Monday, January 15, 2018

Conservancy Lands Plan: Survey

"Of all the questions which can come before this nation, short of the actual preservation of its existence in a great war, there is none which compares in importance with the great central task of leaving this land even a better land for our descendants than it is for us."

― Theodore Roosevelt

Middleton's Conservancy Lands

The City of Middleton is in the process of developing a five-year update to its Conservancy Lands Plan. They recently put up an online survey to gather opinions about conservancy usage, access, preferences, and suggestions for improvement. I usually won't participate in online surveys, but answered this one because Pheasant Branch Conservancy an important area for migratory and nesting birds. In the context of land set aside for nature conservation―in the truest sense of the word―I answered the questions with respect to the welfare of birds and not my personal benefit. Anyway, the results displayed at the end of the survey. Below are a few questions and results I found noteworthy.

In Question #1, respondents were asked what conservancy areas and trails were visited or used in 2017. Naturally, Pheasant Branch Conservancy and the creek corridor received the highest percentages:

With this in mind, Question #2 on usage is revealing:

Participants are allowed to make multiple selections on this question, but I am a little disappointed (but not surprised) that Birdwatching is only 33% and Other Wildlife Viewing scored 34%. On the other hand, it's good that a whopping 83% like to use it for Walking/Hiking. Though the creek corridor trail was paved to accommodate commuter bicyclists, it's overwhelmingly used for recreational bicycling. I think this breakdown is pretty accurate. When I'm birding at any part of the conservancy, this seems like a good approximation how I see conservancy lands being utilized.

I guess this isn't all that surprising. Often I joke with friends that the conservancy has effectively become a 500-acre outdoor physical fitness center. Most joggers and walkers are probably unaware of the conservancy's birds and other wildlife unless they happen to have a chance encounter with something. I recall a jogger coming up to me to ask what I was photographing. When I answered, he replied, "There's wildlife in here?" Another amusing question is when people ask if I'm looking for The Owl. That's the one owl at Pheasant Branch! This became a common question since the Great Gray Owl visited Middleton several years ago.

It's great to see a majority of respondents prefer natural surface trails. Though the creek corridor was paved several years ago, the trail system north of Century Avenue is presently a mix of natural surface, gravel, and woodchip trails. I still wish they hadn't painted white and yellow racing stripes on the paved section. It prompted one rebel (not me) to illegally post these signs along the creek corridor.

To me, this last question may be the most disappointing one. Respondents are asked to rank and distribute percentage points for future allocation of conservancy resources. While acquisition of new land has a score of 24%, restoration (17%) is doing worse than trail maintenance (30%). Sadly, education has an impressively low score 5%, and volunteering just 3%. In reality, as a single issue comes up for people to vote on, it may have an entirely different support breakdown. Still, I can't help but feel these results don't bode well for the future of the conservancy's birds and non-avian wildlife as there is much what I see as ongoing parkification.

The survey is still ongoing, to please feel free to submit your thoughts!

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