Many landscape features that increase livability for people can also play an important role in sustaining native wildlife populations. Cities are often built in close proximity to features important to fish and wildlife habitats, such as the confluence of rivers. While urban development can fragment larger habitat areas, urban areas can contain key natural areas and features that offer significant benefits to fish and wildlife. The role for urban ecosystems in fish and wildlife conservation has become increasingly recognized in recent decades. Public greenspaces set aside in urban areas engage people in nature and enable residents to enjoy the outdoors where they live and work. This builds an awareness of habitat conservation and restoration actions that they can see every day.

Oregon’s urban areas cover approximately 6 percent of the state, and the U.S. Census Bureau states that over 75 percent of Oregon’s population lives in metropolitan areas. Oregon is becoming more culturally, racially, and ethnically diverse, and conservation messages need to be expanded to reach this increasingly diverse audience. Portland is Oregon’s largest urban center, and has been recognized as a national model for urban natural resource planning. Many towns and cities across the state are expanding to respond to the needs of a growing population, and rural farms and forests continue to be converted to urban and industrial uses.

Urban areas are characterized by the prevalence of built structures and impervious surfaces, which alter surfaces and water flow, degrade water quality, reduce vegetation cover and diversity, and cause habitat loss, fragmentation, and degradation. Urban areas are also centers of human activities that can displace sensitive fish and wildlife, introduce and spread invasive species, generate pollutants, noise, heat, and artificial lighting that can disturb wildlife, and pose hazards to wildlife from people, roads, pets, buildings, and other factors. Cities and municipalities are increasingly working to decrease many of these problems through best practices and through outreach and education.

Conservation in Urban Areas

Urban areas can contribute to conservation goals in a number of ways. They can maintain ecologically important natural areas inside of urban growth boundaries, and contain or direct growth in ways that protect habitat in more rural areas. Urban areas can promote “green” buildings, reducing hazards such as buildings prone to bird strikes. Partners can work collaboratively on developing a green infrastructure in urban areas, which is an interconnected network of protected natural areas and features designed to support native species, maintain natural ecological processes, sustain air and water resources, and contribute to the health and quality of life in our communities. Urban residents can be engaged in restoration activities at the backyard, neighborhood, and watershed scales. Urban areas provide tremendous opportunities for reaching and engaging the public in wildlife conservation efforts both within and beyond their local communities.

Cities offer a great challenge, to sustain fish and wildlife species and habitats under developed conditions bustling with human activity, as well as a great opportunity, to engage people with nature and contribute to larger-scale conservation needs. While urbanized lands already have impacted today’s conservation opportunities, and future urbanization likely will present further challenges, some of Oregon’s urban areas have made impressive efforts to contribute toward fish and wildlife conservation. Significant habitats have been set aside through parks and greenspaces programs in places such as the Portland Metro region and the Eugene area, and wildlife species and habitat considerations are increasingly becoming part of land use planning processes and resulting development patterns. Moreover, parks and greenspaces can also have the added benefit of improving property values and livability.

The full array of Oregon’s aquatic and terrestrial habitats are found in urban areas, including oak woodlands and savannas, native grasslands and sagebrush, bottomland hardwood forests, coniferous forests, and other important habitats. Urban streams and riparian areas support salmon and trout as well as other native fish, and a host of amphibians, reptiles, mammals, birds, and invertebrates. The largest runs of anadromous fish in the Pacific Northwest use the Columbia and Willamette Rivers, which both go through urban areas, including the Portland Metro region. The Willamette River, which supports many important fisheries and wildlife species, also runs through Salem and Eugene. Protecting and restoring these important habitats and species in urban areas will not only help to conserve Oregon’s natural heritage, but will also provide valued ecosystem services for the public.

Urban areas have an important role to play in imperiled species protection and recovery. Many imperiled plant and animal species occur in urban areas. For example, the Eugene area serves as a stronghold for many federally-listed prairie species; the recently federally-listed Streaked Horned Lark is found in mostly urban and agricultural habitats. Some of the largest populations of sensitive painted turtles are found in urban areas. The formerly threatened but now delisted Peregrine Falcon benefited from using artificial nesting structures, such as bridges, in urban areas.

