As the most curious and brilliant species on the planet, the Human species undoubtedly makes an impact on everything and anything that it lays its hands on. The end results of a human presence in any part of the world will change it for better or for worse, and no other subject of human impact is more important than our habitat and the wildlife that reside in it; there is only one Earth and we all have to live on it. Since the moment that humans ceased to be a nomadic species, we have been affecting the environment, “First there were tents, then huts, then farmhouses and fields, then towns and cities” (256). Urban sprawl has a long history in the United States with its roots in the cotton farming and all the forests that were logged to create farmlands. However, with the coming of the industrial age in the late nineteenth century, human settlement has sped up and advanced their urban sprawl, expanding faster and in more extremity which leads to a lot of controversy over the pros and cons of urban sprawl. This controversy has since lead to intriguing debates and these two essays, Unwelcome Human Neighbors: The Impact of Sprawl on Wildlife by Jutka Terris and Nature in the Suburbs by Jane S. Shaw present two very different views, negative and positive, respectively, on the effects of Urban Sprawl and the impact it has on the surrounding wildlife.
Jutka Terris is an urban planner that works with the Natural Resources Defense council (NRDC), who considers themselves to be “the nation’s most effective environmental action organization” (256), Terris has also been associated with many other environmental organizations before she joined the NRDC. Her essay views urban sprawl negatively, especially in the recent twenty years where “Nearly one-sixth of the total base of land developed in our country’s long history was claimed for development in just 10 years” (257). Terris believes that urban sprawl in the United States is endangering and causing the extinction of many species of animals whose habitats are being destroyed by the urban sprawl of people. She provides many examples such as the Florida Panther, the Bald Eagle and many amphibious creatures. She presents inbreeding as one of the cons of urban sprawl and uses amphibious animals as an example because “…even a single road across their habitat may be enough to create genetically divergent groups. A result may be a lack of enough genetic variety within each subgroup, resulting in degenerative inbreeding” (258). Many species of animals also become increasingly vulnerable when their habitats are destroyed, eliminating hiding spots and creating opportunities for its predators such as the gnatcatcher who “has lost some three-fourths of its natural habitat, and its remaining population… is hanging on in shrinking, isolated patches where it is more exposed to predators” (258). Terris concludes that there is no single key to fixing urban sprawl. Although there are corporations that are buying out land and using money to try and prevent further destruction, they do not have enough funds to be effective. Therefore, the public must become considerate about the ecology, correspond to bioregional planning and most critically of all, be more thoughtful when accommodating our urban and suburban sprawl.
Jane S. Shaw is also an environmentalist, but at the Property and Environment Research Center (PERC), a place that researches marketing principles to resolve environmental problems. In addition to PERC, Shaw has also written for different business and environmental journals and magazines. Her essay, as opposed to Terris’, presents urban and suburban sprawl in a pleasant light. She insists that urban sprawl is helping the wildlife, and contrary to popular belief, the wildlife is actually adapting to sprawl. Suburban areas especially are quite compatible with wildlife than most people may assume. Urban sprawl is a positive change for wildlife opposed to the rural farmland which caused a lot of logging areas because it “allows forests to retake territories they lost centuries ago” (262). This trend has been documented in several parts of the east coast, “The percent of forested land in New Hampshire increased from 50 percent in the 1880s to 86 percent 100 years later… Forested land in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island increased from 35 percent to 59 percent over the same period” (262). Shaw supports her thesis with examples of animal sightings such as bears, moose and deer in neighborhood settings to suggest that the wildlife is fine with sprawl; in fact, all these animal sightings may even become a nuisance for humans. She also uses the return of deer as her main example of suburban sprawl, which are so numerous now that it almost becomes a problem for people. Because of the return of deer and many animal sightings, Shaw suggests that the solution to urban and suburban sprawl is learning to live with animals where “… more parks will likely be nestled within suburban developments… New organizations and entrepreneurs will help integrate nature into the human landscape” (265).
Although Terris and Shaw generally do not agree on how urban sprawl affects wildlife, they both write with the knowledge that urban sprawl does play a role in wildlife. The two authors can also be viewed on common grounds as they both agree that sprawl has affected wildlife negatively in the past; Terris simply believes that sprawl is driving many species to extinction, and Shaw believes that rural farming in the past has lead to the destruction of forests to create farmlands. Other than these points, both writers disagree heavily on the current situation of sprawl and most of their arguments do not even seem to address the same topic in the broad subject that is urban sprawl.
Terris and Shaw see urban sprawl from completely different angles; their arguments do not correspond with each other and do not really even address the same topic considering how broad the topic of urban sprawl can be. This difference starts as early as the titles of both of their essays; Terris’ essay is about urban sprawl, while Shaw writes about suburban sprawl. Although both involve humans taking up wildlife habitats for their own use, urban and suburban sprawl have different effects on the local wildlife. Both writers also present completely different species of wildlife, and different animals can adapt (or not adapt) in different ways to different, suburban and urban, settings. Both writers agree that the wildlife is affected by sprawl, but neither argue directly with each other and both use different species and settings that do not solve the problem that the other author presents.
The different species that are used show how big of a difference suburban and urban sprawl can be. Terris’ examples involve species that are very fragile in how they can adapt to their environments. Shaw on the other hand, presents animals that adapt easily and do not rely heavily on their habitats for survival. The deer, for example, is not much affected by suburban sprawl at all because “suburbanization created a browser’s (deer) paradise: a vast patchwork of well-watered, fertilizer-fattened plantings to feed on and vest-pocket forests to hide in, with hunters banished to more distant woods” (263).
Both Terris and Shaw are aware that there are claims that sprawl does cultivates certain “…’adaptable and common creatures – raccoons, deer, sparrows, starlings, and sea gulls’ but ‘devastating for wildlife that is more dependent upon privacy, seclusion, and protection…'” (264). Terris believes in this claim that sprawl is good for certain species, but is harmful to many others. She states that when we sprawl,
“…we are essentially cultivating the few species that do well with irrigated lawns and Norway maples and have learned to eat from our garbage cans and bird feeders. All this is at the expense of the many species that depend on more fragile local habitats. This trend is called generalization of habitat, and results in the survival of hardy species…” (258).
Shaw on the other hand argues that not only meso-mammals can find suburban sprawl attractive. She argues that “suburban growth comes at the expense of agricultural land that was cultivated for decades, even centuries” (264). The rural lands of the past were useless to the wildlife as they were just mono-cultured open areas; suburbs on the other hand, are not mono-cultures. To argue this point, Shaw presents the mountain lion sightings and attacks as an example of creatures that are not just meso-mammals; however, she still ignores the many other endangered species that are presented by Terris such as amphibians and panthers.
Wildlife is a very broad topic and different species of animals can be used to justify any argument that can be presented by urban sprawl. Both writers are arguing from different perspectives about how urban sprawl is a negative in Terris’ essay, and a postive in Shaw’s essay. Different species of wildlife are used as examples, and so are different settings of urban and suburban sprawl and both factors play a role in how you debate urban sprawl; it can be noted that neither Terris’ nor Shaw address any of the issues about certain wildlife that the other presents. However, both writers conclude in a similar way, and that is that we must deal with urban sprawl and wildlife in a considerate way. Terris believes that we can sprawl in a wildlife-friendly way, and Shaw believes that we must learn to adapt to wildlife in our daily lives. Whether it is a positive or negative on wildlife, urban sprawl is not something that can easily be stopped, and something that will require adjustments to be effective for both humans and wildlife.