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Homeowners Associations and Biodiversity, Part One

March 31, 2013
(c) MMD 2011

(c) MMD 2011

I recently read a study about the positive role that homeowner’s associations (HOAs) can play in preserving urban and suburban biodiversity. Because so much urban/suburban land is managed in small parcels (individual houses and yards), having an overarching biodiversity management plan can be difficult. HOAs can step in and play an important role by using land use regulations that are biodiversity-friendly. I’ll discuss this study more in a future post, but first I wanted to give you an example of how HOA restrictions can cause problems with wildlife.

I did my PhD research in suburban Denver where I studied human-coyote interactions. Human-coyote conflict was a growing concern in the area, and my two study sites approached managing coyotes and people differently. In one of the towns, a lot of the conflict seemed to be centered in human-coyote conflict “hotspots,” where private property ran right into parks and nature preserves. Many of the HOAs for the neighborhoods around the town’s extensive (and beautiful!) parks restricted the type of fences homeowners could install in their backyards — or even didn’t allow any type of fence. So, you ended up with a series of backyards that opened directly into parks (as you can see in the pictures). Many of the people I spoke with loved this, because it gave their neighborhoods a “bright and airy feel,” in the words of one of the people I interviewed. And sitting in your backyard or looking out from your back deck with an unobstructed view of a nature preserve¬†is lovely. But there is a flip side to this.

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(c) MMD, 2011

People don’t always accept that they don’t only get the wildlife they want in situations like this (read: songbirds) — other animals come along with the deal (read: coyotes). Some people in the area were thrilled that coyotes lived among them, but others not so much. Like it or not, coyotes are native to the area, and if you provide suitable habitat they will show up. And gorgeous nature preserves around streams and other natural features are most definitely suitable coyote habitat.

So now we have coyotes living close to people, and people not able to prevent coyotes from entering their backyards. If people do not modify their behavior in these situations, conflict can happen. For example, if people leave their small dogs alone and outside at night, their dogs might end up being coyote prey (they are the right size, after all). Although coyotes are just being coyotes in these sorts of situations, this exacerbates conflict and fosters a negative opinion of them.

(c) MMD, 2011

(c) MMD, 2011

Coyote-proof fences are generally supposed to be six-feet tall, buried into the ground, and with no holes large enough for a coyote to squeeze through. When that doesn’t prove enough, “coyote rollers” (there are also DIY plans available online) can be installed. In my study, over 66% of respondents to a survey I did (covering both of my study sites) did not have such a fence, and of those about 30% of those did not because their HOAs did not allow coyote-proof fences (another 36% just did not want one of these fences). In this case, HOA policies have helped exacerbate conflict with coyotes, which is generally a bad thing for urban biodiversity conservation. Next week, I’ll describe some ways that HOAs can play a more positive role.

For more on human-coyote conflict in urban and suburban settings, check out Project Coyote, the Cook County Coyote Project, and HSUS.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. April 1, 2013 2:32 am

    Interesting post – i look forward to the next article. Human wildlife conflict a common issue -a subject we grapple with here with our baboons!

    • April 1, 2013 11:23 am

      Baboon-human conflict must be very complicated!

      • April 6, 2013 8:19 am

        Yes! Managing people and the environment may be the greater quest. Baboons are pretty persistent opportunists. Management strategies using technology, tracking collars and enforcing ‘virtual boundaries’ appears to be keeping the animals on the mountains and away from the urban areas.

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