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Environmentalists Push For Preservation Of Millions More Acres To Protect Plant Diversity


Climate change will impact native plant species in New England. The Native Plant Trust and The Nature Conservancy said states need to preserve at least an additional 2.3 million acres of land in specific locations to save the flora that both beautify and protect their landscapes, according to a new report released by the groups this week.

“We wanted to know if more than a century of conservation in New England has protected enough land in the right places to save the region’s plant diversity,” said Debbi Edelstein, executive director of Native Plant Trust. “The collaboration with The Nature Conservancy merged deep botanical knowledge with robust data modeling to generate a powerful approach to land protection that can direct limited funding to the best places for preserving the region’s plants and the living systems they sustain.”

The report provides a framework for policymakers and land trusts to properly protect “climate-resilient sites” to safeguard native plants, as well as the diverse wildlife that rely on them. Environmentalists identified nearly 240 important plant areas across the New England states that contain an abundance of rare species. Then they assessed whether the areas are protected under the law and if those areas could be lost to development by 2050.

The environmentalists also used guidelines developed by the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation under the United Nations to protect 75% of these important plant areas, and the Global Deal for Nature — a companion pact to the Paris Agreement — which calls for complete preservation of 5-15% of ecosystems, or a community of wildlife interacting with its environment. The deal also marks an additional 30% of preservation from conversion to other land uses. These guidelines have already been adopted by the Biden administration.

“New England just has a whole diversity of physical habitats and it's plants actually translate those physical habitats into recognizable communities that we can understand and map, and it's those communities that then support thousands of wildlife insects, birds and fish that depend on those plant habitats to sustain nature so there's really no better conservation,” said Mark Anderson, the director of conservation science at the Nature Conservancy, referring to how plant diversity is a frequent indicator of the overall health of an ecosystem.

It comes as Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont allocated $5.5 million to fund nearly 30 grants to purchase open space across the state, as well an additional $700,000 in funding for open space in urban areas, which focus on marginalized neighborhoods.

“Our administration has set high goals to mitigate the effects of climate change and implement policies that better preserve our air, water and natural resources,” Lamont said in a statement. “This program is an important component of preserving some of the best and most beautiful land in the world, and by partnering with our municipalities and nonprofits we can ensure that these valuable resources are preserved in perpetuity for generations to come.”

Following the two-year study, the grant funding may go to these areas that need of the most conservation efforts:

  • Forests, which cover 86% of the natural landscape, but only one of New England’s 10 forest types meet the target for conservation, according to the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation.
  • Wetlands, which cover 12% of the region and are” critical to sustaining almost half our plants, birds, and other wildlife,” but none of New England’s five most common types of wetlands meet the international benchmarks.
  • Summits, cliffs, barrens and dunes are only 2% of the landscape, but they are “hotspots of plant diversity and have densities of rare species 10 times higher than wetlands and 40 times higher than upland forests,” but only half meet these benchmarks.
Leah is a former intern with WSHU Public Radio.