Landscape Conservation Goes Big

Northeast Landscapes Conference Michael Creasey, National Park Service and fellow plenary panel members Mary Wagner, US Forest Service; Kenneth Elowe, US Fish and Wildlife Service, and Robert Bendick of The Nature Conservancy.

Go big to get it done. That was the sentiment of more than 125 conservation leaders from across the country at New York's National Museum of American Indian last month.

The occasion was a by-invitation conference on the ways and means of accelerating large landscape conservation in the Northeast. Large landscape conservation refers to public and private collaborations that look beyond political boundaries and property lines to achieve their goals. It's a growing trend, as highlighted in RPA's recent report on the 165 landscape conservation initiatives operating in the 13-state Northeast megaregion.

Local land trusts, municipal officials, national conservation organizations and public agencies are looking to work together to protect land and water and address critical challenges to conservation such as urban growth, creation of transportation and energy infrastructure, and climate change with fewer staff and financial resources.

The conference, "Landscapes: Improving Conservation Practice in the Northeast Megaregion," brought together the conservation community, scientists, planners, philanthropists and government officials to discuss how to improve this practice, and to start to formulate a common agenda for the Northeast and the nation. The conference featured panels and workshops on critical topics such as conserving fish and wildlife population in a changing climate; establishing market-based conservation programs to protect water quality; finding resources in an era of diminished government support; and setting priorities for urban ecosystems.

One conclusion from the day's interactive workshops and electronic polling: It is critical to create leadership capacity at these initiatives so that they can develop strategic conservation plans that engage local government and private landowners. The narrative that results will motivate local residents and decisions makers and set the stage for effective interaction with local land use plans and large infrastructure proposals. It also can create a vehicle for communicating the latest science on climate resiliency to diverse stakeholders in a way that makes it relevant to their concerns.

Regional Plan Association is already working on doing just that. To help further the practice of landscape conservation, RPA is providing funding for three emerging landscape conservation efforts in the Northeast through an innovative peer-exchange program. The Rensselaer Plateau Alliance in eastern New York State, the Mass-Conn Sustainable Forestry Partnership in 38 towns in southern New England, and the Southern Maryland Strategic Conservation Plan created by the Patuxent Land Trust will all undertake workshops this fall that intended to launch or advance collaborative efforts. The Conservation Fund, the Trust for Public Land, and the Mount Grace Land Trust will be working with RPA staff to provide technical assistance. The conference and peer-exchange program are sponsored by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, the U.S. Forest Service Northeastern Area and the National Park Service Northeast Office.