More than 4.3 million acres of forests, meadows, mountains and wetlands in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic have been permanently protected from development in recent decades, according to a new State of Nature report released by The Nature Conservancy this week.
“That’s an area the size of Connecticut and Rhode Island combined … or two Yellowstone National Parks … or 5,000 Central Parks … which has been purchased by conservation organizations or placed under conservation easements by private landowners,” said Mark Anderson, PhD, The Nature Conservancy’s Director of Conservation Science for Eastern North America “In a crowded region that includes several of the nation’s largest cities, that’s a significant accomplishment,”
Scientists from across the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic collaborated to analyze data from myriad sources, throughout an area stretching from Maine to Virginia, and learned that conservation efforts led by The Nature Conservancy and countless other groups have become a major force since the first conservation deals were made in the 1950s. The State of Nature report was funded by the Northeast Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, and was designed to determine what has been accomplished across the landscape and help direct future conservation efforts.
“In presenting the conservation status of the region’s important land and water habitats,” said David E. Saveikis, director of Delaware Division of Fish and Wildlife, “this report highlights collective progress in permanently securing and conserving 14% of Delaware’s habitats used by fish and wildlife species important to our conservation heritage and quality of life, but there is still much to do.”
Saveikis pointed out that future pressure on our landscape will require continued partnerships between state, federal and private conservation entities such as The Nature Conservancy to strategically secure additional important habitats.
“No single entity can secure these areas,” said Saveikis, “so our collective challenge is to conserve those habitats and sites necessary to ensure the future integrity of our landscape and fish and wildlife species to include those identified in Delaware’s Wildlife Action Plan.”
“Conservation supporters in Delaware have played a significant role in protecting sensitive and environmentally valuable lands, watersheds and shorelines,” said Andrew Manus, assistant state director for The Nature Conservancy in Delaware. “Through a wide range of supporting organizations and individuals, The Nature Conservancy has protected ecological precious sites and natural mechanisms that preserve habitats for wildlife, clean drinking water and beautiful places so our neighbors and visitors can experience nature,” continued Manus.
Private conservation is now growing more quickly than government ownership of parks and other public lands. As state and federal governments face tight budgets with little potential to increase conservation funding, private conservation efforts could become even more important in the future.
Some of the details of the report note successes yet raise issues that affect the 70 million people in this region:
• Forests in our region are still recovering from the unsustainable development and clearing for pasture of past decades, which reduced their scope by nearly a third. Our forests average only 60 years old, and are now fragmented by 732,000 miles of permanent roads − enough to loop the equator 29 times. Wildlife often need connected forests to travel from hunting to breeding grounds, and as the climate changes, these same wildlife corridors will allow species to adapt and move in response to shifting conditions.
• Our rivers were once huge, interconnected systems that extended for thousands of miles. Now, there’s an average of seven dams and 106 road crossings for every hundred miles of stream. Many of these dams are no longer in use for manufacturing, and some that have fallen into disrepair actually pose a danger to local communities.
• We’ve lost about 2.8 million acres of wetlands, drained for development or for agriculture, but have protected nearly as much. However, wetlands along rivers, like floodplain forests, are the least protected wetlands and they’re still being lost. Two-thirds of these wetlands have roads or farms so close as to pose risks to the plants and animals that live there.
The State of Nature report includes information about Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, Washington DC and West Virginia, and was funded by the Northeast Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies. For more information, visit nature.org/stateofnature.
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.
Assistant State Director
The Nature Conservancy in Delaware