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Natural Infrastructure

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What is Natural Infrastructure?

Natural infrastructure (sometimes called green or sustainable infrastructure) is the interconnected network of natural and undeveloped areas needed to maintain and support ecosystems. They also provide a wide array of environmental, health and economic benefits such as mitigating climate change impacts and sustaining clean air and water. Our Natural Infrastructure has been declining – in quality and quantity – since the start of the industrial revolution.  Government agencies and organizations faced with sprawl and other poorly planned development often conserve and restore land and waterways in a haphazard manner. This reactive approach to conservation ignores ecosystem processes. On the other hand, the Natural Infrastructure approach is proactive with an emphasis on connectivity to support long-term sustainability.

This approach often results in identifying a Green Infrastructure Network -- in its simplest form, composed of hubs and corridors.

A Green Infrastructure Network is often composed of hubs and corridors


Birds-eye view of hubs and corridors


  • the anchors of the network
  • typically large, unfragmented areas that are critical for providing space for plants and wildlife
  • provide and protect critical ecosystem functions


  • linear features in the network that serve to connect hubs
  • help connect otherwise isolated plant and animal populations, thus assuring the long-term viability of these populations and the larger ecosystem
  • many follow streams, rivers and floodplains, helping to keep pollution out of waterways and protecting people's homes and property from flood damage
The Natural Infrastructure Approach
Benefits of this Approach

The Mid-Atlantic Green Infrastructure Priority

While there is already a successful history of State and local governments and non-governmental organizations in the mid-Atlantic region making use of the natural infrastructure approach, we are working to increase its use. Our Region has made natural infrastructure a priority with the intention of expanding and improving the efficiency and effectiveness of its programs and activities to protect and restore important ecosystems. 

Our Natural Infrastructure Priority Action Plan identifies four project areas of focus for this effort.  These project areas were selected, in part, because the opportunity to address the stressors and achieve meaningful environmental results.

1) Abandoned Mine Land / Pennsylvania Bituminous Coal Region

The Pennsylvania Bituminous Coal region contains many patches of quality forest fragmented by abandoned mine lands and trout waters disconnected by acid mine drainage. In this project, Pennsylvania and a number of federal agencies will collaborate to target restoration sites and abandoned mine lands to achieve the goals of the abandoned mine lands trust funds, CWA 303(d) listed impaired waters, and the National Fish Habitat Action Plan.

The Sinnemahoning watershed has already been selected by partners as a test for the Abandoned Mine Land funding process. The Sinnemahoning watershed's remaining restoration sites will be prioritized by the partners so that available funding is spent on the most appropriate sites.

In addition, other restoration projects will be identified using Pennsylvania’s Resource Lands / Natural Infrastructure Assessment as a guide and by collaborating with local communities.

2) Monocacy Watershed, Pennsylvania and Maryland

The Monocacy Watershed is experiencing habitat destruction associated with significant growth and land conversion associated with that growth. The impact has been significant nutrient and sediment deposition into the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.

The objective of this project is to develop a collaborative network among EPA, other governmental agencies, non-governmental organizations, and citizens to improve the water quality in the watershed and protect high quality ecosystems. The role of wetlands and best practices (i.e., buffers, stream fencing, conservation measures, keeping cows out of streams) in agriculture programs will be emphasized.

A longer term objective is to work with Frederick County, Maryland to prepare a green infrastructure assessment and protection plan. The green infrastructure assessment will include federal and state data and be enhanced by local monitoring data. Once completed, the assessment will be used to identify areas for protection and restoration.

3) Coal River, West Virginia

The Coal River watershed has been impacted by mountaintop mining operations. In cooperation with state agencies, federal partners, non-governmental organizations, and the coal industry areas of functioning environmental infrastructure will be mapped and formally designated to restore and protect. These areas will include upland fragmented forests to fill in and enhancing the natural systems and functions. In addition, work with the US Forest Service will identify the value of existing intact forests relative to carbon sequestration.

4) Watershed Resource Registry

This project, which is already underway, provides opportunities to engage the transportation sector in the protection and restoration of natural infrastructure. The project is identifying high quality watershed resources to preserve and areas to restore. This project is part of our Region's Healthy Waters Priority.


Matt Nicholson (nicholson.matt@epa.gov)
Natural Infrastructure
US EPA Region 3 (3EA10)
1650 Arch St.
Philadelphia, PA 19103

Susan Spielberger (spielberger.susan@epa.gov)
Natural Infrastructure Focus Areas
US EPA Region 3 (3EA00)
1650 Arch St.
Philadelphia, PA 19103

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