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Audubon International, the not-for-profit environmental organization, has entered into a first-of-its-kind agreement with a major Florida developer that it hopes will lead to a new breed of environmentally-friendly, sustainable residential communities throughout the country.

Under the agreement, WCI Communities will apply Audubon's principles for resource management in the design, planning and construction of ten properties the company will build in Collier, Lee, Martin, Palm Beach and Sarasota counties. Together they comprise about 6,000 acres.

The pact will guide planning and development decisions relating to natural resource conservation and protection, water quality and conservation, habitat protection and energy conservation. The master plan for each community will have to pass an environmental audit before being certified as a "sustainable development" by Audubon International.

Audubon believes that "focusing on sustainable development at the regional ecology level is the only way to provide for economic growth and environmental protection," said its president and chief executive officer, Donald Dodson. And WCI President Jerry Starkey concurred.

"The future of the building and development industry rests on our ability to treat the environment with respect and create communities that exist in harmony with their natural setting," Starkey said.

AI's principles of resource management call on developers to conserve and protect unique features of their sites and protect food, water shelter and ecologically sensitive areas for wildlife. Among other things, the environmental group says corridors and green space should be provided to allow for the movement of both plants and animals.

Builders also are asked to adopt a water conservation program that collects, recaptures and re-uses water resources, and to use plant materials and resources native to the particular area so as to reduce the need for special watering and ground preparation. Using native fauna also protects against changing the site's basic ecology.

In addition, Audubon's guidelines call on builders and developers to avoid generating unnecessary solid waste, handle and dispose of non-recyclable and hazardous waste in a sensitive manner and compost organic waster. The also ask builders to explore the use of alternative sources of energy; incorporate energy efficient design in their houses, and encourage the use of public and low-impact transportation.

WCI's agreement with AI isn't its first with the environmental group. The Bonita Springs-based firm also has committed to certify and operate all the golf courses it manages in accordance with Audubon's guidelines. Golf is the centerpiece of most WCI communities, as it is of many master planned projects throughout the country.

Only about 2,500 of the nation's 17,000 courses are enrolled in AI's cooperative sanctuary program for environmental stewardship. But those that are report a 40-50 percent annual reduction in chemical use, up to an 85 percent reduction in electric use and a 35-85 percent reduction in water volume.

An environmentally sensitive course applies pesticides to less than 3 percent of its total acreage, mostly on the tees and greens; neutralizes acid rainfall, and supports a healthy community of more than 100 non-pest invertebrates.

Golf courses use just 1.9 percent of the nation's water resources, including recycled wastewater (vs. 43 percent for industry and 47 percent for agriculture. And of the total rainwater and irrigation water landing on a well-designed golf course, 40 percent returns to the atmosphere through plant transpiration and evaporation and the other 60 percent filters through a cleansing filter or natural soil microbes before flowing to underground reservoirs and surface waters.

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