By Mary Hoover, Chesapeake Conservation Corps Member 2021/22
The Southern Maryland Conservation Alliance (SMCA) held a successful launch early September, after months of careful planning and preparation. Representatives from land trusts, conservation groups, and other Southern Maryland environmental organizations met on Tuesday, September 7th at Serenity Farm to further learn about and support the new coalition, which aims to transcend county lines and consolidate the voices of these smaller conservation actors. Featuring speeches from Joel Dunn, Buddy Hance, and Wendy Stringfellow, the launch advanced the Alliance’s mission “to conserve and restore Southern Maryland’s landscapes, waterways, and shorelines that are special to its people, fundamental to its economy, reflected in its culture, and vital for its native fish, wildlife, and plants, on which we rely”. John Turgeon, director of the Maryland Environmental Trust, key partner in the success of the launch and early adopter of the Alliance opened the event with a greeting and introductions for the speakers for the day.
Joel Dunn, President and CEO of the Chesapeake Conservancy kickstarted the lineup, pleading a fiery case for the need to conserve Southern Maryland’s landscape. “There is so much urgency in the effort here to protect Southern Maryland,” said Dunn. In light of the most recent IPCC report which issued a code red for the climate, Dunn is not alone in feeling the gravity of environmental efforts such as those promised by SMCA.
Southern Maryland is a crucial target for conservation efforts in the face of this climate emergency. From an environmental standpoint, the Southern Maryland landscape is invaluable. A combination of factors, including vast forests, soil construction, and geological makeup award this region a highly “resilient” characterization, according to The Nature Conservancy. Essentially, Southern Maryland is a high-priority site for conservation, given its unique capacity to preserve biodiversity, exhibiting “resilience” despite a changing climate. “It is okay for us to be ambitious and it’s okay for us to be relentless,” Dunn assured the alliance members, “We need to be that glimmer of hope – a glimmer of hope that we can address that code red.”
Dunn was followed by Buddy Hance, President of the Calvert County Board of County Commissioners and former Secretary of Maryland Department of Agriculture, who voiced economic support for the preservation of Southern Maryland’s landscapes.
Hance said, “preservation is the cheapest route we can take. In Calvert we need to do a better job to preserve what we can and while we can.” Hance argued that extensive development of rural lands in Calvert county could diminish the rural appeal which attracts both residents and visitors. Protecting from such development would prove an economic advantage for the county in addition to an environmental one.
The final guest speaker was President of Forever Maryland Wendy Stringfellow. Following the previous speeches which provided environmental and economic support for land preservation, Stringfellow concluded by upholding land trusts as “uniquely suited to preserve land.” Land trusts, according to Stringfellow, “are doing much more than conservation. Local land trusts are directly connecting people to the land.” Among the attendees at Tuesday’s launch were representatives from various Southern Maryland land trusts, including American Chestnut Land Trust, Black Swamp Creek Land Trust, Cove Point Natural Heritage Trust, Scenic Rivers Land Trust, Calvert Nature Society, Conservancy of Charles County, Patuxent Tidewater Land Trust, Maryland Environmental Trust, Land Trust Alliance and other affiliate groups and members. By providing the protection and services they do, land trusts are expected to be a key actor in SMCA going forward.
Greg Bowen, Executive Director of the American Chestnut Land Trust closed out the event, stating “…rivers, creeks, wildlife areas, fisheries and wildlife corridors cross county lines. Coordination can be a problem (…) too many of our resources are becoming fragmented and key watersheds are becoming impacted. Land owners, if given the good options, will do the right thing, but we need more funding to protect all that we hold dear. Together, we have a larger voice. Together we can reach out to more people. Together, we can work on our common objectives, and we can celebrate our wins,”
Tuesday’s launch was a hopeful beginning for the Southern Maryland Conservation Alliance, and there is much work to be done from here. Through a concerted effort by SMCA members, Southern Maryland can be a “place where native fish, wildlife and plants thrive, and the fabric of healthy natural and working lands and waters enrich communities of those who live, work and play here” (SMCA vision statement).