Regional Plan Association and America 2050 have added Agriculture and Forestry resource maps to our Northeast Landscape Initiatives Atlas. Over the past several months, we have undertaken a major GIS-based mapping and research project to help the over 160 landscape conservation initiatives in our inventory succeed. With help from state agencies and other key stakeholders, we have created maps that reflect priority areas for conservation of important natural resources. We have produced maps for the following resources:
- Agriculture & Forestry
- Open Space
Our Agriculture and Forestry resource maps show areas where food and fiber is an important part of the local economy, and where preservation of working farms and forests is a critical conservation concern. Map 1 shows the most important agricultural and forest lands in the Northeast, according to state agencies and the US Forest Service. Map 2 shows the counties with the strongest agriculture and timber economies. Map 3 identifies prime agriculture and forest land according to the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service.
Farming and timber production are a cornerstone of rural economies. These working lands can also help maintain water quality, protect wildlife corridors, and provide for recreational opportunities. But these values can be threatened by urban development - direct displacement, fragmentation, as well as conflicts by adjoining residential uses. Poor access to markets for supplies and sales can also be a factor in protecting this heritage.
Landscape initiatives can help address these concerns, and many are working with farmers and foresters to manage resources. Landscape-scale conservation can provide the critical mass needed to sustain rural economies that individual farmers and foresters depend on. They can be an important vehicle for linking private landowners to state and federal programs.
The map below shows places where initiatives with agriculture and forestry conservation goals are addressing state and federal priorities and programs. Such initiatives can be an important vehicle for communicating federal and state goals to local famers and woodlot owners.
Density map of landscape initiatives that are working to protect working farms and forests located within state and federal priority areas
Here are three examples of landscape initiatives that are forming beneficial partnerships with state and federal programs to protect agriculture and forest lands:
Agricultural Stewardship Association (ASA)
ASA was founded in 1990 by local farmers concerned with the loss of farmland in Washington and Rensselaer counties in upstate New York. They are protecting land in order to sustain the local economy and preserve the region's historically agrarian character. In 2006, ASA adopted its Farmland Conservation Plan, which outlined a strategy for acquiring 20,000 acres of farmland in six Priority Conservation Areas. ASA also has been able to leverage significant state and federal money to fund a locally-based conservation agenda because their conservation goals coincide with regional efforts. The organization counts among its state and federal partners the Cornell Cooperative Extension, the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, the Lakes to Locks Passage Scenic Byway, the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, and the Saratoga National Battlefield Historic Park. ASA has also worked to expand New York State's Open Space Plan to include more acres of farmland. By coordinating with existing conservation programs and encouraging those programs to adopt some of ASA's priorities, the organization has raised over $10 million in state and federal grants for purchasing development rights as part of its acquisition campaigns. To date, it has used some of the funds from these sources to protect over 6,000 acres through a combination of fee-simple acquisitions, conservation easements, and the donation or purchase of development rights.
Kennebec Woodland Partnership
A relatively new imitative, the Kennebec Woodland Partnership was founded in 2009 by the Maine Forest Service and the Kennebec Land Trust to preserve forested land in Kennebec County. In the absence of large protected areas (only about 2% of the land is protected in the area), Kennebec residents must rely on the county's 388,000 acres of mostly privately-owned woodland for public benefits, like the "local economy, wood products markets, recreational opportunities, water quality, wildlife habitat, and quality of life". Even though, as the Partnership says, diverse interests benefit from shared ideas, it can be initially difficult to bring all the stakeholders together. In order to establish the Partnership it was necessary leverage local, state, and federal resources. The Kennebec Land Trust was familiar with the region and the landowners who live there, the US Forest Service Northeastern Area has extensive experience working with private foresters to adopt sustainable practices, and the Maine Outdoor Heritage Foundation was able to provide funding to the initiative.
Virginia Outdoors Foundation & the Valley Conservation Council
In Virginia, conservation is a responsibility shared by state and local actors. In the Shenandoah Valley, the partnership is crucial to preserving the region's way of life. The Virginia Outdoors Foundation (VOF) is a public-private conservation organization founded by the state's General Assembly in 1966 to preserve open space through the acquisition of land. The Valley Conservation Council is a local initiative that was founded in 1990 to protect farms and forests and curb sprawl. Our urban growth model showed that low-density sprawl will be at the region's doorstep by 2020, threatening to convert agriculture and timber land for new housing development. Since the economies of the Valley communities rely heavily on these two industries, sprawl is more than just a threat to scenic views and the plant and animal species living there; it is a challenge to the very way of life in the region.
Together, the two organizations play a vital role in preserving the Shenandoah Valley's natural, cultural, and economic resources. VCC represents "a broad range of technical expertise [and] local knowledge," meaning that their staff and volunteers can engage the community and educate landowners. When VCC encounters a landowner that is interested in a conservation easement for his or her property, it refers the landowner to VOF. VOF negotiates, acquires, and defends the easement in perpetuity. The close working relationship between VCC and VOF has resulted in over 100,000 acres of protected land in the Shenandoah Valley. VCC has also recommended that VOF designate several areas of the valley as Special Project Areas so that VOF can concentrate its resources and funding is available whenever VCC encounters a landowner interested in a conservation easement.
In the Northeast Megaregion, complex urban development patterns and high demand for land and resources pose particular challenges for conservation. RPA / America 2050 is working across political jurisdictions to produce a comprehensive inventory of landscape conservation initiatives that protect watersheds, wildlife habitat, and other natural processes at the appropriate geographic scale. The project was launched in November, 2010 with the support from The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and the USDA Forest Service Northeastern Area.
Visit the website to learn more: Northeast Landscape Conservation Inventory