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Environment & Climate Change

Development in southeast Michigan has meant loss of natural areas and farmland

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Lester Graham
/
Michigan Radio

Researchers have found in a 30-year period, 130 square miles of farmland or natural areas were developed in southeast Michigan.

335,000 new buildings were built in the seven county area of Livingston, Macomb, Monroe, Oakland, St. Clair, Washtenaw and Wayne between 1985 and 2015.

“Seventy percent of those new buildings are single family houses. And we also calculated the expansion for off roads. We estimate around 7,000 miles of new roads were constructed,” explained Dimitrios Gounaridis with the University of Michigan and the lead author of the study. It was published online in the journal Landscape Ecology.

Surprisingly, the total tree cover increased by just under 2%. Mostly that was because of existing trees in parks, yards, and golf courses maturing. Also, other trees were planted in new neighborhoods built on farmland.

Gounaridis  says while there is more tree cover, it’s still not great news for wildlife.

“In some counties, in particular Macomb and Oakland, we found that the forest became fragmented and less connected in these areas.”

Washtenaw County saw the largest increase in tree cover. In a news release, the authors note that local leaders can use land-use planning techniques to better protect habitats and minimize forest fragmentation.

Updated 8/11 to include the author of the study's affiliation with the University of Michigan.

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