Localism's Ecology: Protecting and Restoring Habitat in the Suburban Nation


There is wide agreement among conservation activists and scientists alike that loss and alteration of habitat are the leading threats to biodiversity in America. Suburbs and exurbs, though, are only beginning to acknowledge that they are the problem in the struggle to stem the tide of “sprawl” and other economic processes producing ecosystem-wide habitat degradation today. A recent resurgence in academic and activist attention to local governments in America is reconsidering them as viable solutions to this problem. But most of this dialogue is being based upon a mistaken conception of local governance. Much of the legal scholarship on local environmentalism has ignored the reality of our localism and its role in the creation of the ever-expanding built landscape in America. This paper argues that this lack of realism in the current debate about local environmental law renders it blind to the vices of local governments and some of their sham conservation measures, but also to their counterintuitive virtues and possibilities for real conservation progress. Local government’s deep connection to private property entrepreneurialism is what has made it so practically powerful in resisting so many state and federal environmental initiatives. But it may well be this dimension of our localism that renders it uniquely fit to the tasks of real habitat protection and restoration in the twenty-first century.


Environmental Law | Land Use Law | Natural Resources Law

Date of this Version

March 2006