Local biologists secure grant to study 'exurban' sprawl

Scientists at a local conservation group have received a grant to study a growing form of residential sprawl.

Heidi Kretser and Michale Glennon are scientists at the Wildlife Conservation Society in Saranac Lake. They recently won a $350,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to study "exurban development."

The scientists describe exurban development as large-lot development that occurs in rural landscapes around cities, suburbs and other settled areas.

Heidi Kretser says exurban sprawl is quietly transforming rural landscapes.

"While on the face of it, exurban development appears relatively benign - a seasonal camp in a river valley here, a retirement home in the woods there - cumulatively it's changing our landscape ten times faster than urban and suburban sprawl combined," she said.

The project idea builds upon the results of earlier studies on exurban impacts to wildlife in the Adirondacks and Yellowstone.

The study considers the effects of exurban sprawl on wildlife and ecosystems - something Kretser says is critical to informing the decisions of land use planners.

Michale Glennon says research has shown that common species such as robins and blue jays can adapt to residential surroundings, but that species with more specialized habitat requirements, such as wood warblers, tend to be found less frequently.

"We want to find out if these changes in the bird community result from structural changes to the habitat," Glennon added.

Ultimately, the scientists hope to develop strategies for protecting wildlife in human dominated landscapes.

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