Subdivisions of real estate can protect or limit habitat. If they set boundaries that conform to natural barriers which separate human activity from wildlife, they can be helpful. If they subdivide large tracts of wildlife habitat so that it can never again function as habitat, they are a problem, even if nobody lives there.
During my 37 year career as a real estate broker, I was often unhappy with the California Subdivision Map Act (SMA).
The SMA creates the basis for many limitations of property use and restricts property rights. For a real estate broker, these restrictions are at least annoying and often impact property value.
This Act was created in 1937. If you’re interested in more history, you can find it easily by searching on the net. It is a very complicated topic. But for now, I’m looking at the SMA and where it stands today.
One of the unintended results of the implementation of the SMA was to create an avalanche of subdivisions of rural ranches in the mid 1900’s. Once faced with dwindling opportunity to create new rural parcels, developers rampaged through counties with wide open and relatively inexpensive land and created large subdivisions which created small parcels where large tracts of land had previously existed.
Much of this type of subdivision activity was done in anticipation of real estate shortages and projected upward values – land speculation.
The subdivisions were relatively inexpensive to create from a land survey and map filing perspective. Between 1940 and 1970 many small (often as small as one acre) rural parcels were approved in areas where the demand never came close to fully absorbing the supply. Many lots created over 50 years ago remain vacant. Many without power, water or sewer.
At worst, these subdivisions have created land no longer of use to anybody or any thing – not even wildlife. The SMA is an example of a well-intended attempt to protect the public from unscrupulous developers and unplanned development, but there have been many unintended consequences and many of them continue to impact wildlife negatively.
Wildlife corridors are impeded by these sprawling and failing subdivisions. Winter range is impacted negatively and habitat is unnecessarily declining.
Modoc County, on California’s northern border may be the county most negatively impacted by sprawling subdivisions that are mostly vacant, tax sales are common and homes often fall into foreclosure.
This is a photograph of a subdivision in Modoc County. It has been in place for over 50 years, yet it has no buildings, no paved roads, no water development, power or other utilities. The road is deteriorating. Because of diverse ownership, resolution of these issues is highly unlikely.