|Washington, D.C., September 25, 2009 —“New England faces profound challenges to its land and natural resource base. Climate change and its impacts, fragmentation of the landscape from sprawling development and the generational turnover in farming and forestry operations, and the demand for coastal property all threaten the viability of the plants, animals, and resource-based industries that depend on these lands,” said the Blue Ribbon Commission on Land Conservation (CLC) in their report to the New England Governors’ Conference, Inc. (NEGC). The NEGC received and adopted the report, which calls for a high-priority New England land conservation effort that transcends state boundaries and the public and private sectors. The governors also adopted a resolution committing the six states to work together on five initiatives recommended by the commission.
In the agricultural area, the commission’s principal recommendation was development of a New England Farm and Food Security Initiative to establish the region’s capacity to increase production, utilization and consumption of New England-grown farm and food products; identify barriers to and opportunities for expanding regional production and consumption; and recommend appropriate means and measures to remove barriers and achieve these goals and protect the region’s agricultural land base. The initiative will be a collaborative effort between the six New England Chief Agricultural Officers, the USDA, the region’s universities, landowners, commodity and farm organizations, and other stakeholders.
Other agricultural-related recommendations contained in the CLC report include:
- Address sustained low milk prices in the dairy industry to ensure New England citizens have a sustainable supply of fresh, regionally-produced milk;
- Increase “buy local” and other branding efforts at the local, state and regional level;
- Investigate and implement innovative marketing approaches, such as “fair trade” labeling, to enhance farm profitability;
- Explore opportunities to expand agri-tourism; and,
- Increase state, federal and private investments in farmland protection and advocate for adoption of a federal mitigation policy for farmland similar to the national “no net loss” policy for wetlands.
The CLC also urged the New England governors to call on the federal government to maintain and fully fund essential land conservation initiatives including the Farmland Protection Program, among others, and to include in federal climate change legislation funding for forest, farm, wildlife and coastal conservation, and for outdoor recreation and education.
Cris Coffin, New England Director for American Farmland Trust, has worked with the CLC and notes the importance of its recommendations: “New England has great potential to improve its food and energy security, reduce its carbon footprint, and sustain its family farms by increasing production and consumption of regional food, farm and forest products. But there are a host of barriers—from lack of food processing and distribution capacity, high energy and other farm input costs, the continued loss of farmland, to a lack of access for many citizens to nutritious and affordable food. Eliminating some of these barriers will require multi-state initiatives or federal policy changes and investments, which is why the regional collaboration envisioned through the New England Farm and Food Security Initiative and the commission’s other four initiatives is so vital.”
The commission’s recommendations fall in five broad categories: 1. Keep Forests as Forest,
2. Keep Farmland in Farming, 3. Connect People to the Outdoors, 4. Protect Wildlife Habitat, and 5. Safeguard Coastal and Estuarine Lands. The commission notes: “With these timely actions, we believe the governors will set in motion a long-lasting legacy on the New England landscape, a far-sighted and far-reaching initiative to conserve the region’s diverse landscapes and help ensure that they will remain forever healthy, productive and accessible to the citizens of New England and the nation.”
American Farmland Trust will continue to work with the CLC and the six state Departments of Agriculture to move the agricultural recommendations forward. Governor John Baldacci of Maine, who chairs the NEGC, has said of the commission’s report: “This is the most ambitious land conservation effort that has ever been put forward for all New England. For more than a century, New England has been a national leader in maintaining and renewing the human benefits of land conservation. These carefully coordinated initiatives are timely and necessary if we are to pass these benefits along to future generations of New England citizens.”
Copies of “Recommendations of the New England Governors Commission on Land Conservation” are available for free download at: www.negc.org and http://efc.muskie.usm.maine.edu. Additional information on American Farmland Trust’s work in the New England states can be found at http://www.farmland.org/programs/states/default.asp.