Government Initiatives in Protecting Native Habitat

Conservation efforts to promote native habitat hardly ever make national headlines, but they have been a consistent part of both federal and state government initiatives for decades. However, if you live in states such as Missouri, Kansas, and Virginia, you may have seen your state government take up legislation this past week against the Bradford pear tree, an invasive tree that gained its fame for a particularly foul smell and is already restricted in ten other states.

Bills introduced in state legislatures ranged from those offering trade-in programs, giving landowners native trees in exchange for Bradford pear trees in Virginia, to an all-out ban on the sale of the tree and other invasive vegetation in HB 2412 introduced in the Missouri House of Representatives.1 State politicians cite a number of reasons for bringing forward these policies, including the difficulty native plants have competing with invasive species and the unwillingness of the general public to commit to growing native plants on their land.

North America has been on a steady path of natural habitat loss since early colonization, with some of the largest causes being agriculture, climate change, and land conversion for development.2 Farming practices have largely relied on foods that are not naturally grown in our ecosystem or have been genetically altered to grow in mass quantities. Conservationists have seen this result in detrimental land erosion and loss of habitat for native animal species.

In the 19th century, the United States saw a boom in land development along coastal regions, replacing what was once marshlands with private and commercial buildings.3 Florida, a state on the front lines of climate change, has seen its wetlands decrease by 44 percent since becoming a state.4 As the ocean rises and the southeastern part of the country experiences more extreme storms, landowners can see their land wash away, as they rarely continue to plant vegetation with root systems that can retain the water flooding their land, instead opting for plants that have a decorative appeal over the natural long grasses that once grew along the beaches. While the Florida Department of Fish and Wildlife works to restore wetlands on public land, state laws make it difficult to enforce conservation policies on privately owned land.

At the federal level, there are a number of government entities that work to address the issue of native habitat loss, including the National Park Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Forest Service, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, and the U.S. Geological Survey. While these agencies have their own projects and initiatives, much of the work that’s done through these government organizations is done through grant opportunities provided to state agencies, research institutions, and nongovernmental organizations. The funding is created by acts of Congress, such as the recent Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (which promised to mitigate the impacts of climate change) and the longstanding North American Wetlands Conservation Act of 1989 which still funds work done today.

While there are many organizations dedicated to the cause of conservation, bills working to address the issue hardly ever survive the partisan politics of federal and state governments. Opposing lawmakers cite the rights of property owners and argue that such bills are not an issue of importance for the government to invest in financially. Others cite conservation as a cultural issue and have taken to education and social media to combat apathy toward the issue. Once such organization is the Native Habitat Project based in northern Alabama, which has skyrocketed in popularity on TikTok and Instagram, with over 424,000 followers. The group seeks to educate the public on habitat and conservation in the hopes that individuals will take up the cause of protecting their local forests, marshes, and prairie lands.5

Whether you agree that conservation is a political issue or a cultural issue, we will soon see a different reality of what native habitat looks like in North America, with the effects of climate change becoming more apparent each year.

Discussion Questions

  1. Is wildlife and habitat conservation an issue the government should prioritize? Why or why not? Is this an issue that should be addressed culturally instead? Why or why not?
  2. Should the government seek natural solutions to combat climate change, such as restoring wetlands? Why or why not?
  3. Should the government have the authority to address this issue on private property as well as on public lands? Why or why not?
  4. If conservation was an issue that you prioritized, how might you motivate the public to invest in habitat restoration?


As always, we encourage you to join the discussion with your comments or questions below.

Close Up is proud to be the nation’s leading nonprofit civic education organization, working with schools and districts across the country since 1971. If you would like to partner with us or learn more about our experiential learning programs, professional development, or curriculum design and consulting, contact us today! 


Featured Image Credit: STLIPR/NPR photographer Mangrove Mike
[1] USA Today:; National Public Radio:
[2] National Wildlife Federation:
[3] NOAA Shoreline:
[4] Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission:
[5] Native Habitat Project:


Social Spaces for Kids and Teens


Last fall, 41 state attorneys general sued Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, alleging that it “knowingly designed and deployed harmful features … to purposefully addict children and teens.”1 In January, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a public hearing to address online child safety issues.2 And this month, the House of Representatives voted to ban TikTok if it did not address data and privacy concerns.3 Despite a bipartisan consensus acknowledging the social media risks for youth, no substantial legislative action has been taken to protect them from exploitation and psychological harm.

