While land protection remains an important tool, we have realized we also must protect the “whole systems” in which species grow, feed, migrate and interact.
In many ways, a healthy ecosystem is like a healthy human body, with many small processes working in tandem to support life. A disruption in any one of these processes — from clean water circulation to the movement of migratory species — impacts the whole.
As The Nature Conservancy has grown, so has our approach to conservation. While land-protection remains an important tool, we also know we must protect “whole systems” where species grow, feed, migrate, interact and support people’s lives in many ways.
To address whole system challenges, we are helping guide government policy, integrating processes and places, focusing on people’s needs, connecting natural spaces and more. It’s a natural evolution for us that offers our supporters the chance for a more meaningful and lasting impact on the lands and waters we call home.
Massachusetts holds four vital whole systems: the Gulf of Maine, Connecticut River, Southern New England and Northern Appalachians.
The Connecticut River
At 410 miles and crossing four states, New England’s longest river provides electricity and drinking water to more than 2.3 million people. It is also the heart of our region’s ecology. Unfortunately, that heart needs our help.
The Conservancy’s first step toward protecting the river occurred in 1960, with the purchase of 46 acres in East Haddam, Connecticut. Since then, we’ve protected more than 350,000 acres in the watershed. And, our work has diversified to include new strategies, as well:
- Restoring streamflows: We are working with owners of large dams to change how they operate. Our hope is that they will release the same amounts of water that nature would at different times of year, benefiting fish, ecosystems and communities.
- Reinvigorating migratory fish populations: Our work to reconnect habitat for migratory fish supports our river systems as well as the sea (see our Gulf of Maine work). In addition to the recent dam legislation, we replaced an undersize culvert in Whately to help restore native brook trout habitat and demonstrate storm-tolerant culverts to communities.
- Reviving floodplains: We conserve these biodiversity hotspots to maintain the habitat and clean water they provide. Last year, we planted disease-resistant American elms at restoration sites throughout the watershed supporting the river and an iconic species.
- Purchase and restore critical streamside lands.
- Remove dams and replace culverts to re-open habitat and restore sea-running fish populations.
- Plant native trees and breed more resilient American elm varieties.