The chickadee that feeds its young the insects living in the native oak trees.
The oak trees that depend on fertile soils and sufficient water to grow.
The rain that comes at the right times and in the right amounts for life in this place.
The water that flows down rivers providing homes for otters and turtles and freshwater mussels and all the fish and insects on which they feed.
The Bald Eagle that catches fish in Lake Erie — fish that depend on millions of human beings in the Lake Erie watershed to keep the lake clean.
And the children growing up, healthy and strong in a clean environment, inspired by the beauty of nature around them.
All connected and interdependent
Development alters and fragments the land,
Pollution degrades air, water and soils.
Nonnative plants and animals overwhelm native species.
And more recently, climate change has begun to increase our region’s average temperature and annual precipitation. By the end of this century, our region could feel like a very different place. The temperature could exceed 86° F on more than 120 days a year, if high levels of global-warming pollution continue.
And size matters — large blocks of undisturbed habitat provide homes for many rare plants and animals, and they are more protected from the intrusion of nonnative species. Today, less than 4% of the region’s 21,642 square miles is protected as parks or other natural areas.
Watershed divide between the Lake Erie and Ohio River drainages
While there may be instances where we don’t want certain species (such as Asian carp) to migrate across this divide, climate change will likely make it increasingly important to provide migration routes for many other species in the future.
3. Reduce habitat fragmentation
Reduce habitat fragmentation from development and infrastructure (such as roads, power lines, and pipelines). By promoting well-planned development in existing communities, public planning processes can avoid additional fragmentation. In general, land-use planning should take the cumulative impacts of habitat fragmentation into account.
4. Reduce other stresses on nature
In addition to conserving and connecting natural areas, it’s vital to reduce the many other stresses on native plants and wildlife. Four of particular concern are:
- Air and water pollution
- Nonnative species
- Overabundance of White-tailed deer
The distribution of plants and wildlife in our region will be greatly affected by a warmer climate. A recent study of the LEAP region by the U.S. Forest Service found more than a third of the region’s tree species will be less able to survive here by the end of the century. Such enormous changes will require new conservation approaches — perhaps less emphasis on preserving species that are no longer well adapted to local conditions and more emphasis on promoting a mix of species that will form healthy, resilient ecosystems in the future. This will raise complex questions about what species should be considered “native” to this place and when resources should be expended to protect certain habitats over others.
1. Support the expansion of protected natural areas and corridors
The region’s conservation organizations are working collaboratively on strategies to protect natural areas, with an emphasis on assembling large blocks of high quality habitat and connecting those blocks with continuous corridors. But continued progress depends on funding. So it’s vital to support park levies, bond issues, and other funding sources for openspace acquisition, such as the Clean Ohio Fund. Parks and greenspace are great investments — for nature, for our health, and for the prosperity of our communities.
2. Support the redevelopment of existing cities and towns
One of the best ways to conserve nature is to support redevelopment of existing communities. If we avoid developing natural areas and promote development in areas that already have infrastructure, we reduce habitat fragmentation and the costs of poorly planned growth. And by supporting policies and incentives — local, state, and federal — that help redevelop vibrant neighborhoods, more people will be able to choose walkable lifestyles that are easier on the planet.
3. Connect your land to the larger landscape
Most the region’s land is privately owned, and everyone’s backyard can be a valuable patch of habitat. So think of your land as part of a larger mosaic of nature. Can your yard be part of a green corridor that connects a natural area and a river? Can your urban yard be a resting point for birds and pollinators? Can the woodlots and hedgerows on your farm contribute to biodiversity across the countryside? The answers can be yes, if more private land is maintained in a natural state or restored with an abundance of native plants.
4. Protect water quality
Life depends on pure water, and water quality depends a lot on the quality of land. If we do the three things listed above, we will protect forests, floodplains, wetlands, and other natural areas that act like a sponge to retain and filter water, and we also will reduce the spread of roads, rooftops, and other impervious surfaces that exacerbate damaging stormwater pollution. In addition, we can all support local stormwater management programs and sensible regulation at the state and federal levels to protect clean water.
5. Reduce the carbon pollution that’s heating up the planet
Climate change is already stressing nature in our region and around the world, and the disruptive effects will grow much worse if carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels are not sharply reduced in the next decade. Everyone can help by reducing personal energy use, planting trees to sequester carbon, and supporting the climate action plans of local governments and organizations. Most importantly, everyone can support state and federal policies to accelerate the transition to clean energy sources — solar and wind — that generate power without pollution while creating good jobs for a healthy, sustainable economy.