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Opinion: We can conserve our way to a more stable climate

Release date: March 18, 2024

The Portland Press Herald | March 17, 2024

By: Kate Dempsey, State Director of The Nature Conservancy in Maine, and Kate Stookey, President and CEO of Maine Coast Heritage Trust


Wherever you live in Maine, people and organizations in your community are building partnerships and working to strengthen nature’s ability to make our state safer and more resilient.

Already in 2024, Mainers have had plenty of reminders of the power and impact of climate change.

Historic flooding has washed out roads and working waterfronts and devastated local economies. Warmer, wetter weather has made everyone’s lives more unpredictable and hurt traditional winter businesses and activities like ice fishing and maple sugaring. More frequent and intense storms and the warming, rising seas are affecting our communities and our livelihoods. What can be done?

From our hometowns in Sagadahoc and Penobscot counties, and in our conversations with conservation and community leaders around the state, we’re regularly seeing how the ways in which we care for nature offer an important answer. Conservation is a vital climate strategy, and we can all play a role in its success.

Every time we’re hit with a storm, natural areas like wetlands absorb water and minimize flooding and damage to homes and businesses. Our tidal marshes act as sponges, soaking up storm surges and reducing erosion. Just offshore, dense eelgrass beds provide coastal protection by reducing wave height and stabilizing sediment. Both eelgrass beds and healthy coastal wetlands store carbon and filter out harmful chemicals from the water, while providing critical habitat for many of Maine’s commercially harvested fish, shellfish and baitworm species. Protecting these natural places protects all of us.

Similarly, reconnecting rivers brings the return of sea-run fish like river herring and endangered Atlantic salmon – which means more food for wildlife, healthier river ecosystems, and more vibrant fisheries along our waterways and in the Gulf of Maine. Investing in smarter, safer culverts lets fish and wildlife pass safely and helps prevent costly, dangerous washouts. When land surrounding rivers is conserved, communities benefit from better water quality, improved river access, and less flooding and destruction during increasingly violent storms.

And of course, Maine’s iconic forests are at the heart of our climate resilience. Nearly 90% of our state is forested, and those trees and soils hold over 2 billion metric tons of carbon. Just 1 acre of average Maine forest holds carbon equivalent to the emissions from the annual energy use of more than 50 homes. It is essential to keep our forests on the landscape, working for our communities and our planet.

Nature has amazing tools to address the climate crisis – but conserving nature takes people. Wherever you live in Maine, people and organizations in your community are building partnerships and working to strengthen nature’s ability to make our state safer and more resilient. Local land trusts, conservation commissions and engaged citizens are making a difference in every city and town. The more we can support their efforts, improve our relationship with nature, protect threatened natural places and ensure the benefits of conservation extend to everyone, the brighter Maine’s future will be.

Over the coming months, this new monthly “Nature Connects” column will bring you inspiring stories of people conserving nature from around Maine. Authors will share everything from local conservation successes to current ecosystem and community challenges. It’s a collaboration between Maine conservation groups including Trout Unlimited, Appalachian Mountain Club, Maine Rivers, Maine Land Trust Network, Maine Audubon, Natural Resources Council of Maine, Downeast Salmon Federation, Maine Coast Heritage Trust and The Nature Conservancy in Maine. We are thrilled to be a part of it.

In Maine, we share a deep and abiding love for our woods, waters and wildlife. As we all read the upcoming stories and accounts of conservation at work in our towns and neighborhoods across the state, let’s remember that together we can make a meaningful difference, here in Maine and well beyond.

“Nature Connects” is a monthly column showcasing conservation stories from people and organizations across Maine. To learn more or suggest story ideas, email .