Written by Daniel Hayden, Restore America’s Estuaries’ President and CEO
As I sit in my “new office” tucked into the end our bedroom, I am witness to a changing traffic pattern. The flow of cars down our suburban street have diminished, but there is a constant flow of families, joggers, teens, and dogs heading into the woods that guard a local stream. In some ways the woods aren’t much but a hundred feet of trees that follow the meandering path of a creek that eventually finds its way to the Potomac River and then the Chesapeake Bay. Yet, these woods are an essential community resource.
For many of us these emerald necklaces and slow waterways have been our little escape valve in these trying times. When a constant deluge of disturbing news or disrupted projects gets too much, I can escape. A half hour in the woods where the songs of birds have replaced the din of cars or where my dog sits attentively in the hope of spotting a deer can change my mood.
It is wonderful to live in a country, state, and county that have invested so heavily in open spaces. We are blessed with a range of opportunities from the nation’s wilderness to our national estuaries to pocket parks on a city block. During Habitat Month, let’s remember not just our essential workers, but our essential community resources. As I enjoy birdsong, I also remember that not all of us share equally in access to these parklands, and I have a growing realization that too many people have been made to feel uncomfortable, unwelcome, and unsafe in these places that should bring us together. No one should be afraid to jog through their neighborhood or watch birds in their park. These are inalienable rights and clearly part of our pursuit of happiness. We need to review police policies, neighborhood association norms, and our own assumptions to ensure these really are community resources for all.
Recently I became President of Restore America’s Estuaries. We’re a small group with a big mission – protect and restore America’s Estuaries and Bays. America’s Estuaries and Bays are home to about 40% of our population. More tellingly, about 70% of the country visit an estuary or bay each year. We have national parks, a system of federally recognized estuaries, nationally significant bodies of water, and marine monuments along all our coasts and under the sea. Estuaries are the foreground to the many of the symbols of our country from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Statue of Liberty. Estuaries and bays are often where we aspire to vacation or live from Tampa Bay to Galveston Bay to the Puget Sound to the Narragansett Bay to Lake Superior. Sometimes the water is cold, sometimes it’s hot, sometimes it’s salty and sometimes it’s not – but there is something that draws us to these vibrant places.
Sadly, these estuaries and bays are not as vibrant as they could be. Recent actions to weaken the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act systematically undermine natural restoration processes. When left unthreatened and restored to their potential, estuaries and bays are the navigable entry way to our port cities; mangroves and seagrass are the hatcheries of the shrimp, crab and oysters we enjoy; and wetlands are the homes and resting places for birds. Investments in restoring coastal resources preserve these benefits. Increasingly the science shows that wetlands and seagrass will be a key component in mitigating climate change and protecting people during storms. These restoration projects provide jobs today and benefits that last through generations.
Whether your favorite place is the neighborhood park where your children climb a jungle gym, that secret fishing spot that your grandfather showed you, or the beach where you spent a few carefree days, during Habitat Month take a moment to think about what these natural places mean to you. If you have some pictures you want to share, I encourage you to post them with #HabitatMonth, #RestoreYourCoast, #RAEstuaries #MyHealthyHabitat