There are some people who give a lot of thought to the open space available in Connecticut. One of those people is Karl J. Wagener, Executive Director of the Connecticut Council of Environmental Quality, an organization that objectively monitors the state’s environmental progress.
Last night at the Pequot Library in Southport, Wagener lectured that Connecticut may be doing a lot of things right when it comes to the environment. But when it comes to land conservation, we still have a long way to go.
“Land is one of those things that Connecticut can’t seem to do right,” said Wagener. “A lot of land conservation is unaccounted for. We don’t really know how much we’ve got.”
Wagener says the biggest problems center around a lack of money to fund the inventory of available land, a good strategy for better land conservation, and looking at the land acquisition as a unified whole rather than as a compilation of separate, individual acquisitions.
While the state does have a Green Plan to reach a land preservation goal by 2023, Wagener says it’s hard to get people excited about something that has no plan of attack and no way to pay for it.
Christopher "Kim" Elliman, Executive Director of Open Space Institute in New York City, agrees that there are a number of states in the Northeast struggling to find enough public funding. In an interview on July 30th with North Country Public Radio in Canton, NY, he said that for many states like Maine, Connecticut, Vermont and New York, the funds have either been cut or deferred elsewhere.
“One of the problems for people who want to conserve land is the lack of certainty,” he said. “There may be money, but there's no certainty there's money.”
According to the latest report from the Connecticut Council of Environmental Quality, the Green Plan leaves a little bit to be desired. Based on information gathered in 2008, only 3,000 acres of public land was conserved. This falls well below the 11,000 acres per year necessary to preserve to reach that 2023 goal.
Connecticut’s Department of Environmental Protection outlines its goals in the 2007 Green Plan, updated from the original in 2001. In the plan, the state makes it clear that land acquisition has been gradually taking place since 1901.
As of January 2007, there was a total acquisition of 251,001 acres for its system of parks, forests, and wildlife, fishery and natural resource management areas. With nearly 80% of the 320,576 acres of open space land targeted for State acquisition, one might think there wasn’t a land acquisition problem in this state. Add to that the state’s partnership with 169 cities and towns to preserve land, about 116 land conservation organizations, and 85 water companies serving 1,000 people or more, this sounds like Green Plan is making progress.
However, they do admit that exact acreage of open space protected by their acquisition partners has not yet been compiled. That brings us back to Wagener’s point that we really don’t know how much we’ve got.
Farmland was another loss. Connecticut loses approximately 1,800 acres of farmland per year. Last year, only 675 acres were preserved. Like it says on a bumper sticker I saw recently: No Farm. No Food. So in terms of land preservation, some land acquisitions may be a bit more precious. (The decline of farmland in Connecticut was discussed in a previous article on this site.)
While there has been progress with our wetlands, reservoirs, beaches, and Long Island Sound, there is still major improvement needed. About 80% of our rivers still get sewage run-off during heavy storms. That means those waterways are not suitable for swimming. If it’s not good for you, how do you think the fish feel?
If we don’t preserve our open space, then other forms of wildlife lose their habitat as well. It’s not just the fish in the rivers, it’s the birds in the trees. And the other woodland animals that make a home here in Connecticut. If we displace them with housing developments, we lose a whole life cycle that sustains our ecology.
Preserve open space and you preserve life. Build a bunch of condos, and you lose more than just a few acres of land.
Photos courtesy of Photobucket, Pequot Library, and Center for Humans and Nature.