Healthy natural systems perform vital functions (or services) on which our lives depend, protecting:
One of the most critical services of healthy natural systems is watershed protection. Intact watersheds and healthy riparian areas (where the land meets the water) filter sediments and pollutants, to provide us with clean drinking water. It would take millions of dollars worth of water treatment to replicate what our rivers, creeks and wetlands do naturally.
Over 100 years ago, many of the US’s fastest growing cities (e.g., Boston and New York) bought land in their source areas to provide lasting protection of water resources, critical for sustaining their populations in the future. Today these cities have relatively clean source waters that require minimal treatment.
Having naturally clean waters reduces the costs of municipal water treatment, and forests and natural lands are critical to the quantity and quality of water supplies.
Natural areas also play a critical role in cleaning and purifying our air.
Forested areas and grasslands store carbon in the trees, other vegetation, and even soils. This removes carbon dioxide from the air and creates the oxygen we breathe. This “carbon sequestration” is a critical component of the global carbon cycle which regulates the earth’s climate. The process is likely to become increasingly important as we struggle to address climate change issues.
Other values of forests and vegetation also include:
- reduced air temperatures, through transpiration and shade, which leads to reduced pollution emission from power plants, besides increasing human comfort
- pollution removal, through interception of particles and taking up gasses through the leaves
Habitat and Biological Diversity
Over the last century, wildlife habitat has disappeared throughout the region, but natural areas are the critical components of preserving this biological diversity. Biologically diverse ecosystems, besides having a large number of plant species, provide habitat for a range of terrestrial, avian and aquatic creatures, support watershed systems, and may be buffers around parks and protected areas.
In addition, the riparian landscapes which provide us with clean water, also provide a disproportionately high amount of habitat for wildlife, including food, cover, nesting sites, movement corridors and breeding areas.
Duck populations have dropped 9% across North America’s main waterfowl nesting areas in 2008 (and canvasback duck populations are 44% lower)