In the spring of this year, we learned that hundreds of trees were slated for removal to make room for much-need graduate student housing on the Princeton University campus. WCAS expressed concerns about habitat damage so close to the Charles Rogers Wildlife Refuge which is adjacent to the Institute Woods. The woods in question lie between the current Lawrence housing and Alexander Road. Some faculty and students in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology were also concerned. Dr. David Wilcove, a specialist in forest fragmentation and island biogeography, and his graduate student Thomas Knight undertook a study of migratory and breeding birds at the tract and a comparison transect at the Institute Woods. WCAS members Mary Margaret Halsey and Pat Sziber, both Princeton University staff members, helped collect data for the study.
The report of the study states that a total of 16 species of breeding birds were recorded at the Lawrence site, none of which is listed as threatened or endangered and it was determined that the site does not contain significant populations of breeding neotropical birds. The site does provide temporary habitat for some neotropical migrants, but only the eastern wood pewee and red-eyed vireo were recorded in large numbers. The Institute transect was determined to be too dissimilar to make direct comparison, given the difference in woodland age and the fact that it is adjacent to a much larger forest than the Lawrence tract.
Dr. Wilcove's report concludes that the construction would not seriously harm migratory or nesting birds. He suggests that the University mitigate for the loss of woodland by "restoring native trees and shrubs in a comparably sized area in the vicinity of the apartments, the nearby wildlife refuge, or the lake." He also recommended that the university work together with birders and biologists to develop a bird-friendly landscaping plan around the new housing units and that the University "make the retention of that more-or-less contiguous band of forest a goal in planning for future growth."
Though we lament the loss of trees and the buffering they provide for the wildlife refuge, WCAS supports Dr. Wilcove's recommendations. We know that there is a serious grad student housing crunch at Princeton and it makes sense to put the apartments where infrastructure and development already exists. We would add that tree removal must not be done during the nesting season and we have offered Princeton the expertise of WCAS birders to assist in tree and shrub selections for habitat enhancement.
Far too often, development proposals lead to a standoff which cuts off meaningful dialogue. This project could have gone that way as well and we are pleased that it didn't. We commend Dr. Wilcove and his student for stepping up to the plate, and the University for welcoming their suggestions.
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