Monday, June 29, 2015 - 10:02am

Interesting findings from Warnell School researchers that could have much broader implications (than just the sites mentioned) - natural wilderness areas need the protection of buffer zones:

Coveted for their beauty, these wilderness areas draw innumerable outdoor enthusiasts eager for a taste of primitive nature.

But University of Georgia researchers say these federally protected nature areas have a problem: Their boundaries have become prime real estate.

As the country's population continues to grow, people have built homes close to national parks, forests and wilderness areas for the same reasons these systems have been left protected from development. However, this construction and growth near the National Wilderness Preservation System is beginning to degrade the quality of these lands and erode biodiversity.

"People like the idea of having a national forest in their backyard," said Lauren Ward, a graduate student at UGA's Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources. "But from over-applying lawn care chemicals to introducing invasive plant and animal species, landowners' choices can have far-reaching negative impacts on neighboring wilderness areas."

This idea can taken several steps farther - and the good journalists out there will use this study as an opportunity to do so. The protection of buffer zones would be effective for barrier islands, coastal and freshwater wetlands, even the natural areas that still surround many cities, all in desperate need of protection. Sprawl has decimated thousands of such areas in precisely the ways discussed here. And as much as we can force ourselves to accept that reality as simply the way things are, it's always instructive to view different countries from the air and see distinctions from what we're used to. Especially visible over small cities and towns in Europe, viewed from the air distinct demarcations of where the settlements end and the country, wilderness or farmland begins is unmistakable. And it is not because they don't want to grow, or that develpments in France or Germany don't naturally want to expand - it is just that they specifically disallow themselves from doing so. By law. It is an instructive practice. At any rate, more perspective is definitely helpful.

Image: A lakeshore runs along the White Mountain National Forest in Maine. (Credit: Bob Nichols/USDA)