The Effects of Building Construction on Wildlife Habitats

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Updated: May 16, 2022
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Conserving habitats is not an easy task. The number of threatened and endangered species in the United States and critical habitats is constantly being destroyed (Shilling 1662). With one-quarter of mammal species at risk of extinction and amphibians on the decline, more needs to be done to protect wildlife habitats. Plans to protect species tend to be for well-known animals such as the bald eagle or the gray wolf. As a result, many species are barely surviving. Conservation biologists warn that many of the habitat conservation plans (HCPs) that were developed under the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA) may be doing more harm than good (Kaiser 1636).

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According to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, this act was put in place recognizing that endangered and threatened species of wildlife and plants “are of esthetic, ecological, educational, historical, recreational, and scientific value to the Nation and its people” (US Fish and Wildlife 2011). But people do not agree that this plan is working. Decisions about how and where we build our communities have a significant impact on the natural environment.

Information is needed about the environmental effects of land use decisions to lessen environmental impacts of the quality of air, water, land, and habitats. Patterns of development directly affect the natural environment. Development on land has destroyed and fragmented many natural habitats. Where we build and how we build can reduce the impact on natural habitats. There is evidence to support that communities can still grow while also protecting their natural environments. Decisions can either support or hinder environmental protections.

Although growth and building development provide many benefits, it comes at a cost. The environmental consequences are long-lasting. This research paper will discuss the impact of building development on habitat loss and fragmentation of natural areas. “Habitat destruction and degradation contribute to the endangerment of more than 85 percent of the species listed” under the federal Endangered Species Act (Wilcove 607-615). For example, red deer the largest animal in the black forest is common but capercaillie, a wild bird is rare and threatened by extinction due to manmade hiking trails and winter skiing. These animals are affected by trails within their habitat and avoid interaction with people year-round. To offset the harmful effects of these manmade trails, there need to be adequate food and hiding places available to these species particularly, the capercaillie who exists in limited numbers.

Wetlands have considerable ecological importance. They are characterized by types of soil, plants, and animals that thrive in consistently saturated conditions. The world’s largest wetlands include the hardwood forests, swamps, and marshes of the Mississippi River (41,700 square miles) basin and the marshes of the Prairie potholes (24,000 square miles) (Keddy 314). The rate of organic matter being produced in wetlands is the highest of any ecosystem. They produce rich feeding grounds and habitats for water life, waterfowl, mammals, and reptiles (Keddy 314). In the late 1700s, there was an estimated 221 million acres of wetlands, but less than half of those remain today (Dahl). “Nearly one-quarter of the freshwater wetlands lost along the coasts is attributed to urban and rural development” (Stedman and Dahl).

Forests are important ecosystems particularly in the United States where most of the loss of the forest occurred in the 17th to 19th centuries (US Dept. of Agriculture). Some regions have seen more loss than others. California, Texas, and Florida have experienced significant declines in forest cover. Most of the land was developed for urban expansion, amounting to 4.7 million acres lost between 1973 and 2000 (Drummond and Loveland 290). Animals can have a difficult time finding food, mates or escaping from predators when this occurs.

Roads contribute to habitat loss by blocking movement for many animals, which in turn makes breeding more difficult. Roads are also responsible for the deaths of many different kinds of animals being killed by vehicles. In addition, road salt that is used in inclement weather will run off into nearby streams, which can harm fish and wildlife. Pesticides, gasoline, and refrigerants are also contaminants in many streams.

Where we build has significant impacts on the environment. Efficient building development of land can help to conserve natural habitats. One possible solution is to build near areas where infrastructure already exists and the area has already been disturbed. This can alleviate building on existing wetlands, forests, or shorelines. Crain reports that “climate change and habitat destruction from development and shoreline stabilization are some of the most serious threats to coastal species and ecosystems” (48). Coordination across various levels of government is critical for safeguarding natural areas. Oceans provide us with food, water, and recreation. We can do more to protect them and ensure the ocean’s long-term well-being. They provide important habitats for millions of fish and organisms. They also shape the weather

and keep carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. Unfortunately, much of our garbage from building construction and plastic production has harmed many ocean habitats that have decreased marine life. If we want to conserve our ocean’s fisheries and natural habitats we need to greatly increase our conservation efforts.

Another possible solution to reduce the impact on undeveloped areas would be to rebuild and redevelop old buildings and facilities into productive and useful communities. This is referred to as infill development. There are many abandoned lots and buildings across the United States. A 2009 study from 53 cities estimated the number of vacant and abandoned properties. The highest numbers were 15,078 in Las Vegas; 13,500 in St. Louis; 8,306 in Louisville; Kentucky; 7,700 in Port St. Lucie; Florida; and 7,000 in Cape Coral, Florida and the lowest numbers were 25 in Stow, Ohio; 21 in Menlo Park, California; and 11 in Bell Garden, California (US Conference of Mayors). An EPA study of residential construction supports the position that many urban regions can support a large quantity of infill development (EPA 2012). In West Virginia, when the steel industry declined, many mills were abandoned leaving behind large sites. These sites are potentially useable sites for redevelopment. They are centrally located and near already existing rails and highways. An example of this is when developers of the Matrix Condominiums in Washington, D.C. converted a long abandoned building into a residential building within walking distance to downtown and other local businesses.

The redevelopment of commercial and hazardous waste sites can also have positive benefits. One environmental benefit is the safe disposal of contaminants. It can also lessen the need to develop natural areas that serve many ecological functions. Land cleanup would also help reuse and recycle construction debris from buildup that can help protect the environment. Reusing materials is an easy way to lessen waste disposal. Investing in cleanup and redevelopment can improve environmental outcomes that are long-lasting.

