Going Regional With Landscape Conservation

Forests, waterways and other natural areas don't respect the invisible political boundaries that mark where cities, counties and states begin and end. But the laws and policies of different governments shape natural areas, and groups that seek to conserve or protect such places need to work across multiple political boundaries if they are to be effective.

This challenge was the subject of discussion last month when more than 125 conservation leaders from across the country met at New York's National Museum of American Indian at the tip of Lower Manhattan, right at the heart of the more than 16,000 square mile New York- New Jersey Harbor Estuary.

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 accelerate 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.

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.

A key area of discussion focused on the importance of identifying leaders that could spearhead large-scale landscape conservation efforts, and providing them with the data and technical capacity needed to advance their efforts. These locally grown landscape initiatives are a critical link between scientific understanding of issues like climate change , wildlife management, and watershed protection and the local landowners and municipal leaders whose decisions are crucial .

Toward this goal, RPA is funding three emerging landscape conservation efforts in the Northeast. They are the Rensselaer Plateau Alliance in eastern New York State, the MassConn Sustainable Forestry Partnership in 38 towns in southern New England and the Southern Maryland Strategic Conservation Plan created by the Patuxent Tidewater Land Trust. These groups all plan to hold workshops this fall. 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 Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, the U.S. Forest Service Northeastern Area and the National Park Service Northeast Office are funding these programs, and also provided funding for the landscapes conference.