– by Bet Zimmerman, Woodstock , CT

Experts indicate that if we don’t take significant steps in the next decade to preserve open space and farmland in Connecticut , it may be too late. We may assume that everybody understands why preservation is important, but that’s not the case. For example, some people may believe that protecting open space is a barrier to economic development. But carefully planned economic development that is consistent with the values and character of our towns is beneficial. Development can’t and shouldn’t be stopped. We must work together, however, to ensure that it is done in a thoughtful way, and use all mechanisms at our disposal to protect valuable parcels of open space that once developed, will be lost forever.

Here are ten reasons why open space and farmland are worth saving.

  1. Numerous studies have shown that open space pays for itself. Typically, open space consumes about 36¢ worth of services for every tax dollar collected, while residential property consumes at least $1.15. This means that from a tax standpoint, residential development is a losing proposition, putting additional pressure on town infrastructure and school systems. On the other hand, “cows and trees don’t go to school.” Whether you like open space or not, relying on residential development is not a financially viable option for long term economic stability.
  2. Farming is a one trillion dollar business nationwide, and makes up 13% of our gross domestic product, and 17% of jobs. Agriculture in Connecticut contributes over $1.7 billion to our state economy and is responsible for 27,000 jobs. More than 200 people are employed by almost 50 family-owned agricultural enterprises in Woodstock alone.
  3. People don’t visit the Quiet Corner to see subdivisions or parking lots. They come to see open farm fields, forested roads, and beautiful scenery. While they are here, they stop at local shops, stay in our B&Bs and inns, eat in our restaurants, and purchase cider, Christmas trees, food and plants from farms. All of this enhances local tax revenues.
  4. Communities with open space are more livable. Residents enjoy being able to go for a walk in the woods, or seeing a variety of birds in their yard. A recent study showed that driving on a tree-lined road reduces stress.
  5. Open space increases the value of surrounding property. Research indicates that properties near open space may be valued as much as 20% higher than comparable property not near open space.
  6. Prime, productive farm soils are a nonrenewable resource. With current concerns about the source, quality, and reliability of our food supply, it’s important to protect agricultural land near where people live. Local farms supply food, lumber, plants for our gardens, and many other things we all want and use.
  7. Open space helps protect the environment. Improperly planned development can increase the risk of flooding, and pollution of rivers and streams. Septic systems can add untreated wastes to surface water and groundwater. Contamination can also result from road salt, oil leaks from automobiles, and runoff from lawn chemicals. Increased use of cars leads to traffic congestion and air pollution. On the other hand, soil and wetlands filter out contaminants, reduce the risk of flooding, and recharge underground drinking water supplies, and forests purify the air.
  8. Open space helps protect wildlife. Large connected areas of open space provide animals room to move around, hide, find food, avoid inbreeding, and increase their numbers.
  9. Connecticut has over 584 species of plants and animals that are endangered, threatened or of special concern. Disruption associated with development creates opportunities for invasive species to take hold, as they are aggressive and reproduce quickly, choking out native species and reducing biodiversity.
  10. When people think of northeastern Connecticut, they think of scenic vistas with rolling farm fields, forests and clear ridgelines. This rural/agricultural character is not only visually appealing; it is part of our cultural heritage.

I think we should all be grateful to the few landowners who have voluntarily taken steps to preserve their land by donating property, donating or selling development rights, or putting conservation easements on their land. The value of the legacy they have left for current and future generations of people and wildlife is beyond measure.

Editor’s note : Bet Zimmerman has developed the new ECFLA/WDLT website in collaboration with Dennis Hodgin. We are very glad to work with you Bet and look forward to more thought provoking articles.

This article originally appeared in the March 2004 ECFLA/WDLT Newsletter.