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State Leaders Meet to Strengthen Biodiversity Protection

January 2001

Leaders of state efforts to protect biodiversity have concluded a landmark meeting in Washington, DC on January 19, 2001, the first National Biodiversity Symposium. The two day conference — organized by the Environmental Law Institute® — addressed ways to improve the effectiveness of state efforts to protect and restore native biodiversity. With the changing political landscape likely to place increasing emphasis on state-led environmental initiatives, key leaders from 23 states shared their experiences and examined effective strategies being used by colleagues in other regions to strengthen protection of plants, wildlife, and key ecosystems using state, rather than federal laws and programs.

Economic growth and population increases have placed at risk much of this nation’s biological wealth. Various plant and animal species critical to health, recreation, education and economic development are being lost at an alarming rate. As communities expand, demand for land engulfs more farm land and natural areas. The increased concentration of waste and pollution discharges produced by growing communities provides a greater risk of contaminating natural systems. And the introduction of exotic plants and animals threatens to eliminate indigenous species.

Increasingly, the power to reverse these trends lies in the hands of state authorities and state-based public-private partnerships. “The ELI symposium demonstrated that biodiversity conservation has at last risen to the top of many state agendas,” said Bob Durand, Massachusetts Secretary of Environmental Affairs. More than a dozen states from California to Delaware have taken the lead on implementing strategies to protect the natural heritage so vital to the quality of life in their communities. Secretary Durand pointed out, “In Massachusetts we are working to protect, sustain and restore the diversity of living things through an extensive education program and by protecting large, contiguous bioreserves. Success in protecting biodiversity will lead to success in achieving all of our other environmental goals.”

While the grassroots nature of these state efforts is vital to their success, state leaders felt they have had little or no opportunity to learn from similar programs in other states. ELI convened the national meeting in response to these concerns. “Each of the states represented at this symposium has developed some version of a comprehensive state or region-wide biodiversity conservation strategy. However, each of these efforts is structured differently, reflecting different ecological and political realities. This event provided the states with a unique opportunity to identify one of the most pressing conservation issues of our time and how it can be best addressed,” said Jessica Wilkinson, Director of ELI’s State Biodiversity Program.

State agency officials were joined by land use planners, environmental advocates, foundation executives, and federal agencies as they addressed strategies for assessing plant and animal populations and providing information to policy-makers in a format most likely to inform state decision-making. They also worked to build support for additional biodiversity efforts, as well as strengthen existing ones. Secretary Nick DiPasquale of the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control said, “I hope this symposium marks the beginning of an on-going dialogue among these groups. It is critical that we establish an effective working relationship between traditional regulatory programs and conservation efforts in order to achieve our common environmental objectives.”

Information on ELI’s State Biodiversity Program and the National Biodiversity Symposium may be accessed through the ELI Web site http://www.eli.org. The Symposium was supported by the Surdna Foundation, the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, the George Gund Foundation, and the Curtis and Edith Munson Foundation.