Recognizing the widespread harms of social media children face online, opinion columnist Michelle Goldberg recently wrote in the New York Times about the need to help kids and teens step away from social media. With so much of their lives centered on apps and the internet, she made the case that kids and teens deserve to have better physical spaces to congregate and hang out with friends. Goldberg recommended that local governments and businesses create, maintain, and support “parks, food courts, movie theaters, even video arcades,” among other locations, to encourage offline connections and activities.4

Profiles and For You Pages

Gen Z is the first generation to grow up with access to cell phones and social media. During the COVID-19 pandemic, these were helpful tools for young people to stay connected amid school closures and stay-at-home orders. Being on your phone is not necessarily a bad thing; social media can be used in healthy ways to develop and maintain friendships, learn new information, and express yourself. But addictive algorithms can hook kids, rewarding them for their engagement and spiraling them down deep rabbit holes of dangerous content, from eating disorders to suicide.5 A Gallup survey from October found that the average teenager spends nearly five hours on social media each day.6

Kids today are increasingly struggling with their mental health and experiencing heightened feelings of isolation, anxiety, and depression.7 In 2023, the Journal of Pediatrics published a report claiming that the “primary cause of the rise in mental disorders is a decline over decades in opportunities for children and teens to play, roam, and engage in other activities independent of direct oversight and control by adults.”8 That year, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy issued an advisory linking excessive social media use to the youth mental health crisis.9

Offline and Physical Places

Local governments could prioritize the well-being of young people by increasing the availability of youth-centered public social spaces. When the local library in Falls Church, Virginia, was renovated, it tripled the size of its sections for children and teens.10 In the Bronx, local government leaders and community organizers are currently working together to fix up two dilapidated skate parks.11 By supporting such projects, communities could increase the opportunities young people have to socialize in person as an alternative to social media. Promoting and encouraging their use could turn them into valuable public resources.

Having social spaces for kids and teens to hang out could help them de-stress, stay active, and make connections, all while strengthening their social skills and increasing their sense of belonging. Goldberg cited social psychologist Jonathan Haidt, who states, “While kids are under-protected on the internet, they’re over-protected in the real world.”12 With space to play and socialize, kids could get face-to-face interactions and the benefits that come from both engaging with others in person and taking a break from the toxicity of social media.

Just the First Step

When choosing to create these community spaces, local decision-makers must look out for the safety and overall well-being of kids. Other considerations include accessibility and availability. Are these spaces indoors or outdoors? Do kids need transportation to access them? Are they open at reasonable hours? Are they pleasant to visit and free to use?

Goldberg’s call for quality social spaces is a small step meant to encourage young people to spend less time online—something they desire but just don’t know how to do. 13 One high schooler in a focus group on youth social media use believes “we’d all feel a lot better if we were on [our phones] less,” and that taking a break “almost sets you free in a way.”14 More social spaces would provide the infrastructure and opportunity to do so, but ultimately the decision to use them comes down to parents and individual kids. This is not the only solution to mitigate social media risks for youth, as the underlying issues and their effects on kids still need to be addressed through parental controls, content moderation, and updated legislation.

Discussion Questions

  1. How much time per day do you spend on social media? (You can check your phone’s settings to see your Screen Time on iOS or Digital Wellbeing on Android.)
  2. Have you seen or experienced negative effects of social media?
  3. Does your community have dedicated places for young people to socialize? How would you rate the quality of these places?
  4. Where do you or people your age hang out in your community?
  5. What types of social spaces would you ideally like to have in your community?

 Other Resources

As always, we encourage you to join the discussion with your comments or questions below.

Close Up is proud to be the nation’s leading nonprofit civic education organization, working with schools and districts across the country since 1971. If you would like to partner with us or learn more about our experiential learning programs, professional development, or curriculum design and consulting, contact us today! 


Featured Image Credit: PeopleImages/iStockphoto/Getty Images
[1] Office of the Attorney General of New Jersey:
[2] Associated Press:
[3] Associated Press:
[4] New York Times:
[5] Axios:
[6] Gallup:
[7] New York Times:
[8] New York Times:
[9] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services:
[10] City of Falls Church:
[11] Bronx Times:
[12] New York Times:
[13] CNN:
[14] Ibid.