Maine's Resilience Goes Beyond Borders
Josee Stetich, the Coastal Resilience Fellow, reflects on the interconnectedness of land that is separated by state lines and the urgent need to protect it.
One of my favorite facts is that the Navajo Sandstone in the Southwest is partially composed of eroded sand from the elder Appalachian Mountains. Although on a geologic time scale, it serves as a reminder of how interconnected the world is. You can see it everywhere, like when wildfire smoke from the West ends up in New England or when salmon return further upstream after a dam removal.
None of us live in a vacuum and our region’s environment and decisions have impacts beyond our backyard. To address climate change, it’s important to recognize that nothing stops at the state line. Recently, the Biden administration adopted 30 x 30, a national goal to prevent development or extraction on 30% of land by 2030. It addresses this concept of interconnectedness by acknowledging the power of conserved lands. While an ambitious goal, climate change and loss of biodiversity require lofty solutions.
I first heard of 30 x 30 when I was lobbying in DC as a volunteer for Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. I was assigned to persuade Massachusetts staffers to believe the importance of designating 8.4 million acres (about twice the area of Connecticut) of wilderness land in Utah. Why should they care about a place they may never see? We cited 30x 30. Protecting this area would support habitat connectivity up and down the continent, keep potential fossil fuels in the ground, and protect the area as a carbon sink for the planet. By protecting this fragile desert landscape, it supports biodiversity and climate mitigation effects that go beyond local.
The same goes for Maine. Maine is one of the first states to adopt a state 30 x 30 goal in their Maine Won’t Wait Climate Action Plan. Currently, about 21% of land is protected across public and private lands, which is ahead of the national level of 12%. Most of this protected land is up north, but you can see protected lands peppered throughout the coast as well. Coming from Utah where land is usually protected in massive parcels, I was surprised (and delighted!) at the amount of incredible natural spaces that are nestled in the middle of towns, even if they are only a few acres.
Why does this matter? Maine’s forests and tidal areas serve as habitat for many organisms, including globally important birds and other animals that migrate as north as Canada and as south as Florida. How we care for their habitats here has a ripple effect on habitats elsewhere. As climate changes, organisms will be able to move northward to adapt if we establish wildlife corridors. In addition, Maine’s forests and tidal lands play a massive role in sequestering carbon and acting as a carbon sink. Healthy wetlands prevent flooding and act as a buffer to sea level rise.
Conserving land can be achieved in a myriad of ways. Out West, much of the protected land is public land. Here, there is more of a focus on protecting private land through land trusts and willing landowners. Maine specifically emphasizes protecting farmland and waterfront land to encourage healthy food systems that are a part of the state’s heritage. There is a focus on Indigenous sovereignty and tribal management this time around, acknowledging past conservation movements forcing tribes off their land in the name of protection.
I think 30 x 30 also represents a change in mindset. How do we reckon with past mistakes? How do we value our environment outside of what we can extract from it? What is the value of an ecosystem just left to be? I feel hopeful knowing that a little parcel of land on the Maine Coast provides you with a pleasant morning walk, gives a migrating bird a place to rest, and helps mitigate climate change in ways you can’t even see. Resilience in Maine is a win everywhere.
Josee was born and raised in Salt Lake City, Utah. She received a Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science from Westminster College in 2019, exploring the intersections of ecology, policy, and climate justice in the American West. While in school, she worked with local nonprofits focusing on public land advocacy and environmental health. She moved to the rural town of Boulder, Utah on the fringes of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument after reading about it in the New Yorker. When she wasn’t working at the local farm-to-table restaurant, she was wandering the lush canyons and vast stretches of sandstone of the Colorado Plateau. Living in one of the most remote communities in the country got her interested in resilience, specifically in the face of climate change. When she’s not biking, traveling, skiing, or hiking, she bakes sourdough bread and dabbles in film photography. Josee is excited to connect with Mainers about resilience efforts and explore a completely different ecosystem.