We passed over one of the more interesting observations in the Council on Environmental Quality’s annual report when we wrote about it last week (that blog post is here), namely that a higher percentage of Connecticut residents live closer to natural areas than in any other state. The CEQ report borrows from another study to call this the “wildland-urban interface,” and the New London Day highlighted it in its story on the CEQ report today.
The Day’s Judy Benson focused on the near-calamitous result of that proximity – namely, the destruction and disruption that took place last August-September and October-November when Connecticut was hit by two huge storms. Here’s an excerpt, in italics:
Connecticut’s unique residential development patterns made the state more vulnerable to extended power outages and other impacts from Tropical Storm Irene and the October snowstorm.
That was one of the findings in the state Council on Environmental Quality annual report on the condition of Connecticut’s environment, released earlier this month. The report concludes that in 2011, the level of impact of the storms was largely attributable to the extent of “wildland-urban interface” in the state, a term that refers to housing density compared to the percentage of wild vegetation per acre. …
Tropical Storm Irene also revealed how development patterns can affect Long Island Sound, when tons of sediment washed off the land into the Connecticut River, which flow into the estuary. The storm also forced the closure of several beaches in the state due to contaminated runoff, raw sewage overflows and debris.
“Control of polluted runoff from streets, parking lots and lawns is the next challenge if the goal of clean water is to be achieved,” the report said.
After the October snowstorm, the widespread use of generators, wood stoves and fireplaces increased air pollutants, enough so that the pollution levels for the whole year were slightly higher than in 2010. The increase ended a five-year trend of decreasing air pollution levels.
But while the amount of polluting particulates, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, ground-level ozone and nitrogen dioxide increased for the year, the number of individual days with good air quality overall grew by eight days over 2010, to 342 days. Two towns – Groton and Westbrook – had one more bad ozone day than the rest of the state, with nine days each.
(A link to The Day story is here. I believe The Day makes online access unavailable to non-subscribers after a couple of days, so the link probably will be dead soon.)
The CEQ report, however, also notes that there are benefits to the “wildland-urban interface.” Here’s an excerpt:
On the average plot of ground in Connecticut, more people — residents and non-residents together — are watching wildlife than in nearly any other state. This makes sense, as there is much to watch: only in two other states might a birdwatcher find more species of birds per square mile.
Looking at the data even more closely, Connecticut residents appear to be almost unique in their affinity with nearby wild things. A greater percentage participate in wildlife-associated recreation than the national average and, among those participants, residents of no other state can challenge Connecticut residents’ preference for watching their wild-life around the home. Connecticut is one of only five states where people spend more to watch wildlife (primarily on equipment purchases) than they spend to hunt and fish (including license fees), and by a ratio that is unmatched. (In the federal data, “watching” wildlife includes maintaining wildlife habitat.)
Residents’ high rate of participation in outdoor activities and conservation activities is a great positive on its own, but it should be noted that it also yields a significant economic profit to the state. A University of Connecticut study released in December of 2011 estimated that 9,000 jobs, $1 billion of economic activity and $30 million of net state revenue can be attributed to outdoor activities just in state parks and forests. Any study that also accounted for the economic activity generated by birdwatching, hiking and horseback-riding statewide would show much larger numbers. …
So the “wildland-urban interface” puts us in harm’s way. But it also brings more of us (by percentage) closer to nature than in any other state. One question the CEQ report doesn’t tackle is what these development patterns mean for our forests and wetlands. Connecticut is rife with sprawl development that has fragmented ecosystems. So while we may be close to nature, that very closeness may well be damaging it. – Tom Andersen, director of communications and community outreach