Moving to the second set of places listed by the US Southern Environmental Law Center, there is a certain underlying theme. In general, each place is threatened by a combination of economic incentive and a lack of long-term vision. Humble river banks and wetlands are often seen as useless and unproductive areas. However, the underlying truth is that these regions are major contributors to processes that underlie healthy ecosystems.
Wetlands and riparian zones are responsible for maintaining water quality, providing essential habitat, and stabilizing the area between aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. When we have removed such zones, the result is commonly flooding and expensive damage. Forests play similar roles in stabilizing soil, filtering water, and sequestering carbon.
Here are the remaining five places considered most threatened in 2009:
6. South Carolina: State-owned utility company Santee Cooper would like to build more coal-fired power plants along the Great Pee Dee River. Currently the river has high mercury levels, and further runoff would elevate this problem. In addition, carbon and other emissions would be much higher and construction would destroy acres of wetlands. The company counters with claims that the facility would be “clean coal” and power demands are escalating.
7. South Carolina: A major highway development is proposed across Johns Island near Charleston. The intention is to ease traffic congestion, but the impact could be far-reaching. The seven-mile extension would be built on wetlands and increases existing accessibility. Accelerated development would affect water quality and natural habitat.
8. Georgia: Rampant development is affecting local salt marshes and tidal areas. Changes to regulatory management left many wetland areas without government oversight, allowing unprotected development. Both residential and industrial projects have contributed to the destruction of habitat, which is important for water quality.
9. Alabama: Weeks Bay is an important nursery for commercial fishing species, as well as providing habitat for many protected animals. The problem is that local zoning laws do little to control development along the coast, resulting in pollution, construction runoff, and other proposed sites (e.g. a wastewater treatment facility).
10: Tennessee: The US Forest Service plans to log parts of the Cherokee National Forest. Not only would the logged areas be visible from the popular Appalachian Trail, but it could affect local watersheds, wildlife, and habitat. Again, it comes down to short-term financial gain against long-term stewardship.
While each of these places is special, in some ways they also represent so many other sites. The list is a tiny fraction of the projects proposed across the US, and an infinitesimal sample of those across the globe. Take a look around to see many other examples where protection and monitoring are needed. With current financial constructs crashing around us, when will we see the long-term value of safeguarding our natural environment?
Photo credit: Joseph Getzoff