Our region contains rugged natural beauty, but are we winning the battle to sustain people and nature? - Dr. Mark Anderson
by Dr. Mark Anderson
Conservation has changed dramatically in my lifetime. Many idealistic tree-huggers have grown into practical adults, finding common ground with sportsmen troubled by declines in hunting and fishing, and farmers worried by the loss of open space. Many of us are now parents concerned by the lack of clean water, fresh air and wild nature in our children’s lives.
Over time, individuals and private conservation organizations have found inventive ways to work together and in doing so have secured more than 4.3 million acres from Maine to Virginia—the equivalent of Connecticut and Rhode Island combined, two Yellowstone National Parks or 5,000 Central Parks.
It’s a lot of land. But have we protected the right places? Our region contains rugged natural beauty, but are we winning the battle to sustain people and nature?
In a 2011 study funded by the Northeast Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, my team at The Nature Conservancy assembled data on everything from species distributions to river barriers to land ownership patterns across 13 states to create a three-dimensional picture of the state of the natural world in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic.
The results tell us where conservation is working and point us to areas in need of more attention. After analyzing these findings, I’m recommending three solutions we can put into action right now to revive critical natural systems in our crowded corner of the world.
- Fix Fragmentation - Forests in our region are dissected by roads, rivers are clogged by dams and few lakes are more than a mile from a road. A focus on stitching together lands and waters across borders can bring back valuable natural services. Connecting forests will help them stay resilient in a changing climate, and restoring streams will help migratory fish rebound.
- Work with People to Protect Productive Lands – While conservation has made great progress in high elevations, we’ve fallen short in protecting areas like floodplains and rich soils where people love to live, work and grow things. Working with people on sustainable fishing, forestry and farming will allow conservation to gain traction in these flat, crowded lands.
- Tap the Power of Private Conservation – Privately-owned lands, and conservation easements in particular, have emerged as a major tool for permanently protecting land from development. Both public and private lands are critical pieces of the puzzle, but with tight public funding, private conservation is more important than ever.
Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states are part of natural powerhouses like the Gulf of Maine, Chesapeake Bay and the Appalachians that provide clean air, clean water, food and recreation for over 70 million people. This makes it crucial that we keep tabs on how conservation is working across state lines, finding the opportunities that will allow each of us to make a real difference.
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.