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Q&A with The Nature Conservancy

Employee-led group hosts discussion on land and water conservation

Securian Financial’s Environmental Health and Sustainability group works to increase employees’ environmental awareness through education and community engagement opportunities.

Rich Biske (left) of The Nature Conservancy discusses farmland runoff near Hart, Minnesota.

Recently, the employee-led group invited The Nature Conservancy to present an educational seminar at Securian Financial’s St. Paul, Minn., headquarters.

Rich Biske, Freshwater Program Director for The Nature Conservancy, shared the organization’s history and mission, global and local conservation priorities, and ways citizens can get involved in conservation.

Attendees learned The Nature Conservancy has been working to conserve and restore land and water since 1951.1 The nonprofit’s focus on climate change, protecting land and water, providing food and water sustainability, and building healthy cities is critical to the long-term health and wellbeing of our society and ecosystems. 

We asked Rich to share more about key topics from his presentation.

Why is conserving land and water so important?

We’re losing wildlife, with native species biomass down 20 percent since 1900.2 North America alone has lost more than 3 billion birds since 1970.3

Conservation works to mitigate these threats. For example, wetland bird populations have steadily increased since wetland protection rules were enacted and logging practices in forested wetlands improved. 

Conserving lands and waters is essential for protecting biodiversity, but it also protects people. Conserving floodplains reduces flood damage to homes and downstream communities. Protecting and restoring forests and grasslands recharges groundwater for drinking water and reduces runoff to lakes and rivers. 

Our natural lands also have the power to combat climate change, with forests, prairies, wetlands and agricultural lands having a tremendous potential for removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. So, conservation can be a proactive effort, too.

You talked about the importance of working collaboratively with businesses to accomplish conservation goals. Why are corporate relationships important to The Nature Conservancy?

Achieving The Nature Conservancy’s ambitious goals to protect the lands and waters that we all depend on requires leadership and action from all sectors, including the corporate sector. 

By working with the business community to develop approaches and solutions to complex environmental challenges, we help ensure conservation happens at the pace and scale the world needs. The Nature Conservancy is working to protect whole systems across the globe by focusing our work on these top priorities:

  • Tackling climate change
  • Protecting land and water
  • Providing food and water sustainably
  • Building healthy cities 

That’s a huge challenge, and we can’t do it ourselves.

One alarming example you shared about the downstream effects of polluted water is hypoxia and the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico. How does polluted water from the Mississippi River – right here in our back yard – contribute to this problem? 

The Gulf of Mexico “dead zone” is an algal bloom caused by an overabundance of nutrient runoff. Water quality monitoring and computer models have shown that much of the nutrients causing the dead zone are coming from the agricultural areas of the Midwest. 

Nutrients or fertilizers are essential for crops to grow, but rain and drainage can wash nutrients out of farm fields before crops can use them. Small streams and rivers that drain farmland and empty into the Mississippi River carry the fertilizers all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. 

When algal blooms die, the decaying matter consumes the oxygen and snuffs out fish, shellfish, coral and vegetation, causing a hypoxic area, or dead zone. It also hampers recreation and tourism and jeopardizes the Gulf of Mexico region’s fisheries industry.

In river basins throughout the Mississippi River watershed, The Nature Conservancy staff are collaborating across chapters to work with farmers, university scientists and departments of agriculture to promote more effective and efficient use of fertilizers and reduce the amount of nutrients that enter our rivers from other sources. The Nature Conservancy’s targeted approach to protecting the Mississippi River here at its source in Minnesota is the cornerstone to ensuring the health of the river, for everyone.

You can learn more about the Gulf of Mexico dead zone in this blog post.

People can do many things to care for the environment. You suggested four key actions to protect water in particular. Why are these specific actions important and helpful?

1. Know where your water comes from

Water is essential for life, and we shouldn’t take it for granted. It doesn’t just show up when you turn your tap on — it comes from the ground, river or reservoir. We need to care for the watershed that feeds the river or reservoir, and the lands above a drinking water well, just as we would the pipes in your house. Knowing where our water comes from helps us know how to keep it clean and healthy.

2. Use biodegradable cleaning products

Choosing less hazardous cleaning products, such as biodegradable, non-toxic cleaners, can help reduce daily water contamination. The water that goes down your drains will eventually flow into our streams and bays, many of which serve as our drinking water sources. This means that the cleaning products we use end up in these important waterways, too. 

3. Use sidewalk salt sparingly

It takes only one teaspoon of salt to permanently pollute five gallons of water, and there’s no easy way to remove the chloride. Salt enters lakes and rivers through road salt, water softeners, fertilizers and dust suppressors. High amounts of salt in water can be toxic to fish, insects and amphibians. Salt can also accumulate in the soil and weaken or kill plants.

4. Join the conversation about clean water 

Joining a conversation about water is a way to connect with others who have an interest in water quality and want to conserve natural resources. Our Mississippi Our Future offers a way to learn more about water and conservation issues in your community and in the state. You can join a forum or connect with your local representative to ask them what they’re doing to protect clean water.

More about the EHS group

The Environmental Health and Sustainability group encourages members to take ownership of issues they care about and believes small changes can add up to make a big difference. 

This past fall, the group organized a volunteer project where 50 Securian Financial employees planted more than 100 trees in a local park.

Leaders of the Environmental Health and Sustainability group work closely with Securian Financial’s Sustainable Workplace Committee, which oversees environmental priorities for a healthy workplace, waste reduction and reclamation, lowered consumption of natural resources and ongoing energy efficiencies. 

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