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Take Notice: Trending for Large Landscapes

By Brenda Barrett April 25, 2017
Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Heritage Area

Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Heritage Area

Every two years protected area managers, scientists, and every kind of experts on cultural and natural heritage gather at the George Wright Conference to present papers, engage in lively discussions and swap professional gossip at the bar. I always find these meetings to be the place to spot emerging ideas and trends in the field. For the 2017 conference titled Connections across People, Place and Time, I journeyed to the conference location in Norfolk VA with my attention focused on what is ahead for the  large landscapes movement.

The answer: It is headed to the top of the charts. The conference’s opening session was titled “Making the Big Connections: The Future of Conservation on a Landscape Scale”.  And it featured two of the preeminent leaders in the field of connectivity conservation, Harvey Locke, Co-founder and Strategic Advisor of the Yellowstone to Yukon Initiative and Gary Tabor, Founder of the Center for Landscape Conservation.

They spoke about the vast scale needed to conserve migratory wildlife and of the critical need to work on a large enough canvas particularly as climate change disrupts  our natural systems.  For example, the Yellowstone to Yukon worked to identify bottlenecks to species movement and facilitate  targeted land acquisition in this 3,500-kilometer corridor.  Both speakers proposed that this big picture strategy needs to go global and that to thrive nature needs half.

So this was a strong start. What other ideas from the conference had implications for landscape scale work? Well here are a few:

1.The indivisible connection between Nature and Culture

The need for a dialogue between the disciplines of culture and nature is now out in the open and landscapes are an important place of intersection.  As one speaker noted “Culture is the pathway to the conservation ethic”.  One session reprised some of  the highlights of the  Nature Culture Journey at the 2016 World Conservation Congress in Hawaii where there were over 60 presentations on the topic.

Most interesting for someone not inside the National Park Service (NPS) was the inclusive tenor of the recently issued NPS Director’s Order 100. It states that 21st century resource stewardship requires coordination between natural and cultural resource programs and follows up with a host of proposed action to achieve such integration.  A long time attendee, grasping the full scope of the order, said to me “ I have been waiting my whole NPS career for this”.

2. The importance of the Urban Interface

There were a good number of sessions on nature in the city. These included initiatives in Chicago, Portland, and Tucson. Many of these efforts are linked together by such groups as the Metropolitan Greenspace Alliance who’s tagline is “Nature is not a place to visit it is home” and Natural Neighbors  which works to promote metropolitan and regional conservation alliances.  And it is not just  about nature. The Natural Neighbors web site  identifies the importance of cultivating a community’s sense of belonging and of civic responsibility by valuing a region’s history and culture, as well as its natural environment.

And one more thing, the NPS Urban Agenda is making a difference. For example, every year the George Wright Society sponsors a prestigious program for graduate students called Park Break Program. This is an all-expenses-paid, park-based field seminar for graduate students who are thinking about a career in park management or park-related research and education. In 2016, the  Park Break seminar was held in Detroit a place without a traditional national park  unit to serve as home base. Under the direction of the city’s NPS sponsored urban fellow, the students tackled research on the cultural heritage of the city. This the way to develop 21st century protected area managers!

3. The recognition of Indigenous People in the Landscape

The George Wright Society has a strong commitment to ensuring that indigenous voices are represented at the biannual conferences. The organization puts it money where its mouth is by offering travel grants for participation by indigenous people from Canada, Mexico and the United States with the goal of encouraging discussion on parks, protected areas, and cultural sites. More than any other professional gathering I have ever attended, the George Wright meetings weave together indigenous viewpoints as part of opening ceremonies,the  plenary presentations, the conference sessions, and at special events and receptions.

This year taking advantage of the conference location in the Mid-Atlantic, there were a number of sessions on the innovative work being done to better understand the deep time depth of the human occupation of the Chesapeake watershed. Many thanks to Chief Ann Richardson and Chief Stephen Adkins for their perceptive presentations placed their people in this landscape in the past through to today.  Sessions and discussions included contextualizing the recently designated national monument Werocomocco and an update of the Indigenous Cultural landscape approach to the home land of the Rappahannock people on the eastern shore of Maryland. Read the full report on Defining the Rappahannock Cultural Landscape.

Finally, and not directly related to large landscape practice, I was struck by the number of presentations that focused on the history of protected area management. Perhaps it is the current state of the nation, but attendees were seeking solace in lessons from the past. For the large landscape movement, this conference seemed to confirm that the time is now.  As noted in NPS Directive 100, land and seascapes need to be managed to sustain biodiversity and viable ecosystems as well as to be managed in such a way as  to understand the resources larger thematic and geographic context. However, when we look back on this moment in fifty years, will we see this as a break through moment or the beginning of a long slide down hill?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Conserving a Peopled Landscape: How are we doing?

