A CONSERVANCY CONVERSATION
By: Andy Wood, Conservation Ecologist
A young Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus) surveys a rainpool inside a Northeast New Hanover Conservancy property in the gated Landfall community. This sharp-eyed bird of prey eats mice, frogs, lizards, snakes, and other small animals. Southern Leopard Frog (Lithobates sphenocephala) were on the hawk’s menu this day.
“Nature matters to people. Big trees and small trees, glistening water, chirping birds, budding bushes, colorful flowers – these are important ingredients in a good life.”
These words, penned in 1983 by psychologist Rachel Kaplan, underscore a human truth: Nature in its wildness is good for us. This truth extends beyond the physical ecosystem services provided by plants and animals interacting in their habitats; the natural services that clean the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the soil that grows our food. Yes, it is living organisms (Earth’s biota) that provide the life-support services our own species requires.
If text space allowed, I could launch into a tangent about how the actions of beavers, across North America, came to create some of the best soils a farmer could want. I can also explain, using mathematics and scientific facts, how mosquitoes fit in the great pyramid of life that ultimately sustains human beings; the living, breathing species poised on the pyramid’s tippy-top. These are the easy things for me to explain, ecologically-speaking, in part because they are tangible and physically-measurable benefits from nature.
The more difficult benefits of nature to describe are those not measured in acres of soil created, gallons of water filtered, or pounds of fruit produced. I speak here of what my college professors called “intangible” benefits; what Dr. Kaplan later called “…important ingredients in a good life.”
With thanks due to recent studies conducted by mental health professionals, we now have a better understanding about “intangible benefits” we derive from nature; the positive mental and physical benefits that come from connecting with nature outdoors including solace garnered by way of a quiet walk along a simple path meandering through a natural garden.
Of course in rapidly-urbanizing New Hanover County, NC, we are running short of unfettered natural places for plants and wildlife to dwell and for people to gently explore. Northeast New Hanover Conservancy (NENHC), this region’s longest-operating local land trust, was founded by a concerned group of citizens in 1981 with the simple goal of protecting natural habitats, large or small, and the beneficial ecosystem services they provide. And I can say with confidence that NENHC is protecting some very significant habitats.
At this time NENHC is caretaker for 1,350 acres, including more than 530 acres spread across 30 distinct parcels in and around the gated Landfall community. Our other notable acreages include an 88-acre parcel of coastal saltmarsh behind the north end of Wrightsville Beach, adjacent to Mason Inlet, and another 800 acres of saltmarsh habitat behind the north end of Figure Eight Island, adjacent to Rich Inlet.
For perspective, NENHC monitors and protects more natural habitat inside Landfall, than all the natural habitat areas owned and managed by the City of Wilmington and New Hanover County—combined! When our New Hanover County properties outside of Landfall are added-in, NENHC’s total protected acreage (1,350) is greater than New Hanover County acreage under NC State Park control (1,049).
Admittedly, the bulk of NENHC’s wooded land holdings rest inside Landfall and are only accessible by Landfall residents and guests. With all due respect, ecologically-speaking, whether or not a conservation property is accessible to the public is less important than the meaningful ecosystem services the property provides to everyone; much like other public trust natural resources.
As a not-for-profit land trust holding significant lands unopen to public access, NENHC is excluded from state and federal grants, and most private foundations that could otherwise help support NENHC’s property monitoring, planning, and management efforts. We instead rely on the generosity of individuals, especially people who do have access to our conservation areas, and others who care about habitat protection in general.
To the point about NENHC property access, we are working closely with Landfall managers and residents to develop and implement a trail management plan that will allow fun and safe admittance into some of our ecoregion’s most compelling natural places. While maybe not as glamorous as salamanders, songbirds, or colorful mushrooms, we are improving existing walking trails as an objective to build greater awareness and appreciation of the natural spaces NENHC protects to the benefit of people, plants, and wildlife.
On behalf of nature right outside, I hope you’ll consider making a tax-deductible donation to Northeast New Hanover Conservancy. Your gift will ensure the habitats we protect will continue providing tangible ecosystem services supporting “Big trees and small trees, glistening water, chirping birds, budding bushes, colorful flowers – [the] important ingredients in a good life.”
Community Conservation Consultant