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Thumbnail image for cover_nelandscapes.jpg Buying land isn't enough. Building parks won't get it done. Restoring forests and wetlands by themselves is not an answer. Successful conservation requires a comprehensive, regional approach.

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.

Read the Release | Read the Report (Web) (Print) | Read the Project Summary

RPA and America 2050 Seek Landscape Initiatives for Participation in Peer Exchange Program


Regional Plan Association and America 2050, RPA's national planning program, are seeking statements of interest from landscape conservation practitioners in the 13-state Northeast megaregion to receive up to $25,000 of funding to participate in a nine-month peer exchange program. We are seeking to pair established organizations or initiatives with a proven track record of success in landscape conservation with emerging organizations or programs with extraordinary promise and commitment.

Duke Law Journal Spotlights Conservation Easements

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Landscape-scale conservation initiatives rely on conservation easements to protect the character and function of natural, cultural, and working landscapes. America 2050 and Regional Plan Association have created a Northeast Landscape Initiatives Inventory and Atlas to research how these initiatives use easements and other conservation tools to achieve their goals. 

The Fall 2011 issue of Law and Contemporary Problems, a faculty-edited journal of the Duke University Law School, is devoted entirely to conservation easements and the role landscape-scale conservation planning has in making them effective. The articles also discuss how to assess their conservation benefits and how to incorporate easements into broader regional land use planning efforts.

The 13-state Northeast Megaregion is blessed with an abundance of water resources. Rivers, lakes, bays, and ocean shorelines provide economic benefits, recreational opportunities, and drinking water. Continued urban development, however, has impaired uses in many local watersheds. Waterfront communities are bracing for the sea level rise and increases in riverine and coastal flooding associated with climate change.

Over the next 40 years, billions of dollars will be invested in clean water and flood control projects. With proper planning, these projects can help achieve multiple landscape-scale conservation goals. Many landscape conservation initiatives have developed comprehensive programs that rely on ecosystem services to deliver water quality, flood protection, and a range of additional benefits.

Landscape Conservation Online Tools Survey

We invite you take an on-line survey (Landscape Conservation Online Tools Survey) about creating web tools for landscape conservation practitioners. The survey includes a list of questions to gauge how people might use a large landscape web portal and should take less than 5 minutes to complete. Please complete the survey by the December 9, 2011 deadline.

New England Conservation Groups Set Conservation Goals

Policy Agenda

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A major policy focus of the America's Great Outdoors (AGO) report is support for large landscape conservation. Federal Agency programs are increasingly focused on protecting ecosystem function at the broadest of scales. Regional landscape conservation initiatives are benefiting from new Federal funding sources and technical assistance. These initiatives are also leveraging the research and policy behind the AGO report to enhance their strategic efforts.

Over fifty environmental organizations, including The Nature Conservancy and The Appalachian Mountain Club, came together to release a Policy Agenda for Conserving New England's Forests. The report outlines actions to promote forest conservation as a way to help protect important ecosystem services, while also serving as an economic driver for the region. The report further concludes that landscape-scale preservation is the right approach, calling for protection efforts in several of the important landscapes highlighted in the AGO report, including the North Woods of Maine and the Connecticut River Watershed of Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. The report also highlights the important role that the US Forest Service's Forest Legacy Program will play in achieving landscape goals, echoing a similar recommendation made in the AGO report.

The use of the AGO report to create policies for the New England region shows its potential to improve landscape practice; hopefully, this is only the beginning.

Maine Tackles 2 Million Acre Conservation Project

Moose River

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Earlier this fall, the Nature Conservancy, the Forest Society of Maine, and the Appalachian Mountain Club, added 10,000 acres to previously protected parcels near the town of Jackman, Maine. This acquisition is a small, but significant contribution to a conservation project which envisions the protection of two million acres of forested land in Northern Maine. The project will cost an estimated $30 million.

