Battlefields Mean Ecosystems

Don Sniegowski

The Environmental Benefits of Battlefield Preservation 

The American Battlefield Trust’s mission to save historic battlefields does more than simply safeguard history, it is also good for the environment. By saving protected land, the Trust can also play a hand in the preservation and conservation of natural resources.

Preservation protects a building, object, or landscape from human use entirely, while Conservation manages how these resources are used a sustainably. For example, The American Battlefield Trust preserves acres of historic battlefields from developers when we purchase a property and invest in restoring its historic landscape. The Trust conserves land when we reach a conservation easement with owners of battlefield lands, ensuring that the private ownership of these grounds is sustainable in its maintenance.

By conserving and preserving these lands, the Trust can protect natural landscapes, maintain plants and trees that help keep our air breathable, protect animal and plant habitats, keep water systems clean, and offer a natural green space for communities and economies to prosper.

Here are six specific ways preserving battlefields is good for the environment:

Land preservation keeps emissions out of the atmosphere

Buddy Secor

When the Trust buys battlefield land or enters a conservation easement with landowners, this land is protected from development. Undeveloped land can maintain or restore its natural, native greenery, including plants and trees that sequester carbon from the air. The resulting lack of development, construction, building, and habitat destruction prohibit further combustion of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. In this way, every acre preserved is an acre that can't be used for activities that add to air pollution and climate change.

Trees and vegetation conserve air quality and protect landscapes.

Chris Heisey

The native flora from ecosystems across the country is one of the most important things that battlefield preservation can protect. There are many environmental benefits to plant-rich spaces, including producing oxygen and removing carbon from the atmosphere, stabilizing natural landscapes by binding soil, and providing food and shelter for native wildlife.

Furthermore, a preserved battlefield can allow us to undertake the replanting of historically accurate species. Through the restoration of the historic East Woods at Antietam, the Trust was able to plant 1,689 trees thanks to a grant from the Maryland State Highway Administration. There is also a project at Perryville Battlefield to restore native grasses and wildflowers to 625 acres of the park. Projects like these support cleaner air and reduce greenhouse gases, not to mention the effect they've had in supporting native wildlife and protecting natural areas from erosion.

At Camden, S.C., there exists a multigenerational plan to reforest 420 acres to longleaf pine, which was native to the area during to the area during the Revolutionary War. The plan has the added benefit of producing sustainable income from pine straw and forest products, creating future self-generated revenue for the park.

Natural habitats for wildlife are protected and restored through management.

Chris Heisey

As much as possible, when we preserve or restore historically significant land, we aim to support the ecosystems that thrive there, which in turn protects the wildlife that resides there.

For example, in a recent restoration project at The Breakthrough, outside Petersburg, Va., after removing numerous non-historic buildings, the Trust planted native grasses, removed invasive species and established vegetative buffers around wetlands, creating a nurturing habitat for wildlife, including two critically endangered species of the region: the Bachman's Sparrow and the Spotted Turtle. Establishing natural meadows provides a wonderful habitat for ground-nesting wildlife; threatened and endangered species of bats and insects are now able to call the Perryville Battlefield home.

Water quality is safeguarded by preservation.

Bill Fox

Healthy watersheds, areas of land that drain into a body of water, are essential for drinking water for people and wildlife. The Chesapeake Bay Watershed, one of the nation's most important watersheds, is home to 113 major Civil War battlefields, nine major War of 1812 battlefields and four major Revolutionary War battlefields. To date, the Trust has preserved 26,553 acres in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, including 1,151,140 linear feet of rivers and streams. Among these areas is the Goose Creek Bridge at Virginia’s Upperville Battlefield, a thriving riparian corridor, where native trees and plants filter sediment and hold the creek bank firm, improving water quality and habitat.

In some cases, battlefield preservation can also provide access to waterways for recreational purposes, like canoeing and rafting, as along the Rapidan River in Culpeper County, Va., and at Perryville, Ky.

Conservation easements promote sustainable farming practices.

Chris Heisey

Many battles took place on or near farmland, and in preserving these fields, the Trust plays a role in keeping it in agricultural use. By encouraging sustainable practices like crop rotation, we help reduce erosion and improve soil quality. The Trust prizes its relationships with local agriculture leaders who maintain our properties and keep them productive.

Green spaces create sustainable communities and lifestyles.

Buddy Secor

By preserving battlefields and/or restoring them to a more natural green space, the Trust provides an essential element of a sustainable future: healthier, happier humans. While a battlefield landscape is protected specifically for its historic significance, even those who are unaware of past events may benefit from recreational opportunities, as do throngs of runners, hikers and cyclists at Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield. There are many ways in which access to green space is good for health and the environment.

There's a reason why preserved battlefields increase property values. Simply living near thriving outdoor spaces offers environmental and economic benefits for individuals and communities. For those who visit these hallowed grounds, battlefields provide an outdoor space to learn about American history, participate in recreational activities, or simply relax and enjoy nature. Ultimately, battlefield preservation nurtures our appreciation for history and the natural world.

In Conclusion

Matt Brandt

Nature is wise. That's why every acre that the American Battlefield Trust maintains or restores to its natural state contributes positively to the protection of natural resources and the environment. It can be difficult to fully grasp how much we benefit from healthy ecosystems — and easy to take these benefits for granted. Yet every aspect of our lives — including public health, climate and the economy — is affected by these natural systems.

"When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect." – Aldo Leopold, Sand County Almanac