In a September 2014 article in Smithsonian Magazine titled “Can the World Really Set Aside Half of the Planet for Wildlife?” author Tony Hiss highlights the success of New England conservation, including the Wildlands and Woodlands vision and associated Regional Conservation Partnership (RCP) Network.
The article focuses on the idea of “Half Earth,” a vision laid out by famed evolutionary biologist E.O. Wilson, which calls for half the planet to be set aside as permanently protected areas for the millions of non-human species struggling to survive. Without this substantial move, according to Wilson, our planet will face a mass extinction on par with the extinction event that killed the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.
Wilson’s vision includes the protection of uninterrupted wildlife corridors that, as noted in the article, are already taking shape in New England, thanks to decades of conservation commitment including innovative, new conservation underway by diverse collaboratives called regional conservation partnerships (RCPs). With forest cover of roughly 80 percent, New England is the most forested region in the country. The region has the potential to not only conserve half its land, as called for in the Half Earth vision, but could realistically conserve 70 percent of the region as forests, as called for by W&W.
The goal of permanently conserving 70 percent of the New England landscape is not without challenges. As noted in the article, much of the region’s forestland is held by private landowners in small, fragmented lots. Encouraging thousands of individual landowners to put conservation easements on their land is time consuming and potentially expensive for local land trusts and conservation organizations. But with the growth of RCPs across New England, these collaborative networks are able to take on bigger projects that are both locally grounded but regionally significant, and attract new funding to get this vital conservation work done.
Though Wilson’s Half Earth vision is unarguably ambitious, the Smithsonian article provides compelling case stories to suggest that this national and global vision can be achieved.
The article documents that here in New England we do have stunning opportunities to conserve large north/south habitat corridors for ecological health and climate resilience. Working together across sectors and geographies, we can indeed achieve the Wildlands and Woodlands vision for future generations of wildlife and people.