NIMBY rich of California refuse residential developments citing the protection of mountain lion habitat

NEWS AND COMMENT-BAY AREA, CALIFORNIA: This is a story about human population growth which requires more housing and the inevitable human-animal conflict which is ever-increasing on the planet. But it is a story with a twist because in this instance the rich are using conservation in their favour. Normally it is the opposite: the rich exploit the land against the welfare of wildlife. That’s why it is quite a neat story for an animal advocate.

Woodside residents use puma conservation as an excuse not to allow residential development in their area
Woodside residents use puma conservation as an excuse not to allow residential development in their area. Image: MibeB.
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There is a state mandate in California to build small residential developments in order to increase the housing stock because of human population growth in that state. Apparently, this mandate comes from Senate Bill 9.

The town elders of affluent Woodside, in the Bay Area of California, have refused to comply with this mandate. Their reason is that they live in an area which is the habitat of the puma a.k.a. mountain lion. To build more housing on that landscape would be to further erode the habitat of the mountain lion.

I guess the real reason why they don’t want to comply with the need to build residential housing is because they don’t want to devalue their properties and spoil the amenity of the area. More housing inevitably means a lowering of the ambience and amenity of the area. But they’re using mountain lion conservation as an excuse. I think that’s quite neat but a bit cynical.

And the people who are more concerned with commercial enterprise than conservation think that their argument is ridiculous. One such person is Sen. Scott Wiener, D- San Francisco, the chairman of the Senate housing committee. He said: “It’s a ridiculous argument. This is not really a loophole. If housing wasn’t such a serious crisis this would be a joke.”

Although most municipalities are trying to implement the law which took effect on January 1, 2022, it is said that other municipalities are reluctant to comply. Matt Regan, of the Bay Area Council, said: “In a way, it’s a shameless attempt to avoid their obligations. It’s not just Woodside. There are plenty of other fingers to be pointed”.

One of the great endangerments to the mountain lion is the fragmentation of their habitat. That’s why there are plans in California to connect up fragmented parcels of land to allow the cats to roam more freely:

RELATED: Green bridge for pumas traversing California’s Freeway 101 will be world’s biggest.

You don’t want a fragmented habitat for the puma because it leads to inbreeding which damages conservation. You need a certain population size of puma to maintain genetic health. If they become inbred, they become sterile and inherently unhealthy due to inbreeding depression. The Florida Panther is an example.

RELATED: Inbreeding the curse of big cats.

This takes me back to the back story which is the permanent conflict between human population growth leading to settlements on wildlife habitat and the pushback from conservationists. The former always beats the latter. It’s no competition. As long as there is human population growth wildlife will be under pressure.

There are efforts by conservationists to designate mountain lions as a threatened populations under the California Endangered Species Act. It was submitted to the state in 2019. A co-author of the petition is Tiffany Yap, senior scientist at the Centre for Biological Diversity. She said that puma populations are becoming increasingly isolated.

If the puma is designated an endangered animal, it would not ban new developments but it would make it more difficult to create new developments because developers would have to consider the impact of the development on the survivability of the mountain lion.

They want, therefore, to use what they describe as “smart developments”. This will allow pumas to continue to range throughout their habitat while circumventing the developments. For example, they will build culverts or overpasses, described as ‘animal expressways’, to allow them to roam freely and to prevent their habitat from being carved up by human settlements. It’s a losing battle though.

Note: NIMBY: Not In My Back Yard.

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