Our Mother Earth is perhaps the most fantastical entity that has ever existed. The birthplace of all life that we know of, the third planet from the sun has evolved from a flaming orb of molten magma into the green and blue paradise we know it to be today. If someday, a visitor from another world happened to stop by ours on their interplanetary spring break, they may assume that we as a species are working around the clock to keep this globe we live in clean and habitable. Sadly, for the most part, they would be wrong. Humanity as a species seems to care little for planetary well-being in the modern day and age, like a rebellious child who takes for granted the love of their parent. Still, a growing number of individuals within the human race remain loyal to the Earth and the natural bounty that has existed long before the dawn of humanity. In the state of Pennsylvania, there exists a dedicated, eclectic group of environmentally conscious individuals known as Natural Lands, who stand strong for the rights of this planet we all call home.
Natural Lands is an organization with incredibly solid, yet humble roots. In 1953, Allston Jenkins, a Philadelphia resident and avid bird-watcher succeeds in stopping Shell Oil from dumping waste products into the Tinicum marshes. Successful in standing up for his fair-feathered friends, Jenkins proceeds to rally other like-minded environmentalists, coming together to form the Philadelphia Conservationists shortly after his environmentally significant achievement. Following several years filled with notable achievements, such as the establishment of four wildlife refuges and helping Costa Rica create its first-ever national park, the Philadelphia Conservationists became known as Natural Lands. Fast forward to 2018: Natural Lands has succeeded in saving over 125,000 acres of American wilderness, created over 40 nature preserves, and has at least 120,000 people coming from far and wide to indulge in the beauty that the preserves owned by Natural Lands has to offer. The organization has three primary objectives: the saving of open space, caring for nature, and connecting people to the outdoors.
Having been an active organization since the end of the second world war, a great imagination is not necessary to comprehend the amount of open, natural space which has been procured by Natural Lands, and the positive impact this has had on the local community. One of Pennsylvania’s largest non-profit land owning organizations, Natural Lands actively runs 43 individual land preserves (over 24,000 acres), with an additional preserve on the way to being acquired. Spanning over thirteen counties, these parcels of land vary in size and geographical makeup, with each preserve hosting its own varieties of flora and fauna. Natural Lands not only maintains the integrity of land owned, but also of land which is held in a conservation easement. In short, a conservation easement is an agreement between the owner(s) of a portion of land and Natural Lands, in which the non-profit organization takes on the responsibilities of maintaining and protecting the land while the donor retains ownership. Conservation easements are popular among land owners not only because the easements ensure their properties remain untouched by developers, but also due to the potential for a tax deduction based on the amount of land donated.
Due to the success, size and communal strength of Natural Lands, it should come as no surprise that one of the group conducts themselves as an environmental parent organization of sorts, providing a guiding hand to smaller organizations and non-profits in a variety of ways. Say a local non-profit startup wished to obtain a small parcel of land but lacked the necessary funds. If requested, Natural Lands would most likely purchase the land for them. Then, after ownership has been established for the smaller group, Natural Lands proceeds to readily provide all necessary knowledge of land management and ownership free of charge. In addition to land acquisition for other non-profits, the organization assists local communities in Pennsylvania with development of parks, trail systems and other urban greenspace.
Acquiring land is one thing, but to truly care for the land, to watch a desolate field grown into a forest inhabited by numerous species of local plant species and wildlife, that level of commitment is another endeavor altogether. Given the sheer amount of acres that Natural Lands is responsible for minding, some may assume the task too daunting for a non-profit organization to handle. The committed stewardship of Natural Lands is not to be underestimated, however. The planting of trees in acquired former farmland is a common practice, the resurgence of Pennsylvania’s forested areas a top priority of the group. Another popular technique is the buffering of streams and rivers against pollution and erosion by installing multitudes of trees and shrubs along the edge of the waterways, the roots of the plants serving both as a barrier and a filter. Controlled burning of invasive, alien flora is an effective tool Natural Lands employs in an attempt to allow native plants a chance to regain their lost roots. This cull is followed by planting mass amounts of seeds in order to restart the population of native grasses and other small plants.
Nothing is more disheartening in this world than an animal too-long removed from its natural habitat. Too often we forget that humans as a species have only had organized urban civilization for a couple thousand years and before that, we lived in the lush forests, towering mountains and expansive plains that existed throughout the world at the time. Even with much of that natural environment only existing within the ancient texts of history, organizations like Natural Lands are doing all they can to deliver the call of the natural world unto the ears of the masses. Planting the seeds that grow into a strong, mature love of the natural world is accomplished by Natural Lands through a number of different initiatives, programs and services which can be accessed by any and all who possess a desire to learn.
The Force of Nature program is one such example. Created by Natural Lands as a volunteer endeavor, Force of Nature equips participants with a minimum of twenty hours worth of natural outreach skills, as well as conservation management skills. The program enables volunteers to act as ambassadors of Natural Lands if they choose to work elsewhere, providing team-building and lasting friendship opportunities along the way. Powered by Nature is an ambitious project aimed at educating middle school-aged children in an outdoor environment, providing hands-on environmental education and essential team-building opportunities to the youngest and most impressionable members of local communities. It has been proven that time spent outside, especially for children, decreases stress, as well as possibly being an aid in coping with mental illness. Natural Lands is fiercely dedicated to the expansion of urban greenspace in order to assist those in dense, urban communities with getting back to the natural greenspace all of humanity secretly longs for. The installation of community gardens, expanded parks and volunteer training in particular are an ongoing focus of Natural Lands, and will continue to be so in the future.