A recent study released in the journal Science estimates that there are 30 percent fewer birds flying over our heads now in North America than there were in 1970. The dramatic decline in the total bird population happened across all bird species, common and uncommon, and scientists believe the main reasons are development and habitat loss.
But rapid population decline is not just for the birds. According to a recent World Wildlife Fund report, the average global vertebrate population (including birds, fish, mammals and amphibians) has declined 60 percent over the same period, since 1970.
Conservation scientists say an aggressive approach is needed to halt a coming biodiversity crisis. Under the pressures of a growing global population, increasing worldwide consumption, rapid habitat destruction and a warming planet, species have been going extinct over the past several decades at a rate that is up to 1,000 times the normal rate seen over the past 10 million years. The United Nations has warned that one million species are now at risk of extinction across the planet in what has been called a “sixth mass extinction.”
At the local level, Buncombe County is experiencing significant development pressure that threatens habitat loss, and it’s important for us to do something to protect some part of the region’s natural ecosystems and biodiversity.
On February 16, commissioner Terri Wells made a proposal before the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners to increase funding for land conservation in the county. The proposal seeks to increase county funding for land conservation from the current $240,000 to $750,000 per year. The county money is primarily used to help pay for transaction costs, including surveys and attorneys’ fees, when landowners voluntarily place land conservation easements on their property. The conservation easement prohibits future development on the land in perpetuity, while protecting and preserving the land’s biodiversity and natural ecosystems for future generations.
Funds from the county are also used to conserve some of our most productive farmland soils. This is important because conserved land, which prohibits development, keeps farmland prices affordable for the next generation of farmers. That is critical to our own food sovereignty and food security at the local and regional level. Pressure from rapid growth and development drives up farmland prices and creates a huge barrier to entry for young farmers. And as the American Farmland Trust says: “No Farms, No Food.”
In her presentation, Wells cited President Joe Biden’s recent 30×30 executive order aimed at conserving the nation’s land and oceans. The ambitious goal is to conserve 30 percent of the country’s open, natural spaces by the year 2030 as part of an effort to mitigate climate change and habitat loss.
The 30×30 target is based on scientific recommendations for addressing the rapid loss of biodiversity and using natural ecosystems to sequester carbon from the atmosphere. Wells believes that Buncombe County can be a leader in this effort and set an example for other counties to follow.
Protecting 30 percent of land by 2030 is now a global effort and more than 50 countries have already signed on and pledged support for the target goal. As a member of the Buncombe County Land Conservation Advisory Board, I urge readers to contact their county commissioners to show support for the increased funding for land conservation.
Much of this nation’s undisturbed natural spaces and biodiversity falls on private land. This is also true in Buncombe County. The transaction costs for surveys and legal work to conserve a parcel of land averages about $40,000. That’s a big financial burden to someone who is interested in voluntarily conserving land, and many would agree that the county should at least help cover those transaction costs since it helps to preserve and protect the natural beauty and biodiversity of our region, from which we all benefit.
You can watch the February 16 Commissioners’ Briefing presentation archived on the Buncombe County Commissioners website (BuncombeCounty.org). The conservation easement presentation is at 1 hour 22 minutes in the video. You can also email commissioners from the website.
Robert Turner is a writer and farmer in Arden and the author of Carrots Don’t Grow on Trees: Building Sustainable and Resilient Communities. He serves on the Buncombe County Land Conservation Advisory Board and the board for Organic Growers School. Visit his website at EatYourView.com.