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The Benefits of Conserved Open Space:  Fresh Air, Wildlife, Happy Kids

Written by Amy Blaymore Paterson, Executive Director, Connecticut Land Conservation Council for the Connecticut Audubon Society’s 2015 State of the Birds Report

As the statewide umbrella organization for the land conservation community, the Connecticut Land Conservation Council’s mission is to advocate for land preservation, stewardship and funding, and ensure the long term strength and viability of the land conservation community.  To that end, we talk about the importance of and benefits of conserving open space in Connecticut every day.

Yet, in this day and age, delivering that message can be challenging. Attention spans are decreasing; information speed is increasing. One of the most powerful social media tools, for example, is Twitter, which describes its service as “an easy way to discover the latest news related to subjects you care about.”  But how does one convey the importance of conservation within Twitter’s 140-character limit?  How does one avoid glossing over all the significant benefits, tangible and intangible, that we derive from conserved lands?

Here’s the tweet I came up with when asked why conserving open space is important in Connecticut:

Conservation is fresh air, clean water, happy kids, trails, wildlife, farms, community, culture, strong economies, and moral responsibility. 

This message touches on many of the key purposes of conservation.  But so much substance is lost when we rely only on today’s mass communications channels.  Those of us who promote conservation must be prepared to provide that substance.  What do these things really mean and why are they important?

Land Conservation, Fresh air and Climate Change
According to the Connecticut Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), “[a]s the climate warms, Connecticut will have to reduce pollution just to maintain current air quality, and reduce it even more to achieve the goal of healthful air every day.” (CEQ 2014 Annual Report)   Trees and other vegetation on conserved land not only help to remove air pollutants which are harmful to human health and overall environmental quality, but also serve as carbon sequesters to help combat climate change.

Land Conservation and Clean Water
Natural open space plays a crucial role in protecting and enhancing water quality.  In addition to the overall health benefits derived from clean water, annual savings are in the millions from protected open space’s ability to naturally filter out pollutants, replenish water supplies and provide for natural flood mitigation.

Land Conservation and Happy, Healthy Kids
Open spaces provide children with the opportunity to explore, engage and learn experientially through unstructured play and physical activity. These experiences not only make for happier, healthier, better adjusted kids but provide the connections to nature that are essential to building and inspiring the next generation of conservation leaders.

Land Conservation and Wildlife
Preserved natural open spaces protect the habitats that local wildlife needs to survive and thrive.  Land conservation, particularly when part of landscape scale conservation planning strategies, helps to prevent habitat fragmentation — thus enabling wildlife to move freely through greenways and wildlife corridors.

Land Conservation and Working Lands
Protecting our working lands offers a myriad of benefits including:  preservation of valuable soils, local landscapes and cultural heritage; providing access to locally grown foods and products; and contributing billions to the state’s economy, including the creation of thousands of farm related jobs statewide.

Land Conservation and Trails, Recreation and Tourism
Open space provides the public with inexpensive places to recreate through a diversity of landscapes in every part of the state.  Getting outside and connecting to nature is not only good for our physical and mental health, but is an established driver for state and local economies.   Connecticut State Parks alone attract 8 million annual visitors and generate over $1 billion and 9,000 jobs for the state each year.

Land Conservation and Community, Culture and Heritage
Every town and city has that place!  Whether it is a 1,000 acre forest, a spectacular vista, a local dairy farm, or a ¼ acre urban oasis — without it, our community would not look or feel the same.   Land conservation serves to preserve the special places that define our communities and build connections now and for future generations.

Land Conservation, Land Trusts and our Moral Obligation
Connecticut is the home of over 137 land trusts – the third most in the country.  These mostly single-town, all-volunteer, private non-profit organizations do yeomen’s work by actively conserving and managing open space to ensure that it is protected forever.  What most distinguishes land trusts from other non-profits is the fact that they are organized for the very purpose of upholding their mission in perpetuity.  Hence, the ultimate responsibility of a land trust is to build connections between the community and the land – making conservation a part of the fabric of our everyday lives – to ensure that the benefits of land conservation are sustained forever.

Land is a finite resource.  Once gone, it’s gone forever; and it is the responsibility and moral obligation of our current generation to ensure that future generations receive the same benefits derived from open space preservation that we enjoy today.

Try describing that in 140 words.

Amy Blaymore Paterson
Executive Director
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