My neighborhood running trail crosses busy Reed Market Road and follows a stretch of open-flowing irrigation canal. It skirts a field and remnant forest including many huge several hundred-year-old ponderosa Pines, usually teeming with ducks, geese, hawks, and Kingfishers. Last summer, the place was home to flocks of lesser goldfinch and cedar waxwings. Once, I ran up on a large four-point buck lying in the tall grass, and he jumped up and shook his antlers. The dog and I gave him wide berth.
A few weeks ago, I went for a run and found that the field and forest were gone. The huge old trees gone. The birds gone. No deer in sight. Instead, just bulldozers and giant track hoes leveling and flattening the earth, making space for more houses. We call this development. In fact, we call all human construction development. It’s a misnomer. There is a qualitative difference between development and growth. Development is about making things better not just bigger. Growth is just growth.
Central Oregon is in high demand and at a crucial crossroad. The staggering construction rate does add prosperity and opportunity for some. However, the negative trade-offs are rarely taken seriously.
There are two layers to the expansion of the human-built environment that are deeply concerning. The more obvious is the erosion of quality of life as traffic mushrooms, urban wildlife vanish, noise pollution ratchets higher and the outdoor recreation opportunities we loved are no longer available. That’s all happening in Central Oregon .
The bigger, more serious issue, is the scale of human spread, and impact, on the planet as a whole. There is a staggering trend under way that few know about, though every one of us should, if we want a livable, vibrant planet. According to a landmark 2018 study by the National Academy of Sciences, by weight, humans and our livestock now make up 96 % of all mammal life on the planet. Humans account for 36 % of the biomass of all mammals and our domesticated livestock, mostly cows and pigs, account for the other 60 %. This means that human expansion and our mass cultivation of livestock has reduced wild mammals to only 4 % of all mammalian life on Earth.
Similarly, the biomass of poultry is three times higher than that of wild birds. This is a profound reshaping of the composition of living creatures on our planet.
Between cities and suburbs, livestock facilities, grazing lands, agricultural sites, fisheries, fishing vessels and off-shore oil platforms, the human-built environment has pushed wild creatures and habitats to the margins of the planet. Physical space on this planet is finite resource, and at some point, humanity must stop the displacement of non-human, wild nature. Earth is not going to be a great place for humans if there’s no place on it for non-humans.
There are many places in the world where humans are living in very poor conditions and improvement in those built environments is a must. That means, in some respects, the burden to voluntarily check unbridled growth lies on the shoulders and hearts of wealthier communities. We must face the hard questions, “How much is enough?” and “What does actual qualitative community development look, sound, and feel like?”
Are we better off when our neighborhoods become less walkable and bikeable due to never-ending streams of cars and trucks? Are we better when urban habitat is totally razed to maximize room for more large houses?
If we want Central Oregon to remain a great place, leaders and residents must get serious, right now, about protecting remaining urban trees and habitat, mandating smaller footprint homes, protecting trail connectivity and significantly reducing the consumption of nature. We must get to enough.