NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Suburban Wildlife

May 13, 2004

Suburbs are providing favorable habitats for many wild animals, according to the Heartland Institute. In spite of critics who fault suburban sprawl for destroying wildlife habitat, Jane Shaw of the Property and Environment Research Center says that suburbanization and natural reforestation are increasing the presence of wild animals:

  • New Jersey is hosting a black bear hunt for the first time in 33 years.
  • In New York State, deer population has multiplied 7 times since 1970, with most of the increase in suburban areas.
  • The coyote population in all states except Hawaii is twice what it was in 1850.
  • Wildlife officials in Colorado believe that about 2,500 elk exist in the areas between Denver and the Continental Divide due to the increase in residential subdivisions.

Obviously, suburbanization involves some removal of habitat through building roads, clearing trees and draining wetlands, but as people move in, they create ponds, plant trees and gardens, and provide bird nesting-boxes. As a result, medium-sized animals that do not require a lot of breeding space (known as meso-mammals) thrive in suburban yards.

In fact, white-tail deer are proliferating in many suburban areas, due to the presence of well-watered and fertilized garden plants that provide "deer level" vegetation. In Florida, the endangered Key deer is making a comeback thanks to the suburbs.

Moreover, as agricultural land shrinks, forest land has regrown in some areas over the past 100 years, especially in the eastern United States:

  • Forests have increased from 50 percent to 86 percent in New Hampshire
  • Connecticut and Massachusetts have seen an increase in their forests from 35 percent to 59 percent since the 1880s.

Source: Jane S. Shaw, "Suburban Development Benefits Wildlife," Environment News, May 2004, Heartland Institute.


Browse more articles on Environment Issues