a model for “no-net-loss” of habitat


This Monday, Rick Lathrop and I will present our “No-Net-Loss”  habitat value model  to a short list of environmental policy folks.  I have covered the model in this blog — here and reprinted below this post.  In short we are offering a new method of estimating the value of wildlife habitat that includes a species habitat, it’s landscape characteristics (size and contiguity with other similar habitats), the level of protection (publicly owned or regulated with laws like the freshwater wetland act) and finally, the type of management appropriate to the species (e.g., old-age forest for barred owls). This model is at an early stage, but if we can move forward, it portends a new approach to protecting habitat for endangered species.



a farm in gloucester county NJ , where development is rapidly destroying valuable farmland


As it stands now,  we force landowners to absorb the cost of protection through restrictive regulations.  This makes for legal battles, lost property values, great uncertainty for developers and the greatest degree of ineffectiveness.  John Hasse (Rowan College) and Rick Lathrop (Rutgers University) just published a report on the urbanization of our state from  1986 to 2007.  Overall the losses have been constant throughout this period despite the implementation of the most of our existing regulations.   The best you can say about all the regulation is without them it could have worse.

From where I sit that’s little comfort.   NJ is the richest state in the richest country in the world and is it our fate to expect we can only slow down our progress to becoming a state of overcrowded roads,  overbuilt highway corridor,  crumbling abandoned buildings in town and cities with good infrastructure and acres of houses where once we have verdant farms  and wildly diverse habitat for all species.

I for one expect more.   NJ remains a lovely place of beautiful towns, opulent horse farms, gorgeous forests and grasslands and wooded and coastal wetland that throb with live.  We deserve more than what we are getting.

Our model creates a new approach that more effectively links state regulatory agencies with local planning boards.  Currently, most rare species protection (what little exists) is monitored at the state level while most land use planning takes place at the municipal level.   Our model allows a deal to be struck:  if a municipality commits to no net loss of habitat value, the state need only review the entire municipality plan, not each site where development takes place.   Our model will allow municipal planners to test scenarios for the development of protection in a community and figure out the plan that provides the most economical development with no overall impact to rare wildlife. It also allows for a give and takes that help planner figure out the best ways to avoid impacts or to minimized them to a manageable level.  It allows a community to gain value from all it conservation efforts, county open space programs,  farmland protection,  floodplain preservation, anything that creates habitat for endangered species counts. One system interconnected instead of many programs that have barely any interconnections.

Our seminar will be the first reaction to our efforts that started 3 years ago.