Skip to content

And Now for the Next Four Years

By Brenda Barrett December 12, 2016
Mount Rushmore National Memorial  Courtesey of: Wikipedia Commons

Mount Rushmore National Memorial
Courtesey of: Wikipedia Commons

For years I have told my family and friends that I am one issue voter and my issue is the United States National Park Service.  Which political candidate is most committed to America’s best idea? Who embraces the vision that our parks and protected areas are part of the nation’s common wealth and should reflect the complex stories that make up our country? What party recognizes that government service has value and that protecting public lands is a collective enterprise? How will a particular candidate or party fund and invest in the now 413 park units and the many national park programs that touch almost every American community? Because these questions are not just about one government agency, they go to the heart of the conservation of our natural and cultural heritage.  As the old saying goes – How you do one thing is how you do everything.

 It is way too early to speculate and predict exactly how landscape scale conservation will fare in the next four years under newly elected president. An earlier article (Landscape Scale Conservation: The Next Four Years) August 30, 2016 examined both the Democratic and Republican platforms with the caveat that these documents are always imperfect reflections of what direction a presidential candidate will take.  Now while it is still early days, we have somewhat more concrete directions from the newly elected President Donald Trump’s 110 Day Plan.

Lamar Valley Yellowstone National Park

Lamar Valley Yellowstone National Park

Energy and environmental protection take up a lot of space in this plan with calls to rescind restrictions on drilling and mining, lift roadblocks to pipelines and energy infrastructure, and cancel our international support for climate change programs. This part of the agenda puts a big bulls eye on all public lands including national parks.  Also of concern is a proposed hiring freeze on all federal employees to reduce the federal workforce through attrition (exempting military, public safety, and public health). Most heart breaking is that this was proposed not for financial expediency, but is listed as number two of six measures designed to clean up the corruption and special interest collusion in Washington, DC.  What does this say to the next generation who want to grow up to be foresters, wildlife biologist or national park rangers? What are we to do with all those Junior Ranger badges?

Print Shop Benjamin Franklin Memorial Philadelphia PA

Print Shop
Benjamin Franklin Memorial Philadelphia PA

So what now? This is still early days and there will be a new Secretary of Interior and a new Director of the National Park Service who will bring their ideas on how to implement this agenda. However, the beauty of large landscape work is that it draws strength from a mix of public and private partnerships. This model of dispersed leadership and support makes it a resilient approach. One that can navigate the political headwinds that may lie ahead. For those of you engaged with cultural and natural conservation work in you landscape large, keep up the good work and double down. And consider joining up with a larger community to advocate for conservation in the spirit of Theodore Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower and Lyndon Johnson just to name some of my presidential conservation  heroes!

Let me suggest some of my favorite places to find like-minded people with powerful ideas:

The Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks    – Membership is open to anyone who ever worked for the NPS and there is a supporter category as those who align with the mission of protecting parks. This small but, high profile organization has an effective record of advocating for National Parks issues from snowmobiling in Yellowstone to defending the agency’s management policies.  Membership is free although donations are encouraged and comes with a monthly on-line newsletter. Contributions of time, experience as well as dollars are always welcome.

Practioner’s Network for Large Landscape Conservation  A broad based coalition established to advance the practice of large landscape conservation across all sectors and geographies. The Network’s strength is in the diversity of individuals and organizations that are actively engaged and who are creating a collective body of knowledge, experience, and commitment to advancing conservation at the landscape scale. Membership donations are voluntary and your expertise and advocacy are always welcome.

Preservation Action  A small organization, but a big advocate for historic preservation issues. The source for the latest information on legislation and policy matters in the field.  A basic membership is $40 and the weekly online newsletter covers breaking news and what is going on in the world of US heritage. In partnership with other national organizations, Preservation Action organizes an annual lobby day in Washington DC in mid-March.

US ICOMOS  Maintaining our connections to global heritage is more important than ever. A membership in US/ICOMOS opens the door to international best practices through knowledge exchanges, scientific committees, symposiums, and the organization’s well respected international exchange program for students and young professionals. Join at the international level and your ICOMOS card will open doors, at no or low cost, to museums and historic sites around the world.

Make it your New Year’s resolution to join at least one of these organizations and give yourself and others the gift of fellowship and advocacy.