By Brenda Barrett July 25, 2012
New York City in a Landscape of Water

New York City in a Landscape of Water

A recent conference (June 19, 2012) Landscapes: Improving Conservation Practice in the Northeast Megaregion brought together over 125 practitioners and state and federal officials to share insights on successful practices and build a network between comparable efforts. Hosted by the Regional Plan Association and America 2050, the event built on the organizations’ research on large landscape efforts in the Northeast and the principles in their February publication Landscapes reported in earlier Observer post.

The meeting was held in New York City and attendees who came early were treated to a tour of Governor’s Island and a different perspective on the city as a place rising from a landscape of water.  Maybe it was the location. Among many large landscape topics touched on through the daylong conference, the importance of people, community, and telling the story on a landscape scale came up over and over.  A poll taken at the end of the conference showed that 94% of the participants voted that to improve landscape practice and policy in the Northeast it was important to  “[c]reate a narrative of the region that motivates the people who live there.”

Why all this talk about the importance of people and populated areas? Mark Anderson, Director of Conservation Science at the Nature Conservancy, presented the conferees a compelling reason. His work has shown that species diversity is highly correlated with a diversity of landscapes – rivers, forests, coastlines and a variety of soil and underlying geology.  It seems that conservationists are delivering solid results preserving upland forests, but not the rich soils and riverine landscapes where people have flocked to settle for thousands of years. In other words, we have done okay on the easy stuff. Now to achieve real gains, particularly in the Northeast United States, we have to take conservation to where people live.

For more conference updates and information on some upcoming pilot projects, see Ron Pirani’s article Going Regional with Landscape Conservation on the Regional Plan web site.

 

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Let’s Give a Shout Out to World Heritage

By Brenda Barrett June 27, 2012

Mission San Jose in San Antonio TexasIn most countries inscription on the World Heritage list is highly prized. Designation is seen as bringing honor, recognition, and tourists to a nation’s most outstanding historic and scenic sites.  For this reason, many countries vie to increase the numbers of properties that are imprinted with the World Heritage brand.   This has not been the case in the United States – quick – name three US properties on the world heritage list: Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Monticello, yes, Mount Vernon actually no. To see a list of the 21 World Heritage sites in the US go here.

But perhaps the American perception of the value of World Heritage designation is changing.  Let me tell you what happened earlier in June at the usually staid US/ICOMOS annual meeting in San Antonio, Texas.  US/ICOMOS is one of over 100 National Committees with a formal role in the nomination and protection of World Heritage Sites and as a national committee provides technical advice to UNESCO’s on World Heritage issues.  The purpose of this year’s US/ICOMOS conference was to consider the 40th anniversary of the World Heritage Convention featuring multiple scholarly presentations and behind the scene tours with the curators of the region’s heritage sites.

However, the US/ICOMOS conference dinner in celebration the 40th Anniversary of the World Heritage Convention had a different vibe. Keynote speaker, US Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, brought a Texas crowd to it feet hooting and hollering when he announced his support for designating the San Antonio Missions as a World Heritage sites.  While this might have been a little disconcerting to conference attendees and to the other candidates for World Heritage status also attending the meeting, this extra enthusiastic response might be a sign of the rising cachet of World Heritage designation in this country. Read the press release here.

According to a recent article  in the George Wright Forum, from 1960 through its ratification in 1972, the United States played a leadership role in developing the Convention Concerning the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage (the “World Heritage Convention”). Today this document has become one of the most widely recognized international environmental agreements in history and has been ratified by almost every nation on the globe. In the United States, however, the World Heritage Convention has come under increasing attack. During the Reagan Administration, the U.S. withdrew its support from UNESCO, the larger entity that oversees World Heritage designations. Congress also passed legislation requiring 100% owner consent to any world heritage listing, which rules out the designation of large cultural landscapes. And right now, the U.S. has again withdrawn financial support to UNESCO because of the organization’s vote to grant membership to Palestine.

Given this history, it is very heartening to see such a ground swell of interest in the idea of World Heritage and in Texas to boot! Supporters of the designation for the San Antonio Missions report that 80% of the local community is in favor of the nomination. The elected officials, the San Antonio River Authority, and most importantly the venerable San Antonio Conservation Society are all on board with idea. The Spanish ICOMOS National Committee also has offered to help with documentation requirements. Okay, so the number of fans for designating the San Antonio Missions as a World Heritage Site wouldn’t fill Long Horn Stadium, but it is a start.

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