PROTECTING NORTHEAST lANDS, wATERS, aND wILDLIFE
In America, the Northeast is where the sun first rises. This region — spanning Maine to Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York to Vermont and New Hampshire — was also among the earliest in our country to be used by colonial settlers. It was once a place of wild and sometimes dazzling abundance, where forests stretched nearly continuously from the Atlantic coast to the grasslands of the Midwest, and where a “prodigious and spectacular” array of creatures stunned the first European visitors.
However, a century or more of land clearing, farming, livestock grazing, logging, overhunting, overfishing, predator control, dam building, and other uses stripped the Northeast of much of its natural riches. By the mid-nineteenth century, the big predators were virtually gone; deer were rare to nonexistent in many places; and fish populations had shrunk dramatically in rivers scoured by log drives, blocked by dams, and polluted by burgeoning, industrial cities.
The felling of the Northeast’s great forests and attendant loss of many wildlife species —often occurring so swiftly that changes were obvious within a lifetime — prompted some of this nation’s first major conservation achievements. Vermont’s George Perkins Marsh knew firsthand what heedless forest clearing and farming had done to the hills and streams in his hometown. In 1864, following time abroad in countries already stripped of their forests, he wrote Man and Nature, widely considered the foundational work of modern conservation.
In New York State, the Adirondack Forest Preserve was established in 1885 in response to the specter of smoldering, cutover mountain slopes, and the need to protect New York City’s water supply. The 6-million-acre park — three times the size of Yellowstone — remains a model for large-scale land conservation.
While western national forests were carved out of the public domain, the 1911 Weeks Act enabled the national forests of the East to be assembled through purchase of private land, parcel by parcel. The act was premised on the understanding that intact forests ensured the steady flow of streams and rivers; the East’s navigable waterways would be safeguarded through conservation of their headwaters. By 1915, the federal government had bought a couple hundred thousand acres to form the nucleus of the White Mountain National Forest in New Hampshire. The Allegheny National Forest in Pennsylvania was established in 1923, Vermont’s Green Mountain National Forest in 1932.
Together with other state and federal forests, parks, and refuges scattered throughout the region, these public lands are the Northeast’s most important sanctuaries for biodiversity, as well as vital havens for people seeking a deeper connection with nature. The Northeast is one of the most densely settled and developed regions of the United States, and the toll taken by 300 or 400 years of exploitation on its natural wealth is reflected in the precarious state of many of its native species. Some, like the passenger pigeon and the heath hen, are gone forever. Still, the region has undergone a remarkable “resurgence of green” in the past several decades as the forests have grown back and wildlife such as moose, fishers, and peregrine falcons have returned, aided — to varying degrees — by active restoration programs. Some day, with human tolerance and assistance, wolves, lynx, Atlantic salmon, and other native species may also fully regain their rightful place in the region’s web of life.
The Center’s work in the Northeast is aimed at perpetuating ecological recovery and defending the conservation gains of the past several decades. While in many respects the region’s wildlife and forests are in better shape than they were a century ago, spreading rural and urban development, intensifying off-road motorized recreation, air and water pollution, damaging logging practices, invasive species and exotic pathogens — and, increasingly, climate change — leave the Northeast’s natural places and wild inhabitants with an uncertain future. Our advocacy on behalf of all species occurs through multiple means: policy, education, media, grassroots organizing, partnership with conservation allies, and litigation.
Since the establishment of our Northeast office in 2008, we’ve been focusing on campaigns to: protect roadless areas on the White Mountain and Green Mountain national forests from logging, road building, and other intrusions; reform management of the snowmobile network on the Green Mountain National Forest; rein in snowmobiling and promote habitat protection on the Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge; and advocate for the protection and restoration of imperiled aquatic species in the Lake Champlain Basin and other New England watersheds. We’re also working to increase protection for the endangered Indiana bat and other bat species threatened by the deadly white-nose syndrome.
|Northeast forest photo © George Wuerthner||HOME / DONATE NOW / SIGN UP FOR E-NETWORK / CONTACT US / PHOTO USE /|