 

 

 

 

Share

Thirtieth Anniversary of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area

By Guest Observer November 1, 2016
Crown Point, Columbia River Gorge Photo: Satish, J Creative Commons

Crown Point, Columbia River Gorge
Photo: Satish, J Creative Commons

Political compromise is unappreciated in our culture of late. It should not be so. Sometimes compromise works. Last July I returned once again to the Columbia River Gorge to visit dear friends and relish the beauty of a treasured landscape. Coming back to an old home—I served as Executive Director of the Columbia River Gorge Commission from 1992 to 1999—put me in a reflective mood.

The Columbia Gorge has long been recognized as one of America’s majestic landscapes. It stretches for some eighty miles from just east of Portland Oregon through the Cascade Mountains to the open hills beyond The Dalles Oregon. From temperate rainforest and waterfalls in the west to grasslands in the east, the Gorge is diverse in many things–scenery, topography, climate, botany, cultural heritage and recreation.

Discussions of how to conserve the majesty of the Gorge landscape date back to at least the 1930s. Efforts to do something were almost cyclical for decades. But the Gorge is complicated. It encompasses parts of two states and six counties; is part publicly owned land, but mostly private; includes areas covered by treaty rights of four American Indian nations; holds key communities like Hood River, The Dalles, White Salmon, Cascade Locks and Stevenson; and supports major transportation routes and hydroelectric dams.

By the 1980s concern over development pressures and inadequate land use controls created a turning point. Thirty years ago, on November 17 1986, President Reagan signed the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area Act into law. The Act is a marvel of compromise, worked out through what may appear unfathomable bi-partisan collaboration among the two states’ congressional delegations and Governors. Creative solutions are written throughout the law. It combines public land acquisition in roughly a third of the Gorge with land use controls in the remainder. Growth boundaries are set for thirteen towns and cities but the areas within them are exempted from the Scenic Area Act’s regulations. An intersecting management structure involving the US Forest Service, a bi-state commission and local governments is set up to administer the Scenic Area. Financial incentives for early local implementation are written in.

Overlooking the Columbia River Photo: Sarah McDevitt Creative Commons

Overlooking the Columbia River
Photo: Sarah McDevitt Creative Commons

The creativity of the Act does not mean it wasn’t controversial. For a decade or more, some wanting a national park were sorely disappointed. Some counties and landowners bitterly resented the management plan and land use controls imposed under the Act. Thirty years later I am struck by this: if the Scenic Area Act is judged by whether its broadest purposes have been achieved, it can only be regarded as a tremendous success. Driving through the Gorge I scanned the landscape looking for changes. The stunning scenery of the heavily forested western half is virtually the same. The sweeping walls and hills of the more open and sensitive east are equally unaltered.

This is what the Gorge Act sought to accomplish. In face of Portland metro’s explosive growth—from 1.5 million people in 1990 to 2.35 million in 2015—it is a stunning achievement. The Scenic Area abuts the metro area. It is not hard to envision the changes that would have occurred in an unprotected landscape over the past thirty years. At the same time, the Gorge landscape is not set in stone. Most dramatic to me is the evolution of some of the small mid-Gorge towns in Washington formerly dependent upon the lumber economy. By the 1990s recreation had stimulated economic activity in Hood River Oregon, but across the Columbia the small city of White Salmon (population 2,000), where I lived, lagged behind. Walking around town in 2016 is clearly different. A local brew pub, people at restaurant sidewalk tables, a lively new bakery –all driven by a locally-based tech company now employing hundreds, plus the people attracted to the region’s vast recreational resources.

There is another side to this. Median housing costs in White Salmon have more than doubled since 2000. Teachers report new school hires are unable to afford homes in town. The mid-Gorge’s farm workers likely also struggle with housing costs. Recreation demand is also higher. Trailhead parking lots throughout the Gorge fill quickly. A researcher reported the White Salmon Wild and Scenic River has a higher use by rafters and kayakers than any river he has studied nationwide.

The Scenic Area Act sought to support economic growth in the thirteen small urban areas that conserves the Gorge landscape and enhances recreation. After decades it is remarkable to see this playing out. Still, it brings new challenges to managers and communities: a smaller version of affordable housing issues faced in larger cities; how to manage the huge numbers of people from Portland and around the world visiting iconic sites like Multnomah Falls and Dog Mountain.

