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Markowitz: Natural Solutions

I love watching springtime unfold in the forests and fields of Vermont. Hunting for fiddlehead ferns along the river banks, spotting red and white trillium dotting the forest floor and smelling the air, sweetened by tree blossoms. It reminds me of our connection to nature. And it also reminds me of the work we have to do if we’re to protect our natural environment for future generations.

Rivers that are swollen from spring rains and melted snow carry sediment and pollution into our lakes and ponds. And, with the start of “construction season,” long driveways and new building lots are being carved into our forests in development that can fragment important habitat blocks. This may make it harder for species to adapt to a changing climate, and creates new openings for invasive plants and pests. It can also increase water pollution, and flood risks from future storms.

Fortunately, informed by science, we can meet many environmental challenges by taking advantage of the protective power of nature. One example is work that Vermont’s chapter of the Nature Conservancy has undertaken with the University of Vermont Gund Institute of Environment to improve water quality in Lake Champlain.

The premise of this work is that Vermont’s water pollution issues and flood risks have been made worse over the course of Vermont’s history by filling in wetlands, cutting down forests and straightening our rivers to accommodate farming and development. Science shows us that it can make a meaningful difference when rivers are allowed to return to their natural state and wetlands and floodplain forests are restored.

Science also tells us that Vermont has an important role to play when it comes to climate change. We stand at the center of the largest remaining block of deciduous temperate forest in the world. And, in part because of our calcium rich soil, we’ve uniquely rich biodiversity. This means that investments in forest conservation can preserve a network of connected forest blocks and critical wildlife corridors to help thousands of species survive and thrive despite the uncertainties of our changing climate.

But science and nature can’t do it alone. We need partnerships, like the one between the Nature Conservancy and the Gund Insitute, as well as laws and rules that deter breaking up these important natural areas, and funding to support the important research, restoration and conservation efforts that will keep Vermont green for generations to come.

Deb Markowitz is the Director of Policy Outreach at UVM’s Gund Institute of Environment, and she formerly served as Vermont’s Secretary of State and as the Secretary of Vermont’s Agency of Natural Resources.
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