A Shopper's Guide to Building With Nature

By Bonnie Chasteen | May 18, 2011
From Missouri Conservationist: Jun 2011

If you love wildlife, you probably already know that habitat loss is the greatest threat to its survival. You probably also know that development is the leading cause of habitat loss in Missouri and around the globe.

Of course, “development” includes homes, towns and businesses —the places where we live and work.

So how can we balance our habitat needs with those of wildlife when we’re shopping for homes and landscaping solutions? Part of the answer is choosing “conservation friendly development.” This approach creates communities, homes and landscapes that “build with nature,” and it’s beginning to catch on in Missouri.

Here’s how you can use your shopping power to reward and encourage choices that leave room for wildlife.


It’s hard to make “conservation-friendly” consumer choices when you’re not sure what they are and how they’re different from “traditional” building and landscaping.

A good place to learn about building-with nature designs, techniques and systems is at one of the Department’s newer facilities, such as Twin Pines Conservation Education Center in Winona or the new Kansas City Regional Office.

In general, the Department is moving toward these practices on all new facilities:

  • Working within landscape contours to preserve the building site’s plants, soil and water
  • Positioning buildings within existing trees to maximize passive solar gain and take advantage of natural shade and cooling
  • Managing storm water runoff with techniques such as native-plant rain gardens. Like bio-facilities, they soak up and filter water before it reaches storm drains.
  • Landscaping with native plants, which need less water and provide better wildlife habitat
  • Using energy-efficient construction, materials and appliances, including “cool roofs” that reflect up to 70 percent of the sun’s rays, resulting in less heat transfer and saving up to 40 percent in energy costs
  • Using recycled and locally sourced materials. For example, Twin Pines Conservation Education Center has flooring made from wood harvested in Missouri as well as structural insulated panels made in Taos, Mo.



If you can choose where you live, seek communities with policies that protect open space.

Good land-use policies can make a big difference in your quality of life over time. Without them, your property’s “great views and lots of wildlife” may disappear in a few short years.

The City of Weldon Spring is a community that is making a firm commitment to protecting open space. In March 2009, the city’s Board of Aldermen approved changes to the zoning and subdivision sections of the city’s municipal code to promote the preservation of the city’s open space and southern bluff-top views.

“This is a major achievement,” says Hilary Murphy, Weldon Spring’s consulting planner, “because it’s often local ordinances that keep conservation-friendly development from happening.” She emphasizes that the process began with the city’s comprehensive plan, which the local community helped develop. “Since Weldon Spring was formed, there’s been a value for nature. During the comprehensive plan update, we heard from the community that preserving nature and natural values was important to them.”

Weldon Spring’s Planning Commission Chair Mike Mullins, and Mayor Don Licklider, emphasize that providing for the full scope of the community’s values and needs was important. “This type of development will allow landowners to develop and build, but still preserve the ecosystems there. We don’t want to take away people’s rights to develop. It is possible to allow building and still preserve natural values,” Mullins says.

Ordinances such as Weldon Spring’s also assure property buyers that their open views and landscape amenities, such as wildlife habitat, will be protected for the future.

When you’re shopping for a new neighborhood, check the town’s website and contact the city administrator. He or she can tell you whether the town has a conservation-friendly development ordinance or plans to develop one.


At first glance, the term “conservation-friendly development” seems to be just another way of saying “green building.” But there is a difference. It’s entirely possible to have a development full of energy-efficient houses that also consume lots of wildlife habitat and increase storm water runoff.

Conservation-friendly development complements green building by grouping structures in a way that leaves open space for wildlife. An added bonus of clustering buildings within a development is preserving the “view shed” for residents and community members.

Bill and Paula Frazier had this idea in mind when they approached Brian Burton, who developed Oakbrook, “a community built around nature” in the greater Kansas City area.

“We were Brian’s first buyer,” Bill says. “I feel we got the best lot because it backs up to 35 acres of timber that will never be developed. I grew up hunting and fishing, and I’ve been a lifelong conservationist. We’ve installed trail cameras and really enjoy watching the animals.”

Even though Bill and Paula knew the Burtons, it still took them awhile to find their dream location. “We just didn’t want to live in a populated area. We drove around and looked at lots for sale. If you find an area you like, just drive around.”

Aside from cruising your favorite communities and neighborhoods, you can also find “building with nature” choices by searching the Internet. Many Realtors, developers and builders are now identifying themselves as specializing in “green” or “low impact” real estate. To back up their claims, they’re earning “green” designations through local groups, such as the Tri-Lakes Board of Realtors’ “REALTORS for Green Living,” and regional chapters of the U.S. Green Building Council. They use these designations in their online advertising to attract shoppers interested in energy-efficient, low impact and sustainable designs.


While you’re online, check out “green” mortgages and home improvement programs. “These programs help buyers finance energy efficient or sustainable landscape improvements, but a lot of lenders don’t know about them,” says Ron Kaufman, a mortgage loan specialist with Bank of America in St. Louis.

“You, as a consumer, have to know about these programs because your lender may not know they have them.”

Ron mentions a Department of Housing and Urban Development website that lists all the energy efficiency financing and rebates. You can find it at go.usa.gov/TYf.

When it comes to the future of energy efficient and conservation-friendly housing choices, Ron, who also sits on a homebuilders’ association green building executive board, is optimistic. “The best thing we have going for us is the continuous updating of the building code, which gets ‘greener’ every year. Hopefully that alone will drive awareness with builders and thus communication to consumers.”


Building with nature helps you minimize the impact of development pressure on dwindling wildlife habitat, especially if your dream is to live in a suburban development or small acreage. But if you want to keep your “ecological footprint” as small as possible, consider a house in an older city neighborhood and make it wildlife friendly with native plants.

Retired Department publications editor Bernadette Dryden made this choice several years ago.

“On the advice of a financial planner, I chose a house in this older Columbia neighborhood close to the university. It’s a solid investment and it supports the things I care about—being able to walk downtown for events, gardening, privacy and having access to interesting neighbors.”

An avid gardener and cook, Bernadette’s landscape feeds her horticultural and culinary passions. Her sunny front yard features a tidy, straw-mulched vegetable garden among lots of native plants, including hickories, ninebark, Virginia creeper, blazing star and river oats.

“The natives have grown here naturally for thousands of years. They stand up to the climate better than nonnatives do,” says Bernadette.

Her native plants and water features also attract wildlife. “I’m always seeing skinks, snakes, rabbits, deer, foxes and lots of birds,” she says. “In my water garden, American toads and southern leopard frogs lay their eggs all spring, and then I see them hopping around in the garden, eating bugs.”

What advice does she have for others who want to landscape with native plants?

“Arm yourself with the Department’s publications, such as Tried and True: Native Plants for Your Yard. Talk to the growers—you can find a list of them on the Grow Native website. They’re your best source of knowledge on how to grow natives successfully.”


We have the power to create the world we want to live in. The Internet makes it easier than ever before to keep in touch with trends. A simple web search can tell us what’s going on in local government. It can also show us who’s creating the kinds of real estate and landscaping choices that meet our needs without sacrificing our values. The regulatory and market trend toward conservation friendly development indicates that Missouri’s communities can be healthier for wildlife and people far into the future. We guarantee that they will every time we encourage better land-use policies and buy into building with nature.

This Issue's Staff

Editor In Chief - Ara Clark
Managing Editor - Nichole LeClair Terrill
Art Director - Cliff White
Staff Writer - Bonnie Chasteen
Staff Writer - Jim Low
Photographer - Noppadol Paothong
Photographer - David Stonner
Designer - Stephanie Thurber
Artist - Mark Raithel
Circulation - Laura Scheuler