Addressing such challenges, collaborating with local, state and federal agencies and tribal governments, being responsive, monitoring how the Gorge is doing, adjusting conservation measures and economic strategies – these things take staff and resources. Unfortunately, the Columbia River Gorge Commission, the tiny bi-state agency charged with stewardship of the Scenic Area, is as constrained in resources as ever. Despite three decades of success in protecting the Gorge, the Commission today can only afford six staff to run a nationally important planning and regulatory agency. Adjusted for inflation today’s budget is less than that of the mid-1990s. This amounts to just seven cents annually for each of the two states’ residents. Not enough to ensure the success of the Scenic Area for the next thirty years.

The Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area Act stems from a period of great innovation in approaches for conserving large landscapes. Like the Pinelands National Reserve in New Jersey, it falls within the “green-line park” movement of the 1970s and 80s. The effectiveness of these landscape-scale conservation experiments is evident today. We need to glance back thirty years and recognize how a forward-looking accord was forged by people working across state lines, parties, and barriers between state and federal government. They knew the Columbia River Gorge was a nationally significant landscape, vital to the heritage of the Northwest and the nation. They knew it was threatened. And they looked to the future and did something about it. Three decades later the wisdom of their actions is clear for anyone to see. To view the success of compromise, just take an eighty-mile drive through the Gorge. We should all take inspiration from it.

 

Jonathan L. Doherty was Executive Director of the Columbia River Gorge Commission from 1992 to 1999. He now works on landscape conservation matters in the Chesapeake Bay region.

 

 

 

Share

National Academy releases report on Large Landscape Conservation   

By Brenda Barrett January 15, 2016
Yellowstone to Yukon Landscape Credit: Harvey Locke

Yellowstone to Yukon Landscape Credit: Harvey Locke

In November 2015 the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) released a report “An Evaluation of the Landscape Conservation Cooperatives”, which concluded that a landscape approach is needed to meet the nation’s conservation challenges and that the Landscape Conservation Cooperatives (LCCs) provide a framework for addressing that need. The NAS undertook the study pursuant to a Congressional directive to evaluate the LCC program.

For those not familiar with the LCCs, the initiative was launched by a Department of Interior Secretarial Order in 2009 specifically to enhance the landscape-level approach to conservation. The intent of the Secretarial Order was to design a cooperative effort to bridge jurisdictional boundaries across agencies within DOI as well as across other federal, state, and tribal agencies and private lands. The LCCs consists of 22 individual, self-directed conservation areas that cover all of the U.S. including islands, and parts of Canada, Mexico and Pacific Islands. A LCC Council composed of federal, state, local, tribal, and nongovernmental organizations manages the network and has adopted an overall strategic plan.

Landscape Conservation Cooperatives

Landscape Conservation Cooperatives

What were the highlights of the recent NAS evaluation? Most importantly the report identified the need for a landscape approach to resource conservation. The geographic scale and the complex web of management responsibility for natural and cultural resources demand a collaborative approach to conservation. And that this is especially true in a time of scarce resources. The committee concluded that given this national need to work at a landscape scale, Landscape Conservation Cooperatives were an appropriate way for the Department of Interior to address this need.

The NAS was also charged with examining other Federal programs with similar goals to assess overlaps and issues of coordination. The report concluded that the LCCs were uniquely positioned to address landscape conservation needs at a national scale, for all natural and cultural resources, in a way that bridges research and management efforts. For those interested in learning more about the range of Federal landscape programs, the report is valuable resource offering a catalog of 20 other federal agency landscape initiatives and providing an in depth analysis of four of them.

Finally, the report stated that after a little more than five years, it is too early to assess the outcomes of the program or to expect to see much in ways of improving the management and conservation of habitat and fish and wildlife species. The evaluation process needs to be improved such that the Network as a whole can measure and demonstrate how they have advanced the goals of the Network and its partners. However, it noted that the LCCs had achieved numerous objectives and milestones, especially related to developing collaborative governance and shared conservation goals.

 The NAS concluded that the LCCs and the LCC Network have the necessary  elements and structure to deliver on the national need for a landscape approach the individual LCCs can point to many early accomplishments, and have made progress toward the LCC Network’s high-level goals related to addressing conservation strategy, developing collaborative conservation, and advancing science for conservation.