The acquisition comes after 25 years of work to protect the significant ecological features in the area. The Jackman landscape includes ecologically sensitive areas such as the Moose River, the No. 5 Mountain, and the No. 5 bog. The area, which will be called the Moose River--No. 5 Preserve, is valuable for its regional biodiversity, timber stands, and role in drawing eco-tourism and recreation to the region.

More information about planning your visit can be found here.

In the highly-developed (and growing) Northeast Megaregion, the transportation network is expansive. Existing roads are slated for widening and other upgrades in order to accommodate more drivers. New roadways are planned as residential development continues to reach out to the farthest edges of the region. Funding also goes towards rehabilitation and maintenance of aging streets and bridges. The upkeep, rehabilitation, and expansion of the region's road network can be disruptive to landscape processes, like migratory corridors for wildlife and historically or scenically significant views. Projects, if designed with best practices in mind, can help mitigate problems associated with how these transportation corridors were originally created, or provide funding to address important conservation priorities in the surrounding region.

In order to assess the potential of using transportation investment to address landscape conservation, and to help practitioners identify where are the challenges and opportunities in the region, America 2050 and Regional Plan Association have compiled spending data for all long-range transportation projects for the northeastern states. 


Image Courtesy of The University of Maryland Center fof Environmental Sciences


The U.S. Forest Service, an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is working aggressively to restore federally-owned forests and grasslands at the landscape scale. May 2011 marked the completion of the first phase of the project, resulting in the release of the Watershed Condition Framework, Watershed Classification Guide, and the Watershed Condition Interactive Map. These materials evaluate the health and function of 15,000 watersheds across more than 139 million acres of National Forest System Land. Together, the materials represent the first national watershed assessment of the United States.

The goal of the project is to create a consistent and credible process for evaluating and improving the health of watersheds in national forests and grasslands. The interactive map accompanying the report displays the varying conditions of watersheds based on 12 indicators, including water quality, water quantity, and riparian/wetland vegetation, among others.

The methodology for evaluating the 15,000 watersheds in the project is based on a consistent classification system that allows for direct comparisons between watersheds. In addition to online maps and reports, shapefiles of the data are available for download.

The Watershed Condition Framework, Watershed Condition Classification Technical Guide, Watershed Condition Interactive Map, are available through the U.S. Forest Service Website.

The USGS Measures Long Term Land-Use Change

Land-use Change in the Eastern United States

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The United States Geological Survey (USGS) has recently completed a 27-year study of land cover change in the continental United States. The study, which employs land-use data gathered between 1973 and 2000, highlights landownership, among other factors, as a significant driver of land-use change. The USGS also plans to use the results to model scenarios of climate change and population growth.

The USGS conducted this study using the ecoregion as the unit of measure. According to the USGS, Ecoregions are territories with unique climate, flora and fauna, and resource potential. The results show that about 8.6% of land in the US has changed use at least once between 1973 and 2000. The amount of developed land increased by 33%, while the amount of forest and agricultural land decreased by 4%. This report confirms that urban growth, particularly in the Northeast Megaregion, where population densities are high, is a major obstacle to protecting the land and resources that are critical to landscape-scale processes. Data from the USGS study, along with numerous reports, is available for conservationists to use as tools for making informed planning decisions based on large-scale land use change factors.

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Recent News

New Report Examines Need for Landscape Conservation in the Northeast
Buying land isn't enough. Building parks won't get it done. Restoring forests and wetlands by themselves is not an…
Initiatives Sought for Participation in Peer Exchange Program
RPA and America 2050 Seek Landscape Initiatives for Participation in Peer Exchange Program Summary Regional Plan Association and America 2050,…
Duke Law Journal Spotlights Conservation Easements
Image Courtesy of Landscape-scale conservation initiatives rely on conservation easements to protect the character and function of natural, cultural,…
Northeast Landscape Initiatives Protect Water Quality and Control Flooding
The 13-state Northeast Megaregion is blessed with an abundance of water resources. Rivers, lakes, bays, and ocean shorelines provide…

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