Human-created habitats can also provide significant habitat for wildlife in urban areas. For example, green infrastructure strategies, such as protecting riparian corridors and floodplains, building green roofs, and establishing urban tree canopy, provide environmental and community benefits. Native plant gardens and native landscaping, backyard ponds, and bat and bird roost and nest sites on buildings, bridges, and utility poles can provide places for some wildlife species to feed and rest. The ODFW’s Naturescaping book has information on providing habitat in urban areas. Creating backyard habitats and building habitat features into existing structures are excellent approaches for supplementing natural habitats in urbanized areas (for example, see the Audubon Society of Portland/Columbia Land Trust Backyard Habitat Certification Program). In addition, setting aside functional habitats and enabling the use of that habitat by incorporating design features, such as wildlife corridors and safe road crossings, can help to accommodate the needs of fish and wildlife within the built environment. Finally, knowledge of the smaller or less mobile species that may be present while doing work around the house clearing brush, burning brush piles, moving rock piles, or putting in structures or utility lines can minimize negative impacts to species (for example, see ODFW’s Native Turtle Best Management Practices).

Oregon State Fair.
Photo Credit: ODFW. Oregon State Fair.


Limiting Factors and Recommended Approaches

Limiting Factor: Limited Natural Areas

Recommended Approach

Protect and restore natural areas that are connected with each other and to the larger landscape. Park and greenspace programs provide excellent opportunities for building fish and wildlife habitat into urban areas, while contributing to people’s recreational opportunities and quality of life. The Intertwine Alliance is an innovative collaboration between local governments, community planners, state and federal agencies, non-governmental organizations, local residents, and businesses that is working on building and promoting a connected system of parks, natural areas, and trails throughout the greater Portland/Vancouver region. The Intertwine Alliance has produced a Regional Conservation Strategy and Biodiversity Guide for the region. Eugene, Corvallis, Bend, and other cities are also incorporating networks of greenspaces and trails into their park programs.

Limiting Factor: Need for Additional Education and Outreach

Urban areas are where most people live, presenting an unparalleled opportunity to reach, serve, and support a large segment of Oregon’s population. Education has tremendous value as a means of informing landowners, voters, visitors, politicians, and other decision-makers and stakeholders about ways they can contribute toward fish and wildlife conservation.

Recommended Approaches

Direct resources towards populated and ethnically diverse areas to educate Oregonians about Oregon’s natural heritage, show people real-world examples of important habitats and projects, and build an appreciation that will lead to citizen actions and support for conservation. Stewardship, involvement in restoration projects, and opportunities to view fish and wildlife and experience nature can have high value when experienced as part of people’s daily lives. Additionally, protecting nature in cities provides opportunities for education and outreach close to home that may not otherwise be available to the general public.

Provide instruction, guides, and Best Management Practices to maintenance and operations staff in municipalities. Guidance about small actions, such as Avoiding Impacts on Nesting Birds During Construction and Revegetation Projects, and details on how and when to remove a tree, clear brush, use pesticides, or work on utilities or sewers, can add up to big benefits for Oregon’s native fish and wildlife. Outreach about the impacts of outdoor cats can help residents understand their role in stewardship of native wildlife. Promote urban greenspaces programs that provide the public a local opportunity to enjoy wildlife and open space which will help limit use of more natural areas outside urban centers. Encourage urban residents to appreciate and engage in outdoor activities.

Limiting Factor: Wildlife Hazards

Urban landscapes can present a variety of hazards for wildlife, such as bird collisions with windows, vehicles, and powerlines, impacts due to light pollution, predation and disturbance by pets, exposure to pesticides and contaminants, and harassment and illegal take of wildlife. These hazards can significantly impact wildlife and undermine habitat conservation efforts.

Recommended Approach

Support and promote innovative campaigns and programs to reduce wildlife hazards. Work with municipalities to develop policies, such as wildlife-friendly building guidelines, wildlife-friendly lighting strategies, and integration of wildlife crossings into transportation plans to reduce hazards. Support research into better urban wildlife hazards and the management strategies to reduce those hazards. Communities can establish “Adopt a Park” programs where residents volunteer to weed a park instead of applying pesticides. Communities, local governments, and nonprofit organizations can promote bird-safe building design and outreach efforts about the impacts of cats on wildlife.

