Land Conservation and Preservation
Land conservation and preservation is a mindset that is eclipsing the destructive and frenetic building craze that began in the 1960’s. It is a sustainable action designed to preserve trees, reduce waste, save animal habitats, prevent erosion of the soil, and keep bodies of water clean, and our air healthy. Land conservation, simply put, equals a respect for nature and its natural resources.
During the 1960’s, some nasty methods of land development became routine practices. First, huge tracts of land were bulldozed, or clear cut, so that no trees would impede fast production of houses and infrastructure. To escape hauling charges to the landfill, most contractors would burn the scrub brush on site, sending harmful fumes into the air.
The second phase of developing a tract of land required the infrastructure to be installed. Underground pipes, concrete curbs and gutters, and asphalt roads seemed to go in as quickly as the land was clear cut. The hard, impervious surfaces on the road coupled with the lack of green spaces resulted in a chain reaction. Unabated stormwater picked up intensity and velocity and caused, most notably, soil erosion, flooding, stream scouring, and mud slides.
Without trees to hold the soil in place, soil erosion became commonplace. After a rainfall, streams of mud would be seen sliding along street gutters, pouring down street drains or hillsides, and then flowing out into waterways. The turbulent muddy water scoured exit points and deposited excess soil in lakes, rivers, and streams irreparably harming some fish and aquatic flora.
As subdivision after subdivision sprang up so did the height of landfills. Trash was not segregated or recycled. Anything and everything went to “the dump.”
Lastly, whole ecosystems were displaced or lost in this ravaging process. As a result, wild animals such as bears and coyotes began looking for food in city suburbs. Also, some animals, like the American Bald Eagle, became dangerously close to extinction due to their habitats being destroyed.
Globally, cities began to feel the effect of few trees and green spaces, impervious surfaces, dwindling water supply, noxious gases in the air, and unmitigated waste from households and of the earths’ resources. Changes in land development needed to be instituted in order to preserve our remaining resources: trees, soil, air, and water.
Today, the building industry is markedly different, due in large part to LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.)
As part of the LEED process, all the people involved in a project: developers, building designers, and contractors, work as a team striving to achieve one of the four LEED standards: platinum, gold, silver, and bronze.
Land conservation and preservation or designing green spaces is a major part of all four LEED standards. The green spaces can be on the ground or on rooftops. Yet, the initial focus of LEED is on building within a small footprint on the land. Identifying trees to be cut, placing barriers under the drip lines of trees, and planting more trees are additional landscape requirements for obtaining LEED certification.
Stormwater management measures, too, play a big part in the design on the land. Instead of funneling water as quickly as possible into storm drains, landscape architects now create areas where rainwater can pond and slowly infiltrate subterraneous layers of soil to eventually recharge aquifers. Pervious pavements capture raindrops where they fall, thus preventing runoff. In addition, stormwater from rooftops can be harvested in large cisterns and pumped out to irrigate the landscape. These three measures, and others designed to slow or retain rainwater, score LEED points.
Erosion control on construction sites is an integral part of the LEED process and within individual counties. County inspectors have the authority to stop work on projects if measures are not in place to contain the soil. Also, they can issue fines if they notice soil pollution in streets and storm drains, and/or entering waterways.
Efforts to reduce, reuse, and recycle waste products are allowing burgeoning landfills from taking up more land. Whole mountains on the outskirts of Atlanta, for example, have been created from garbage. On construction sites, waste is divided between construction debris, landscape debris, and regular trash. Large dumpsters collect specific items like discarded lumber, cardboard, and masonry. The use of building materials made from recycled waste products count as LEED points.
Clearly, the modern trend is toward keeping land in its pristine state, preserving the natural resources, and protecting habitats.
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The Nature Conservancy, is a national non-profit organization that is devoted to this mission. There are also land trusts and conservation easements in every state. A land trust protects land from being developed. People sometimes deed their property to the state in order for it to remain intact in perpetuity. Conservation easements are similar to land trusts; however, their focus is on protecting endangered species and their habitats, wetlands, sensitive spawning grounds, and the like.
The organizations and dedicated stewards of the land, the reforms in the building industry and in land development, and the laws and the people, who enforce those regulations, are all in place. Now, what is necessary is a worldwide pledge to the following: to conserve the land and protect its vital, natural resources; and, to consider the consequences of land development on flora and fauna. Hope for the future depends on these actions being a priority.
Olivia Munoz Mickalonis is a landscape architect, a service connected disabled veteran, speaker and consultant. She is available to answer questions about land conservation and preservation. To contact Olivia, use our Ask The Expert form at the bottom of this page.
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