by Michele S. Byers, Executive Director, New Jersey Conservation Foundation
When President Obama referred to “our national treasure” during his inauguration speech, he wasn’t talking about the gold in Fort Knox.
He was referring to something far more precious, something “green” rather than gold: “our forests and waterways, our croplands and snowcapped peaks.”
In addition to providing clean water and air and fresh food, these open lands play a crucial role in mitigating the impacts of global climate change.
Following years of scant public discussion on climate change, the President’s speech recognized the threats posed by the warming of our planet – and the urgent need to take action.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 2012 was the hottest year on record. It was also a year of extreme weather events, from Superstorm Sandy to the worst drought since the Dust Bowl of 1930s.
One way we can address climate change is by increasing renewable energy sources, thus reducing our dependence on fossil fuels that send greenhouse gases into our atmosphere.
Another way is by preserving lands that grow trees that remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and produce oxygen.
For that reason, last week’s announcement of the preservation of more than 5,000 acres in the Great Egg Harbor watershed in South Jersey was fantastic news.
In the largest state Green Acres preservation project in many years, 5,079 acres of woodlands and wetlands in Estell Manor, Atlantic County, were permanently preserved.
These lands straddle the area where the Pine Barrens meets coastal estuary ecosystems. The bulk of the newly-preserved land – a tract known as Lenape Farms – had been used as a private hunting game preserve since the early 1900s and was privately managed for forestry and wildlife.
These forests and wetlands are important allies in the effort to mitigate climate change. Trees draw carbon out of the air and store it, or “sequester” it, in their wood. Given the enormous potential costs of climate change, this eco-service is invaluable.
But that’s not all. These preserved lands will protect the headwaters of several tributaries to Great Egg Harbor River, and provide habitat for many wildlife species. They will also provide great hunting, fishing, hiking and bird watching opportunities for the public.
Kudos to the state and its partners – The Nature Conservancy, the New Jersey Pinelands Commission and Conservation Resources Inc. – for saving the Lenape Farms property, ensuring that we will reap its ecological benefits forever. This land truly is a new gem in “our national treasure.”