xml:space="preserve">
xml:space="preserve">
Advertisement

Our endangered environment [Commentary]

Americans received some welcome news last week about the state of their environment. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell announced that the Delmarva fox squirrel has recovered sufficiently to be removed from the federal Threatened and Endangered Species list. At the time of its listing, this shy mammal's habitat had been reduced from the full peninsula to small slivers in four Eastern Shore counties. Now, as the secretary reported, the squirrel has been re-established throughout virtually all of its historic range.

This is no small accomplishment. It took all hands on deck to make it happen. The squirrel's recovery has occurred primarily because of conservation efforts on privately owned lands. While the role of habitat management on public lands — such as Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge — is vital, today's thriving Delmarva fox squirrel population reflects remarkable cooperation between public and private sectors, and state, local and federal levels. Today's refuge visitor, who now stands a good chance of glimpsing this charismatic squirrel, may not be aware of the highly concerted effort behind the scenes that brings about these victories for wildlife.

Advertisement

Now even more extraordinary cooperation is needed — this time at the scale of the landscape. Delmarva's marvelously productive salt marsh ecosystem is losing ground to the rising waters of the Chesapeake Bay. Salt marsh is that green fringe that protects natural areas, farms and communities from coastal storms and tides. The dynamic forces that shape the Chesapeake Bay region have been at work for millennia, but in recent years science has confirmed that both the pace and scale of change are accelerating due to global climate change. The best-available science predicts sea levels rising in the bay by at least three feet by the end of this century. Without active adaptation measures, the toll exacted by this rapid rise of the bay's waters will be great: Higher tides and storm surge will inundate coastal salt marshes and cause more shoreline erosion. Loss of coastal marshes will mean substantial loss of habitat for native and migratory birds, shell- and fin- fish. Our communities will also lose the protective buffer against storms that the salt marsh provides for homes and businesses, infrastructure, historic sites and productive working lands.

Here again, public and private collaboration is vital. The good news is that it's underway. Thanks to public agency leadership by the Interior Department's U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Maryland's Department of Natural Resources, as well as philanthropic partners — including the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Town Creek Foundation and Wildlife Conservation Society's Climate Adaptation Fund — the Blackwater/Chesapeake Marshlands Complex National Wildlife Refuge has become a climate adaptation hub. With conservation partners like The Conservation Fund, Audubon MD-DC and local landowners, the refuge is testing strategies to slow the rates of salt marsh loss, identify and protect marsh migration corridors, and help natural areas and human communities adapt more successfully to the changing landscape.

Advertisement

We know success will not occur overnight. The recovery of the Delmarva fox squirrel demanded nearly a half century of persistent, concentrated and cooperative effort by public and private partners. Saving a dynamic and complex ecosystem like coastal salt marsh will require even greater resources and commitment from elected leaders, public agencies and private and philanthropic partners. But climate change has arrived on the Eastern Shore. We know that the benefits to nature and ourselves are well worth our best efforts to adapt. As the great American statesman Adlai Stevenson II once said, "Change is inevitable. Change for the better is a full-time job." Roll up your sleeves and join us.

Erik J. Meyers is vice president of The Conservation Fund and chairman of the Natural Capital Investment Fund. His email is emeyers@conservationfund.org.

To respond to this commentary, send an email to talkback@baltimoresun.com. Please include your name and contact information.

Recommended on Baltimore Sun

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement