“What I wanted to do was make a difference in this world, which is what we all want to do, and can do.” — Marion Stoddart, founder, Nashua River Watershed Association, Greenway advocate
(Please join Marion Stoddart, Sue Edwards, and the CounterAct Climate Change Project in supporting the Mystic River Watershed Association’s upcoming “Herring Run and Paddle” mentioned in this article).
The connections between human health, watershed protection, land protection, and climate change mitigation are simple and irrefutable. Forests depend on watersheds, watersheds depend on forests, and a healthy climate depends on forests, watersheds, and us!
The Role of Watersheds
First, let’s focus on watersheds. It’s been said many times that “water is life”— all living things on planet Earth depend completely upon water for life itself. If climate change continues, as many scientists forecast it will, water will become even more precious, and scarce. The northeast United States is blessed with a relatively abundant amount of water; we often take it for granted, but we shouldn’t.
Watersheds play crucial roles in sustaining life and mitigating the effects of climate change: 1) in times of drought, they store water; 2) in times of floods, they act as a sponge to buffer the damage of intense precipitation events; 3) the plants, trees, and soil throughout a watershed store carbon, purify the air, and release oxygen. The Mystic River Watershed Association (MyRWA) is doing excellent work to promote climate change resiliency; see https://mysticriver.org/climate-resilience, which is why the CounterAct Climate Change Project is a pleased to be a Gold Sponsor of the 24th Annual MyRWA Herring Run and Paddle event. Learn more and register via https://mysticriver.org/herring-run-paddle.
Higher temperatures globally are bringing more droughts and wildfires. Like many other parts of the country, Massachusetts is experiencing moderate to extreme drought. If you’ve been paddling, biking, or walking in the great outdoors lately, you will have noticed how abnormally low the rivers are, and the dry and desiccated forest flora. This week Massachusetts has seen unprecedented local weather alerts for elevated fire danger.
Paradoxically, climate change is also bringing storm-based flash flooding, due to a growing intensity and frequency of storms with higher precipitation. Look at the recent national weather for prime examples of wildfires, tropical storms and hurricanes. (This is only the 2nd time that the NOAA has run out of hurricane names in the Roman alphabet and has to start naming storms using the Greek alphabet.) Rather than counteracting droughts with slow, soaking rains, flash floods cause property and infrastructures damage and overtax our wastewater treatment systems. Our waterways and groundwater become polluted by raw sewage, fertilizers, pesticides, and other chemicals, to the detriment of our health and ecosystems. The destruction from flash floods is increased by impermeable surfaces and less natural vegetation and soil, all by-products of development.
Non-Native Pests and Pathogens
Climate change makes it easy for some non-native species of plants and animals to spread into new areas, which introduces the possibility that they will become invasive. Biological invasions can increase the chances of wildfires, and negatively impact forests, wetlands, and agricultural crops.
The Role of Forests
Forests absorb carbon dioxide, and give us oxygen in return. They also store carbon in their soils, and valuable water, and they act as giant filters to clean water supplies. Not every region is as lucky as the Northeast, which is blessed with quite a lot of forested land here in New England, thanks to conservation efforts by a multitude of organizations, both government and non-profit, as well as some individuals.
One family that has made a positive, pro-forestation difference is the Baker family of Fitchburg, Massachusetts. The Fitchburg Water Department normally cuts down some forested areas in town to sell for timber; the water department then uses that money to help fund its operations. The Baker family realized that cutting that 205-acres of forested land would contribute to climate change, because the cutting would destroy trees (which absorb CO2), create more carbon emissions in the process, and it would take decades, if not more than a century, for new trees to grow to a point where they would replace the old growth trees. So, they presented the water department with a creative, unusual, alternative: leave the forest intact, as is, for 30 years, in exchange for a private donation of $50,000. The result is the Baker Family Public Forest Reserve. During Ralph Baker’s CounterAct Climate Change presentation someone asked whether that unusual initiative might be a role model for other individuals to duplicate elsewhere; one hopes that the answer is yes, and others will follow suit!