Environmental groups across Southern Maryland have come together to form a coalition to help protect the natural beauty of the region.

The Southern Maryland Conservation Alliance held its inaugural meeting at Serenity Farm in Hughesville on Tuesday morning.

Conservation groups from Charles, St. Mary’s and Calvert counties along with groups from Prince George’s and Anne Arundel counties joined in on the effort to protect the landscapes and waterways of the region.

“We hope to enable greater collaboration among the conservation community here in Southern Maryland to build capacity, better identify funding and conservation opportunities, and importantly to focus at a landscape scale,” John Turgeon, director of the Maryland Environmental Trust, said.

Joel Dunn, president and chief executive officer of the Chesapeake Conservancy, spoke on the importance of protecting landscapes during his remarks to the assembled crowd.

Dunn spoke at length about the Native American heritage of the area, recognizing the collection of indigenous nations that once populated the Chesapeake Bay area.

“The heritage of these lands and how humans have benefited from living here in balance with nature began with the Piscataway, so it’s really important that we acknowledge that,” Dunn said.

Climate change was also a core part of Dunn’s speech, stating that biodiversity was threatened by the rapid extinction of species brought on by the impacts of the warming climate. Dunn also quoted scientific estimates that 1 million species could be extinct by the next century.

Calvert County Commissioner President Earl F. “Buddy” Hance (R) spoke at the event on the need for working landscapes. Hance, a former state agriculture secretary, said land preservation was an important economic tool.

“I’ve always believed that the best preservation program we can have is a great agricultural economy. ... If the next generation sees a future on the farm, it’s less likely to be sold and developed,” Hance said.

Agricultural efforts provided about $10 million in funding for Calvert County, Hance added, calling agriculture the cheapest way to remove nutrients that could pollute waterways and protect natural resources.

The Alliance outline five goals for the partnership moving forward:

• Provide a forum and overarching strategy for all conservation organizations in the alliance to further cooperation;

• Help develop solutions to protect land usage across the region between working farms, forests, recreational resources and other uses;

• Identify vital networks of natural lands and waters that support habitat diversity;

• Help promote the economic well-being of the region’s communities and residents; and

• Provide a clearinghouse where alliance members and other interested parties share knowledge of best practices and technology.

Shirley Knight, a board member with the American Chestnut Land Trust, said the event was important to bring together conservation groups that are “dispersed” across Maryland.

Knight also said the alliance will act as an umbrella to bring groups together to further land preservation goals.

Twitter: @DarrylSoMdNews

Twitter: @DarrylSoMdNews