The 182,115 ha (450,000 ac) making up the ACE Basin Task Force Project area support more than 1,500 plant and animal species (not including insects) within six distinct ecosystem habitats. The ecosystems of the ACE Basin are not untouched considering that some level of anthropogenic impact has occurred for the last 6,000 years; however, the ecological integrity of the ACE Basin has been maintained through conscious management and sustainable use of its resources.
ACE Basin Task Force Project
Formal protection of the ACE Basin was initiated in 1988 with the development of the ACE Basin Task Force, a unique partnership of state and federal governmental representatives, nonprofit conservation organizations, and private landowners. This group shared a vision of maintaining the natural character of the Basin by promoting wise resource management and continuing traditional uses with improved public access. This vision has provided a framework for land protection in the ACE Basin that has gained national and international recognition. While encouraging traditional land uses such as agriculture, timber production, hunting, and fishing, the overall management goal is to maintain the area's ambiance while restricting industrial and resort development characteristic of much of the state's coastal zone in the past 30 years. To date, well over 316,160 ha (128,000 ac) in the Basin have been protected through conservation easements, management agreements, and fee title purchases. The private landowner initiative has been fundamental to the overwhelming success of the ACE Basin Project.
Conservation, research/monitoring, education, and cooperation have provided the basic architecture for the ACE Basin Project. Conservation is system driven and embraces "sustainable growth" as a key factor. The desire of its rural communities to maintain their quality of life without the pressures to develop for immediate gain has been unusual and to a large degree shaped by historical good fortune. Today, the movement toward incorporating the needs of a community while preserving its natural values is a novel concept. A major challenge in the ACE Basin is to strike a balance between the area's socioeconomic needs while protecting the benefits of natural systems. This requires good science and a commitment to responsible growth.
Because of its remoteness and relatively pristine nature, the ACE Basin provides ideal sites for monitoring changes in the physical and biological components of the region. The fact that the National Estuarine Research Reserve, National Wildlife Refuge, Ducks Unlimited, and The Nature Conservancy are represented here make the Basin even more attractive for gathering scientific information. Interdisciplinary research is providing information for conserving biological diversity, assessing the impacts of pollution on the structure and function of ecosystems, and for developing sustainable production systems for altered habitats. In addition, the ACE Basin provides a framework for comparative studies of similar problems in different coastal regions. Local communities are being introduced to the idea that protecting natural watersheds and sustainable development are to their long-term benefit. Education and outreach activities to strengthen the understanding and appreciation of these concepts are pivotal.