More than 4.3 million acres of forests, meadows, mountains and wetlands 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,” he said.
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.
In fact, private conservation is now growing more quickly than government ownership of parks and other public lands, Anderson said. 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.
“As The Nature Conservancy enters its 60th year this fall, we’re proud to have protected ecological gems that will guarantee habitat for wildlife, clean drinking water and beautiful places where people can experience nature, but the job isn’t finished,” said Wayne Klockner, Executive Director for the Nature Conservancy in Massachusetts.
“This conservation status report is a critical document for the conservation community in the northeast to agree on highest priorities for conserving species and habitats in the face of multiple threats and uncertainties,” said Andrew Milliken, coordinator of US Fish and Wildlife’s North Atlantic Landscape Conservation Cooperative.
The State of Nature report was designed to determine what has been accomplished across the landscape and help direct future conservation efforts, according to Anderson.
“We wanted to look at whether we’ve been protecting the right places,” he said. “Are we ensuring that our plants and animals can continue to thrive alongside the 70 million people who call this region home?”
• 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.
“We’ve had great success protecting some places, like boreal forests and mountaintops, but other landscapes still need our attention,” Anderson said. “We can address the fragmentation of our rivers and forests, but we need the help of all the people who live and work here. Innovative solutions like working forest and farm conservation and collaborations with fishermen can ensure that we protect the resources that both people and nature need.”
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.
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Cutline: There has been considerable success in permanently protecting natural lands that provide needed benefits to people, animals and plants in 13 states of the densely populated Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions. Despite successes, significant challenges remain. In its 2011 State of Nature report, The Nature Conservancy examined such topics as species distribution, river barriers and land ownership patterns to create a three-dimensional picture of the natural world in these regions.
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.
Senior Media Relations Manager
The Nature Conservancy