Joel Dunn

Joel Dunn is the president and CEO of the Chesapeake Conservancy.

Where the wild things are

MD expands areas to appreciate nature

Henry David Thoreau, in his essay “Walking,” wrote: “In wildness is the preservation of the world.”

That quote, combined with lots of time exploring the great outdoors, inspired me at a young age to appreciate wildlife and wild places and set me on a path to work to save them.

There is a certain rare magic to wild things that fuels the imagination and passion. My life would be drab if I had never seen a monarch butterfly, Atlantic white cedar swamp, rockfish or osprey. Knowing them has enriched my life, changed my perspective and fueled my sense of adventure.

Thanks to previous conservationists and a little luck, we can still find wild things in the landscapes of the Chesapeake.

To protect these wild places, several groups, including the Chesapeake Conservancy, have worked with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and the state’s General Assembly to expand Maryland’s Wildland Preservation System. As of this writing, the General Assembly is poised to expand 14 existing Wildlands and designate nine new areas, a total of

21,890 acres of new Wildlands to be added to the current 43,773 acres.

These preserved natural areas, which are already owned by the state, contain rare or vanishing species of plant or animal life and may also include unique ecological, geological, scenic and contemplative recreational areas. Some are so untouched they evoke the 17th century when Capt. John Smith explored the Chesapeake.

The need to conserve our precious natural resources, and set aside wild places, grew as the nation spread west. It found a champion in President Theodore Roosevelt, who has been called the conservationist president. Roosevelt believed there was no greater issue than that of conservation in this country. During his presidency, he established five National Parks, 18 National Monuments, 51 National Wildlife Refuges, and 150 National Forests, totaling 230 million acres, which were set aside for all to enjoy — forever. Protecting the U.S. wilderness was crucial to Roosevelt’s lifelong campaign to maintain our great natural temples for people’s benefit and enjoyment.

These are places, as John Muir, the founder of the Sierra Club and Roosevelt’s contemporary, wrote, “to play in and pray in. Where nature may heal and give strength to the body and soul.” While Roosevelt’s undaunted conservation leadership protected many national treasures, there is still much work to be done, particularly here in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Maryland’s new or expanded Wildlands preserves epitomize much of the richness and diversity of the state’s natural heritage. Mining and logging, or off-road vehicles running through them, would destroy their natural functions. But sensitive areas like these welcome gentler-on-the-land recreation like hiking, hunting, fishing, kayaking, canoeing, bird watching and horseback riding.

Landscape ecologists, biologists, water quality specialists and experts from many disciplines tell us that we need larger, landscape-scale conservation to maintain clean water, healthy air and diverse habitat for wildlife populations, particularly for rare or sensitive species.

And conserved lands, in the right place and of the right size, allow ecosystems to adjust to a rapidly changing climate.

In nine public meetings — one in every Maryland county with a proposed new Wildlands site — and in written comments, there was strong public support for the Wildlands expansion. I was pleased to learn that previous studies by the Maryland Greenways Commission showed that more than 90 percent of people surveyed said that some parts of Maryland should be left in their natural state forever.

It is important for people all over the Chesapeake watershed, from Cooperstown, NY, to Virginia Beach, to have natural areas close to where they work and live. The presence of natural areas increases nearby real estate values as well as local business. By some estimates, every dollar spent to conserve land for parks or forests generates $10 in private spending on tourism, recreation and retail industries. Preserved lands attract visitors from near and far who support local grocery stores, restaurants, outdoor stores and hotels.

In addition to having a positive economic effect, Maryland’s new Wildlands will protect irreplaceable species and nurture a stronger relationship between the people of Maryland and the natural wonders of the Chesapeake ecosystem.

I look forward to walking in the newly designated Wildlands to find inspiration in the magic of our wild things and recharge my soul.

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Joel Dunn

Joel Dunn is the president and CEO of the Chesapeake Conservancy.

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