Limiting Factor: People-Wildlife Conflicts

Where humans and wildlife live in close proximity, conflicts can occur. These can include destruction of property, nuisance due to noise, defecation, predation on pets, and injuries to people. Many of these conflicts occur because of lack of understanding about wildlife. For example, feeding wildlife or interference with young wildlife can lead to destructive behavior patterns. These conflicts lower public support for wildlife conservation.

Recommended Approach

Support and expand existing programs to provide information on preventing and resolving conflicts with wildlife. Provide outreach resources about “living with wildlife”, which should be tailored to local communities.

Limiting Factor: Paved Surfaces Alter Hydrology and Prevent Filtering of Pollutants

In cities, large expanses of landscape are covered by paved impervious surfaces, creating challenges for managing stormwater runoff in ways that protect watershed and stream health. Resulting hydrological alterations can have significant impacts on the surrounding lands. Development also tends to encroach into riparian areas and floodplains that are known to provide critical functions for maintaining healthy streams and key fish and wildlife habitats.

Recommended Approach

Develop and implement green infrastructure strategies, such as maintaining important natural areas (e.g., riparian corridors, wetlands, floodplains, and upland forests) and incorporating green streets, green roofs, urban tree canopy, and other sustainable stormwater management strategies into the built environment. Work within Oregon’s planning and regulatory framework to protect stream corridors, riparian areas, and floodplains. When needed, support mitigation actions. Seek ways to incorporate ecological considerations into development activities.

Limiting Factor: Stakeholder Involvement

With the majority of Oregon’s population living in developed urban areas, there is a critical need to engage with urban residents about conservation issues. There is potential to reach many stakeholders in urban areas from the private sector, such as landowners, businesses, and the industrial community.

Recommended Approach

Expand efforts to reach under-served and increasingly diverse communities. Encourage stakeholder involvement and concern for conservation issues by recognizing the positive local contributions that individuals, businesses, and industry have made by informing them of conservation opportunities and by continuing dialogue. Focus on local issues to keep people engaged, and link local efforts to larger landscapes when there is interest and opportunity.

Limiting Factor: Multiple Jurisdictions

Fish and wildlife and conservation issues cross land ownerships and jurisdictional boundaries (cities, counties, agencies). This presents challenges to conservation because organizations do not always coordinate to address issues that may be ecologically connected, but politically or programmatically separate.

Recommended Approach

Recognizing the uniqueness of each local community and the needs of various landowners, seek methods to achieve cooperation and coordination. Promote the exchange of information and provide guidance to landowners and local communities that can be used in their efforts to protect and restore habitat, set aside green infrastructure systems, and plan urban growth strategies that can help to sustain fish and wildlife populations and ecological function across the landscape. Create cost-share funding opportunities for conservation planning and project implementation.

Limiting Factor: Need to Integrate Social and Ecological Concerns

There is a continuing need to study and address the social (e.g., environmental education and stewardship, environmental economics, etc.) and ecological aspects of conservation in and around urbanizing areas.

Recommended Approach

Increased recognition of the significance of the fields of urban ecology and environmental social sciences will attract research and monitoring attention to studying these issues in and around urban systems. Build partnerships between researchers and data users, and seek resources for research that will increase understanding of how urban systems can be designed to help sustain fish and wildlife populations with a high level of public support and involvement. As the fields of urban ecology and environmental social sciences become more established, more sources of funding can be identified. Applying this information to open space acquisitions, habitat restoration, regional and local land use planning, environmental education, public outreach, and other aspects of conservation is critical for building effective conservation strategies and public support now and into the future.

Limiting Factor: Need for Innovative Restoration Techniques

The types of on-the-ground projects needed to improve habitat in urban areas often go beyond the traditional suite of restoration practices that are most commonly supported by existing funding sources.

Recommended Approach

Support habitat improvement projects geared toward the needs, opportunities, and high level of public interest in carrying out environmentally beneficial projects in urban areas. Provide technical and financial support for projects, such as managing stormwater to more closely mimic natural hydrology, landscaping with native plants, restoring historically important habitats when sites are redeveloped, environmental education and outreach, and other conservation actions. These activities can provide significant opportunities for habitat protection and improvement, and are important for engaging and serving the public.