famous for its NASA and oil industries. I again understand US is still a growing country. (Yet we also pay attention to the report that hundreds of towns are bankrupting and residents are leaving their home towns in US.)


by: Manda Ginjiro from: Minami, Osaka, JPN
August 17, 2013 7:34 PM
Houses in the US are too big to live. You do NOT need so huge area to live. Please live more compact and reduce CO2 for wildlife. American people have been wasting all kind of resources such as oil, gas and food.

In Response

by: miss_msry from: USA
August 19, 2013 4:49 PM
You are so right, the houses in Houston (and most of the USA) are much too big.

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