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Development taking a toll on wildlife, though some species able to adapt
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By RUSTY DENNEN
For local developers and land planners, the focus is people, not animals, for obvious reasons.
In general, "Wildlife is addressed only peripherally, as we seek to protect open space," said Erik Nelson, Fredericksburg's senior planner.
Good planning can accommodate growth, and still leave some breathing room for animals.
Developers do, indirectly, consider wildlife when planning projects, said Chris Hornung, vice president of planning and engineering for the Silver Cos.
Central Park, he said, is an example of what a developer can do, though he concedes that land clearing and building destroy habitat.
The company set aside several hundred acres on both sides of the river in conservation easements. Ponds in Central Park, in the shadow of stores and roads, he said, have birds and other animals living in them.
"There's a whole mess of blue herons. They may or may not be native to the property, but they're coming from the river. There are plenty of snakes, rabbits, muskrats, turtles and frogs--you name it."
The company, he said, has voluntarily proffered green areas for protection in some of its developments.
Another developer, K&M Properties of McLean, which owns Crow's Nest, the largest undeveloped tract of land in Stafford County, has said it is willing to cluster homes away from environmentally sensitive areas. Preservationists, however, want the county or the state to acquire the entire tract as a haven for wildlife.Nowhere to go
Jeff Cooper, nongame-bird coordinator for the game department, says the interruption of contiguous forest and fields is a problem for certain neotropical birds, such as warblers, which stop over in Virginia for breeding.
"When you get roads, sprawl and subdivisions, what occurs is increased predation," Cooper said. As a result, cowbirds, which lay eggs in other birds' nests, proliferate while songbirds' abundance drops.
Both Cooper and Sims say many animals can't simply move to another less-developed spot, mainly because other animals already live there.
"They will try to move to the nearest habitat available, or make it in an area that is unsuitable," Cooper said. "Eventually, they'll disappear."
Crowding of some species is already occurring in large, protected areas--parks and federal and state preserves such as battlefields and military bases.
"It puts stress on animals already in the park," said Gregg Kneipp, natural-resources manager for Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park. The four battlefields and historic sites encompass more than 8,000 acres of mostly forest and field, in Fredericksburg and the counties of Spotsylvania, Orange, Caroline and Stafford.
Even non-native animals sometimes take refuge in the parks--including an elusive emu last year.
An indication of what's happening is the growing presence of critter catchers--companies that specialize in catching and removing "nuisance" wildlife.
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