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Ecosystem Services and Land Conservation

How-to
June 15, 2017

By Matt Swain

The future of naturally occurring services which provide us with clean drinking water, waste decomposition, clean air, and so on, is becoming more unpredictable each day.

Our lands and waters serve as the blood supply of our natural ecosystem and support a diverse habitat on our planet.  Each conservation story gives us hope for a better future in clean, abundant natural resources such as water, land and air that allows communities to flourish and economies to remain healthy.  Conservation lands and the ecosystem services they provide are bonded tightly to the future of our planet.

Ecosystem services, the naturally occurring services which provide us with clean drinking water, waste decomposition, clean air, and so on, are a necessity for all living organisms.  The future of these services is becoming more and more unpredictable with each day, due to the development of our landscape.  Smart conservation planning on a local, state, federal, and global level is the best way to help counteract the loss of resources that are imperative to these ecosystem services. 

The primary resources that sustain our environment are energy and water.  Conserved lands increase the perpetual availability of these resources.  Each piece of land carries its own unique variety of species and other characteristics that fulfill the necessary roles within our habitat. Our soil holds water and nutrients.  Vegetation such as trees, grasses, and plants act as producers of food and oxygen while animals act as consumers and bacteria as decomposers.  When the availability of land is not present, this cycle can begin to fail and species struggle or die off.  These dramatic habitat disruptions can cause a snowball effect causing a disruption in the ecosystem services provided by land.  Loss of land to development also means an increase in pollution from more septic tanks, increased energy consumption, and an increase of storm water runoff.  It can also have a negative effect on carbon sequestration.


Carbon sequestration, the process by which carbon is taken from carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, and is transformed into solid organic matter (soil), through the breakdown of plant materials, provides us with two positive events.  First, carbon is removed from the atmosphere, slowing the global warming trend.  Second, carbon and organic matter are added to the soils making them more productive for agricultural production and for the survival of plants and animals.  As mankind develops and modifies the earth with more and more impermeable services and structures, the amount of carbon that is held in soil is decreased dramatically.  It is easy to conclude that more land dedicated to natural lands leads to a greater effectiveness of carbon sequestration.

Human population and global development have a positive correlation with the burdens imposed on our natural ecosystems. Since world populations have been increasing exponentially for decades, so have the impacts of the human global foot print and our need for natural resources.  Such environmental pressures have made the impacts of the ecosystem services provided from protected lands greater than ever.