Landscape conservation means looking beyond property boundaries and political jurisdictions. A holistic perspective is vital for managing watersheds and habitats and addressing long-term issues such as climate change. With funding scarce, it's also crucial to build partnerships that can set mutual priorities, share resources and collaborate effectively.
As the population grows and development expands, conservation needs to help shape - and not simply react to - decisions about land use and urban infrastructure.
To help landscape conservation succeed, Regional Plan Association and its national planning program, America 2050, have written a report examining initiatives throughout the Northeast and making recommendations for improving conservation efforts that stretch across city and state boundaries.
"Landscapes: Improving Conservation Practice in the Northeast Megaregion" is the result of a two-year-long research effort to study how multi-jurisdictional and multi-objective programs are protecting land and water, and addressing the critical challenges to conservation, including urban growth, creation of transportation and energy infrastructure, limited funding and climate change.
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Protecting these resources, and addressing these challenges is particularly important in complex geographies like the Northeast, the densely developed area from Maine to West Virginia that is now home to 72 million people. According to the analysis included in the study, the region is expected to add 15 million people by 2040, resulting in the development of an additional three million acres of land.
RPA examined conservation projects in the 13 states from West Virginia to Maine. The analysis found more than 165 conservation initiatives that have already taken a whole-systems, large landscape approach. The report found that the growing understanding of ecosystem processes, the potential impacts from large scale energy projects, and widespread suburban development have led the conservation community to take a comprehensive approach that stretches across property boundaries and political jurisdictions. These initiatives can serve as models for communities around the U.S. that want to take charge of their future.
The web-based survey that forms the basis for the report found that landscape conservation initiatives are young; most were formed less than 10 years ago. They are ambitious; initiatives list an average of six goals that they seek to accomplish. And they are overwhelmingly local: Most initiatives work in service areas comprised of only a few counties and within small metropolitan regions. The vast majority of initiatives are convened by non-profit organizations. Maps in the report showcase how these initiatives relate critical natural resources, such as drinking water, important wildlife habitat and working farms and forests as well as the challenges posed by urban growth, transportation and energy infrastructure.
The report identifies several considerations for improving the practice of landscape conservation initiatives, including:
- Addressing issues related to governance, such as the appropriate role of landscape assessment and management plans and building effective strategies for collaborating with partners, especially non-traditional stakeholders;
- Ensuring adequate funding and making the most efficient use of the money that is available. This includes understanding how landscape initiatives can access or benefit from investments in transportation, water, and energy and identifying the opportunities and barriers to sharing services and management responsibilities; and
- Developing the right set of tools, from better communications and marketing to quantifying ecosystem services to implementing regional land-use plans.
To help further the practice of landscape conservation, RPA will be providing funding for qualified non-profit organizations to participate in a peer exchange program in the fall of 2012. The program will pair emerging landscape initiatives with more established projects in a series of workshops across the Northeast.
The report was produced with support from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, the U.S. Forest Service Northeastern Areas State and Private Forestry and the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy.