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While New Jersey is the third smallest state in the nation, it supports the highest population density and is the most urbanized state. Due to increasing population and associated development, the integrity of natural ecosystems is threatened, especially in the Upper Raritan Watershed, which exists within three of the fastest growing counties: Hunterdon, Morris, and Somerset.
Sprawling development consumes forests, agricultural lands, and vital groundwater recharge areas at a pace that greatly exceeds that which population growth requires. The tendency for communities to grow inefficiently and allow inappropriate development of natural areas erodes our "sense of place" and greatly impacts our quality of life. Increased impervious surface associated with altering natural landscapes increases flooding and consequently the erosion of stream and river banks, while stormwater run-off contaminates water resources. Development of critical ecological lands significantly degrades wildlife habitat and recreational opportunities while jeopardizing the integrity of environmental processes required for the maintenance of a healthy watershed.
In order to prevent the degradation of our quality of life and ensure a healthy environment remains for future generations, URWA has established an active land preservation program. As a watershed organization, URWA's mission to conserve water resources is directly complimented by land protection efforts which prevent inappropriate use of terrestrial ecosystems and consequently the degradation of adjacent or downstream waterways. Furthermore, land preservation can protect the character of a region in addition to offering social, physical, psychological, and economic benefits for a community.
In order to accomplish our land preservation goals, URWA became a member of the Land Trust Alliance and is currently creating a watershed-wide Environmental Resource Inventory through our innovative GIS program to strategically identify the most critical natural resources for protection.
Parcels identified as critical to resource protection can be preserved utilizing our conservation easement program, land donations, or acquisition with public and private funding partners. URWA currently owns and manages 11 properties comprising approximately 450 acres. Additionally, URWA holds 33 easements which total over 880 acres and has partnered to preserve hundreds more. Realizing our limited capacity to preserve all of the ecologically sensitive lands throughout the 23 municipalities in our watershed, URWA has increased educational efforts, outreach to local governing bodies as well as landowners, and partnerships with other conservation organizations to achieve greater gains towards securing the environmental future of the Upper Raritan Watershed.