What Is An “Intensity of Use” Impact? And Why Should I Care? / Facebook post, Whatcom Hawk

11741194_10152956899635978_7495579539570191703_o19 hrs  July 12, 2015  Wendy Harris

An intensity of use impact is generally used to refer to disruption of wildlife from human presence, activities and land use. The greater the intensity of use, the more humans present, the more disruption to normal wildlife behavior, and the more likely there will be loss of biodiversity because many animals will naturally avoid areas with humans and pets.

As an example that everyone can relate to, think about this in terms of trains, rather than people. When there were only a small number of trains running through Bellingham, the impacts was small and it did not bother too many people. However, as the number of trains grew, so did the noise, the amount of hazardous cargo being carried, the dangerous air particulates and coal dust being generated. Greater train traffic is more likely to cause health impacts, disruption of business and daily traffic and reduced quality of life.

11698768_10152956899870978_6302652658686505359_oOK…now we are in the real world, and YOU are the train and the wildlife is you. That illustrates human intensity of use impacts.

Here is another example. Whatcom Falls Park is designated by the Washington Fish and Wildlife Agency as a biodiversity hotspot and habitat corridor because it facilitates wildlife movement from the fresh water lake and forested uplands down the creek to the marine waters.

But how valid is that designation when, on a Saturday like today, the park was a nonstop flow of wall to wall people walking over the bridge, with people on all sides of the creek, a surly teenager smoking a cigarette on one side, a fly fisherman on the other, an impatient photographer waiting for people to hurry out of his way so he could take his photos. The crowding flowed throughout the trails.

The way to handle high intensity of use impacts is to mitigate. Suppose only one person a day used a wilderness trail. That would have a light impact and require likely require a very small buffer to separate wildlife from incompatible human activities. But suppose 1,000 people a day used that wilderness trail. That would have substantial impacts on wildlife use and would require a very large buffer for animals to engage in all life cycle functions and fell safe, and have the ability to move through different patches of habitat. In some cases, this could require setting aside land just for wildlife use that is off-limits to humans and pets.

11119874_10152956899905978_1826369052329671528_oSo how come there is not one single mention or provision for adjusting buffers or habitat designations for wildlife based on intensity of use impacts in the county or city habitat conservation area regulations of the Critical Area Ordinance? How would the county or city even know if there are intensity of use impacts without a baseline standard and any monitoring of sites?

11705795_10152956899965978_5654626345600668452_oObviously, the city and county do not want to take public land that could be used for parks and make it off limits to all but wildlife. Wildlife does not vote. It does not pay taxes. And besides, this is contrary to anything the planning staff has ever been trained for. So they just pretend that intensity of use impacts do not exist. And they will never mitigate for these impacts, although, trust me, they do know about them.

UNLESS YOU MAKE THEM. Now is the time to comment on the city and county critical area ordinance. Tell them that you want to see provisions that address intensity of use impacts, both in baseline standards and monitoring and in mitigation requirements. Tell them that you want to protect biodiversity. Tell them that as they cram more and more growth down our throats, there is going to be a cost that needs to be paid in quality of life to protect ecosystem standards and to meet state and federal legal requirements. And tell the city you will not vote to pay for one penny of a green way levy until they fix this problem.

Read Wendy’s original post on the Whatcom Hawk Facebook page here.

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