Building construction and how we build impact the environment. Having more “green” designs of neighborhoods, streets, and buildings can use energy more wisely and improve the quality of the air animals and humans breathe. The term “green” building means the practice of using resources efficiently to reduce the impact on the environment and health. Small changes do make a difference because they have a cumulative impact over time. Many environmental challenges that communities face today can be improved by protecting our natural resources now for future generations. The choices made on how to build are incredibly important. The goal should be to minimize the environmental impacts of building construction on natural habitats and the environment as much as possible.

Green building strategies can help the environment by using water more efficiently and conserving natural resources. In addition, efficient landscaping and irrigation can reduce water use. Mindful choices of material used in building construction can help conserve resources and protect the environment. A 2007 Florida study of demolition waste estimated that as much as 91% of construction waste can be recycled with available technology; far more than the 9% of construction waste that is currently recycled in the state (Cochran 921-931). Other green building strategies include infiltration techniques designed to capture stormwater and reduce runoff, evapotranspiration techniques that reduce stormwater runoff through evaporation of surface water, and capture and reuse practices that collect stormwater for household use.

It is evident that we can reduce negative habitat effects from building construction by developing on previously used sites and using green building approaches in all aspects of construction planning. Research shows us that these decisions have significant effects on the environment and natural habitats and that there are ways to improve outcomes. Strategies to lessen the impact include carefully selecting where we build, rebuilding and recycling, and focusing on green building techniques. These practices can reduce the negative effects on natural habitats and ecosystems.

Globally, many communities are concerned about the environment and the effects of building on resources and natural habitats. It is clear that how we build impacts the natural environment in many ways. Development uses land and changes habitats and ecosystems; it destroys and alters areas of natural habitats. Development that reuses already developed lands can preserve wetlands and forests.

Building and development affect water by changing the flow in a watershed by rerouting stormwater runoff. It is estimated that approximately 850,000 acres of lakes and 50,000 miles of streams are compromised by stormwater runoff. It is imperative to protect our water resources both for natural habitats as well as for clean drinking water. The quality of water can be improved by using green techniques to manage and clean stormwater where it falls. Mayflies spend months as larval in streams and ponds. They require water with a neutral Ph

level and cannot withstand pollution, so they are helpful indicators of water quality. An example of effective rerouting of stormwater is in St. Louis, Missouri. Two blocks in downtown St. Louis, Citigarden has six rain gardens that capture storm runoff from the park and surrounding streets.

Air quality is also impacted by how and where buildings are built because current practices impact air pollution and the type of energy used. Infill development and designing communities that encourage walking and bicycling can reduce pollution from cars and improve air quality for animals and humans.

Redeveloping abandoned construction sites and brownfields may provide opportunities to clean up contaminated spaces and protect undisturbed habitats. Carefully choosing where and how to build can reduce the negative effects of development on natural habitats.

Works Cited

Crain, Caitlin M., Benjamin S. Halpern, Mike W. Beck, and Carrie V. Kappel. “Understanding and managing human threats to the coastal marine environment.” The Year in Ecology and Conservation Biology 1162 (2009): 39-62.

Cochran, Kimberly, Timothy Townshend, Debra Reinhart, and Howell Heck. “Estimation of regional building-related C&D debris generation and composition: Case study for Florida, US.” Waste Management 27, no. 7 (2007): 921-931.

Dahl, T.E. Status and Trends of Wetlands in the Conterminous United States 2004 to 2009.U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 2011. Accessed 23 Nov. 2018.

Drummond, Mark A., and Thomas R. Loveland. “Land-use pressure and a transition to forest-cover loss in the Eastern United States.” BioScience 60, no. 4 (2010): 286-298.

Residential Construction Trends in America’s Metropolitan Regions. 2012 Accessed 24 Nov. 2018.

Kaiser, Jocelyn. ‘When a habitat is not a home: many ecologists say conservation, plans designed to ease tensions between landowners and environmentalists are not grounded in good science.’ Science, vol. 276, no. 5319, 1997, p. 1636+. Opposing Viewpoints in Context, Accessed 29 Sept. 2018.

Keddy, Paul A. Wetland Ecology: Principles and Conservation. 2nd. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

Shilling, Fraser. ‘Do habitat conservation plans protect endangered species?’ Science, vol. 276, no. 5319, 1997, p. 1662+. Opposing Viewpoints in Context, Accessed 29 Sept. 2018.

Stedman, Susan-Marie, and Thomas E. Dahl. Status and Trends of Wetlands in the Coastal Watersheds of the Eastern United States 1998 to 2004. National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration; National Marine Fisheries Service; and U.S. Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service. 2008. Accessed 23 Nov. 2018.

US Fish and Wildlife Service (2011). Accessed 4 Nov. 2018.

US Department of Agriculture, US Forest Service. National Report on Sustainable Forests-2010. 2011. Accessed 24 Nov. 2018.

United States Conference of Mayors. Recycling America’s Land: A National Report on Brownfields Redevelopment, Volume VII. 2008.

Wilcove, David S., David Rothstein, Jason Dubow, Ali Phillips, and Elizabeth Losos. “Quantifying threats to imperiled species in the United States.” BioScience 48, no. 8 (1998): 607-615.   

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 The Effects of Building Construction on Wildlife Habitats. (2021, Jun 01). Retrieved from