Department of Environment and Society, Utah State University Logan, Utah, United States
Abstract: Habitat loss is the primary driver of biodiversity declines. Urbanization is a major cause of habitat loss. As urban areas grapple with how and where to conserve and restore habitat to promote biodiversity, it is vital to identify where habitat currently exists and where it could be restored. Faith-owned land (worship centers, schools, retreat centers, summer camps, cemeteries, etc.) is ubiquitous across the American landscape. The extent to which these spaces may be contributing habitat to urban spaces and/or hold potential for habitat restoration is largely unknown. To better understand how faith-owned land contributes to the habitat matrix in urban areas, we did a comparative case study of the three Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) Network cities: Baltimore, MD, Phoenix, AZ, and Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN. For each city, we obtained parcel and high-resolution land cover data. We were able to isolate faith-owned land (only worship center properties for Baltimore) and investigate 1) how much is present, 2) the habitat composition, 3) the contribution to habitat connectivity, and 4) differences based on the type of use (Phoenix and Minneapolis-St. Paul only) and/or spatial patterns of social vulnerability (CDC/ATSDR Social Vulnerability Index). Minneapolis-St. Paul had the highest proportion of faith-owned land: 1.8% - totaling ~1300 acres. Faith-owned land in both Baltimore and Phoenix made up less than 1% of the total city landscape, ~700 acres and ~2600 acres respectively. While faith-owned land was more evenly distributed amongst use types in Minneapolis-St. Paul, faith-owned land in Phoenix was dominated (80%) by worship center use. The proportion of low vegetation cover (likely predominately lawn) was 53% (Minneapolis-St. Paul) to 100% (Phoenix) greater in faith-owned land than in land not owned by faith communities. In Minneapolis-St. Paul, the ratio of coniferous tree canopy was 2x greater in faith-owned land than in land not owned by faith communities. Although faith-owned cemeteries and schools accounted for 13% and 24% of total faith-owned land in Minneapolis-St. Paul, they contributed to 28% and 36% of total faith-owned coniferous tree canopy cover respectively. Faith-owned cemeteries in Minneapolis-St. Paul also contributed to 30% of total faith-owned low vegetation cover. In sum, this study demonstrates the nuanced ways in which faith-owned already contributes habitat in different urban contexts and how faith-owned land may offer greater opportunity for transitioning monocultures of turfgrass to habitat than land not owned by faith communities.