Star Tribune: 'Habitat or housing?' ... We say both

When FMR restores prairies, we're delighted when Henslow's sparrows return. This rare bird species has been found in undeveloped grasslands now being considered for redevelopment by Ramsey County. ("Henslow's sparrow" by Jim Hudgins/USFWS. CC BY 2.0)

Near the St. Paul-Maplewood border, Ramsey County is eyeing a former golf course and two largely undeveloped sites for redevelopment. (Learn more from our April 2021 overview.)

One of the less-developed sites is known locally as the "bobolink grasslands." Previously tied to a county correctional facility, this 77-acre tract of rare grassland is home to several bird species whose populations have taken troubling dives. Many, like the Henslow's sparrow pictured above, depend on large undeveloped areas for successful reproduction. Since European colonization, Minnesota has lost 98 percent of its grasslands since they're easily converted into cropland or developments.

Star Tribune journalist Shannon Prather recently visited the Maplewood grasslands site with experienced birders from the St. Paul chapter of the Audubon Society. Her article explores the complex, thoughtful debate underway: How do we respond to several urgent community needs at once, including our climate crisis and affordable housing crisis?

As the county continues its planning process for the "bobolink grasslands" and other county-owned properties, we hope to see careful consideration of where new development is appropriate — and where it's not. We are grateful that the county conducted an ecological resources inventory (at FMR and other groups' request) to gain a better understanding of the environmental role of the sites in question to inform decision-making.  

As we said in the Star Tribune article, we can't make the mistake of responding to our housing crisis by worsening our environmental crisis.

We see many other opportunities to preserve and expand much-needed affordable housing in the Twin Cities. Adding density in nearby areas that are already developed would allow these rare open spaces and much-needed river corridor habitat to remain.

Stay informed

We'll keep our Ramsey County River Guardians informed about opportunities to weigh in on the future of these sites over the coming years. If you're not yet a River Guardian, sign up today.

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