Sunday, December 13, 2009

The urban sprawl era of Montgomery County

Montgomery County is changing day by day, via planners, via developers, via population. We have been walking through a few related topics in previous articles noted below.1 2 3  Now we take it from a different but related perspective - conservation alongside regional urbanization. A local consultant, Burditt Land and Place Consultanting in Conroe, specializes in resource management, treescaping and urban planning. Integration is their central theme. They have a design process that yields "definable and buildable" plans, molded from client goals. My discussion with a couple of  representatives of this company brings to reality much of the future of this area that I have been contemplating over the past few weeks. Pictured on the left, left to right are John Ross, CA,CF , Senior Resource Specialist and Charles Burditt, President.  Inspired by these two gentlemen, I am sure you will appreciate what I am about to say. It is intended to begin to help open visionary eyes, where our children and grandchildren may live in the future. I constantly ask myself, "will they have the quality of life that we have, enough to enjoy natural resources and living as we do today?" 

Resource management includes preservation and management of our trees and wildlife, in addition to our water and soil. On staff of Burditt are architects, landscape architects, planners, park and recreational professionals, engineers and conservation specialists. This company has completed planning projects for The Woodlands, Conroe, Magnolia, and Seabrook among others. Today, I met a long time resident of the area, who explained the past to me, why we are where we are in urbanization and resource management. We are in a boom - the "urban spread" era of our county! "Just think, in the 1980s Montgomery County had the largest timber volume of any east Texas county!" Today, the volume of wood is not only difficult to quantify, but just not in the same ball park as then. This came about from a change in tax assessment law. One should know that the influence of tax laws has affected timberlands throughout history. For example, under the Ottoman Empire, tax evaders would hide in the forest from tax collectors. Today, if you travel from Amman, Jordan to Israel, through the barren hills, you will see the outcome of that forest. The government of that empire levied a payment for each tree cut down, so that the tax evaders would not have safe haven from the government. Therefore, greed was leveraged to destroy the forest. Government can negatively or positively affect the conservation of our natural resources.

In the case here of Montgomery County, along with other counties, the assessment tax was changed to a productivity tax in the 1980's. As a direct result, overnight it became too expensive to grow and harvest timber. Long term timber investments had to be sold for other purposes. George Mitchell was one who already had a plan for his timberland. He also could not sustain timber operations with the high cost of land taxes. This tax assessment strategy was a sudden change for the long term investment process of timber production. Cattlemen got the tax advantage in the use of land. The difference in land use taxes caused the large holding companies to sell off their assets - Friendswood, Mitchell, Foster, and Champion were large holders of timberland. Real estate companies bought large amounts and sold them in smaller 100 acre or so parcels. Then the timberlands began to be used for other purposes, eventually causing today's urban sprawl. Timber remains an important resource to manage in this and adjoining counties. Even Harris County has some significant forest remaining. There is in fact a 40+ acre timber farm in northwest Harris County. In Montgomery and Grimes, there are still some significant pine stands originally planted for timber production. There are locations near Montgomery, one timber farm in the city limits of Conroe, some near Willis and some in the bottom lands of southeast Montgomery county. Today, diversity of tree species is emphasized wherever tree resources are managed. Hardwoods are often included in any stands of trees whether it be for visual purposes or for wildlife management. Certain species like the Burr Oak or Cedar Elm provide deer and other wildlife with better resources than do pines. The old timberland production process is giving way to this new vision of tree diversity and carefully planned forests or parks to provide livable forests to inhabitants of the county, as urban sprawl takes its course.

I see my grandchildren living in the forests of Montgomery County, don't you? I see them on bicycles preparing for races on the bike ways, walking along the pedestrian ways to service providers and market. I also see shuttles carrying people past stands of trees and scenic ways. I see quiet neighborhoods but fairly densely populated, even in the far reaches of the county.  I see water conservation using strategies for natural recharging of underground reservoirs and very accessible parks and green belts using the diversity of tall trees, some dense as we see in forests, others standing alone, as the planted hardwoods begin to mature. There will be remnants of the great east Texas forest, but it will not be the same. Even you and I do not see the true native forests here in The Woodlands. We are amidst the timber lands intended for logging, not exactly the native forest. Over time, the forest has been evolving, but we have few long leaf pines in it. Most of them are along the creek beds.

John Ross was quick to note that ranching has not been a factor on the forest productivity in the past few decades. Clearly the escalating arrival of people in our urban sprawl has affected the timber lands, but perhaps not as much as we might think. Now we face many opportunities to manage potential and in-place forest resources. What decline in tree population we have noticed can be mitigated somewhat with the planting of seedlings. The more we do, the better it will be for our childrens' families (and ourselves). Hopefully, the forest will be here, although in a different form in the future for the community. Charles Burditt noted some of their projects are now integrating pedestrian ways to achieve higher standards of living quality for livability. I will be following up with an article on a very interesting project his company has planned out. I can't wait to explore that for my readers.

No comments: