We thought we were preserving our parklands and farmlands in perpetuity but found out that the energy consortiums could ride roughshod over our best preservation efforts. Regardless of the outcome of the proposed PennEast pipeline, we need to think about the next step, how to make preserved lands truly preserved and not at the mercy of the big energy consortiums. Preserved lands are being targeted because it is cheaper to build on undeveloped land. There needs to be a high economic cost of disturbing preserved lands, reflecting their long term value in preserving air quality, water quality and biodiversity, rather than treating the ecological services that preserved lands provide as external diseconomies, qualities outside economic reckoning. Otherwise our preserved lands will continue to be targeted by those who, like Tolkien’s Great Worms, know the price of everything but the value of nothing.
Audubon Important Bird Areas (IBA’s) were chosen for their high value to birds in terms of number of birds, number of species, or rarity of birds, but IBA’s have no legal status. The proposed PennEast pipeline crosses a total of seven IBA’s, five in New Jersey and two in Pennsylvania and skirts an eighth IBA in Pennsylvania. Fifteen percent of the total pipeline mileage and an astounding twenty-seven percent of the New Jersey pipeline mileage will go through IBA’s. US Fish and Wildlife Service guidelines advise that pipelines and other right-of –ways avoid IBA’s but these are guidelines without the force of law. The guidelines need to be replaced by laws giving IBA’s strong legal protection. In Pennsylvania, the proposed pipeline crosses prime habitat for our two most endangered warblers, Golden-winged and Cerulean. The Golden-winged Warbler has been nominated for Federal Threatened and Endangered (T&E) status. Coal mining interests keep the Cerulean Warbler from being listed. Both species deserve T&E status.
The loss of biodiversity is the silent crisis which goes unnoticed because it does not create the headline grabbing events that global warning does. Preserving biodiversity is just as important to the quality of life on this planet as controlling global warming. Habitat loss, fragmentation, or degradation is the primary cause of loss of biodiversity. With twenty-five percent of America’s birds at risk, we need to protect the remaining high quality habitat as a first step to reverse the decline of these species. We need to find a way to permanently protect our few remaining islands of high biodiversity.