Guest columnists Kristen Sykes, Sally Loomis and Markelle Smith: Conserving 'Amercia the Beautiful'

The value of open land accessible to all has never been clearer: as the pandemic has shown, available and safe outdoor spaces are essenti...

The value of open land accessible to all has never been clearer: as the pandemic has shown, available and safe outdoor spaces are essential to our overall health and happiness.

Beyond that, our climate change is reaching a tipping point which, if left unchecked, could lead to mass extinction of species and untold damage to human communities. It follows that protecting our lands and waters should be among the top priorities of lawmakers, advocates and citizens.

Where would we be as a state and nation without our fresh air, clean water, and pristine lands that sequester carbon, mitigate extreme temperatures, and provide refuge for people and wildlife?

The Biden administration has proposed an initiative to promote natural climate solutions and create more places for people to go out. This initiative, commonly referred to as “America the Beautiful” also known as 30×30, aims to conserve 30% of the nation’s land and water by 2030. The follow-up campaign to achieve these goals is called America the Beautiful and is a “call to action to support local conservation and restoration efforts of all kinds and across America, wherever communities wish to save the land and water they know and love”.

Several federal funding programs focus on land conservation, used to advance the America the Beautiful/30×30 initiative, including the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF).

The public and private lands conserved throughout the Northeast by programs such as LWCF, often leveraged by state and local funds, are critically important in our efforts to address climate change. Without forests and natural lands, we would not have carbon sequestration – the process of capturing and storing carbon dioxide, to prevent it from entering the earth’s atmosphere.

Without protection of intact lands from subdivision and resulting habitat fragmentation, our wildlife and overall biodiversity would decline, causing ripple effects across all ecosystems that support human life.

And without federal support and funding for land conservation, we wouldn’t stand a chance of meeting the administration’s goal of protecting 30 percent of our lands and waters by 2030.

You may not realize it, but your community has probably already benefited from federal funds invested in land protection. Typically, local lands and parks that are conserved are protected forever: to ensure that no parking lot or strip mall can replace them.

In the Connecticut River Valley alone, there are millions of examples, including the Ruth Elizabeth Connector Trail in Springfield with an accessible perimeter walking trail; the Fannie Stebbins unit of the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge (Conte Refuge) in Longmeadow with a floodplain restoration project alongside its extensive trail system; and the Fort River Division of the Conte Hut in Hadley, which boasts a universal access trail enjoyed by double its regular visitors during the pandemic.

Most recently, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland announced $60 million in LWCF-funded grants for underserved urban communities, including $1.5 million to revitalize Congressman Richard E. Neal’s Community Park. Indian Orchard so that more Springfield residents have opportunities close to home to enjoy the outdoors.

There is now a real and tangible opportunity to build on the successes of these projects and amplify their benefits for those of us in the surrounding communities. Friends of the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge have identified more than $35 million in land conservation projects and more than $10 million in restoration projects in the four states of the Connecticut River watershed.

These projects would conserve and restore lands adjacent to the Holyoke Range and along the Connecticut River floodplains, as well as remove barriers on priority watershed tributaries, improve trail networks, and increase access to recreational facilities. Additionally, projects such as the LWCF Stateside Grant Project at Anniversary Hill in Holyoke will restore urban parks and increase trails and access for nearby communities.

Hilltown Land Trust projects include the conservation of key lands that provide connected habitat for wildlife and are located within a regionally significant forested wildlife corridor in Middlefield and Worthington. These watershed-level efforts are essential to providing everyone with clean, safe drinking water, protection from excessive flooding, and healthy fish populations for sport and sustenance.

In the summer of 2020, the Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA) was passed into federal law. The GAOA spends $900 million a year on the LWCF program, as originally planned in 1964. This is not taxpayer money, but royalties paid by energy companies drilling offshore for oil and gas. gas. The passage of GAOA was thanks to the commitment and strong support of our congressional representatives. Neal and James McGovern, and senses. Elizabeth and Ed Markey, to whom we extend our deepest thanks.

While this investment in conservation and recreation opportunities is successful, this level of funding is a floor, not a ceiling. Dozens of projects and volunteer landowners remain on waiting lists, including at the Conte Refuge and along the Appalachian Trail here in Massachusetts, as the urgency of a changing climate demands that Congress affect more money to the LWCF and the America the Beautiful initiative to protect more of the land and water that sustain us.

We look forward to working with members of our congressional delegation, state agencies, and municipalities to accelerate land conservation in the Connecticut River watershed. We aspire to achieve the goals of America the Beautiful and, more importantly, to ensure that everyone can access beautiful outdoor spaces nearby.

Kristen Sykes is with the Appalachian Mountain Club, Sally Loomis is with the Hilltown Land Trust and Markelle Smith is with Mass Audubon.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Guest columnists Kristen Sykes, Sally Loomis and Markelle Smith: Conserving 'Amercia the Beautiful'
Guest columnists Kristen Sykes, Sally Loomis and Markelle Smith: Conserving 'Amercia the Beautiful'
Newsrust - US Top News
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