A few years ago, Alexander Felson
was working as a design and ecological consultant on a housing development in suburban New York when he made a suggestion that raised the developer’s eyebrows.
Faced with a local planning board that had concerns about the potential environmental effects on nearby vernal pools and amphibian populations, Felson, now an assistant professor at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and the Yale School of Architecture, urged the developer to spend $36,000 on a scientific study that would put their minds at ease.
He took some convincing, but the developer paid for the study, which addressed the local planners’ concerns and led to additional applied research, which yielded a final project that was more ecologically responsible, moving the homes away from amphibian migration routes, while preserving the number of housing units.
The project is one of four cases studies Felson cites in a new Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment article
, in which he makes the case that ecologists should become more involved in the design and implementation of urban development projects.
“When you build and modify the land, you’re modifying the ecological function and the viability of that ecosystem and the biodiversity associated with it,” Felson says. “And while the regulatory system addresses the relationship between developers and land use change to a degree, they fall short of translating ecological knowledge to practice. Ecologists have very little role in the decision-making process.”