The report is an important affirmation that resource conservation must be tackled on a landscape scale. Also of interest to on-the-ground practitioners are the case studies profiling the evaluation and outcomes of some longer running landscape scale initiatives (Chapter 6). These include National Heritage Areas, Pennsylvania Conservation Landscapes, Yellowstone to Yukon, and the Atlantic Coast Joint Venture. The report notes the important lessons to be learned from these programs that have been in existence for much longer period of time than the LCCs. These include such critical components as a unifying theme, strong stakeholder engagement, adaptive management, strategic planning efforts, metrics to aggregate project impacts, leveraging, and a lead agency that provides resources and/or leadership.

 

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine are private, nonprofit institutions that provide independent, objective analysis and advice to the nation to solve complex problems and inform public policy decisions related to science, technology, and medicine.  The Academies operate under an 1863 congressional charter to the National Academy of Sciences, signed by President Lincoln.  For more information, visit www.nationalacademies.org.

 

 

Share

Reading: The Science of Open Spaces

By Brenda Barrett August 29, 2015

9781597269926 3
My late summer reading list included Charles Curtin’s book The Science of Open Spaces: Theory and Practice for Conserving Large Complex Systems (Island Press 2015). In so many ways this is the book I have been waiting for. As the title promises it tackles working on a landscape scale from the ground up with examples from the US borderlands in New Mexico, to the seacoasts of Maine and then on to Ambesoli National Park in Africa. But Curtin is not just a keen raconteur, he also takes a deep scholarly dive into the theories that underpin this work – chaos, complexity and resilience to name just a few.

Do not be deterred by the term “open spaces”. As he use the phrase to sweeping effect defining its use “to invoke not only the challenge of physical size but also of time, ecology, culture and all elements therein.”

Using his broad ranging experiences, he tries to identify the recurrent patterns in landscape scale project across these different geographies seeking out common strategies and ways to sustain them. He calls out the need to go beyond conventional research in ecology and conservation and understand the social dynamism in which these ecosystem exists.

It would be impossible to summarize the range of theoretical mountains that the book traverses as it pursues a foundational basis for the field of landscape scale conservation. So I have just selected a few paths that resonated for me from my observations in the field of large landscapes such as National Heritage Areas and Pennsylvania’s Conservation Landscapes. These include:

  • The importance of local knowledge as the key to how people relate to their environment. And the crucial role place based actions play in conserving and maintaining large landscapes.
  • The multiple challenges of sustaining support particularly funding support for this work over the long haul.The importance of a third party convener or as he calls it a “backbone organization” in providing unity and focus. Someone who can take both a local and high-level viewpoint, after all he notes “…there are limit to what one neighbor can tell another.
  • The needs for diversity of perspectives to tackle the complexity of landscape conservation to provide a wide range of potential solutions and build a resilient system. What he calls distributed cognition is build on the time-consuming process of collaboration and as he states “…there are not short cuts.”
  • The importance of adaptation and feedback loops to success and the need to look at both ecological and social factors.
  • And most importantly the role of power. Curtin make it clear “In building sustainability and effectively conserving open spaces addressing power relationships in not an issue- it is the issue”

Well I could go on and on, and I have not even tried to summarize the book’s theoretical underpinnings. Just buy the book. Every reader will appreciate the well-presented case studies and for those who have worked in the trenches struggling with landscape scale conservation efforts, I guarantee there will be many aha moments.

 

 

 

 

 

Share

Why is Funding Large Landscape Work so Darn Hard?

By Brenda Barrett July 1, 2015
The Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument is part of the Bureau of Land Management's National Conservation Lands. Photo BLM.

The Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument is part of the Bureau of Land Management’s National Conservation Lands. Photo BLM.

The verdict is in. The major land and water conservation challenges facing the nation require action on a scale that is large and multi-jurisdictional. * The benefits of landscape connectivity are resilient habitats, essential ecosystem services and stronger cultural connections. Such large-scale efforts are the only way to address what have been called wicked problems such as the impact of climate change on species conservation and cultural and natural resources. A strong network of partners is needed to tackle these regional issues and offer efficiencies of scale.

The idea is being put into action. A recent National Workshop on Large Landscape Conservation in October of 2014 was a sell out success with over 600 attendees and keynote presenters lining up to speak from every major land managing agency. (Read conference highlights in Expanding Horizons). Federal agencies are rolling out new landscape preservation and mitigation strategies. Nonprofit are seeking candidates for a newly created job category “director of landscape scale management”. Creating new National Heritage Areas is still popular idea with 8 legislative proposals to create new areas introduced in the recent congressional session. Most compelling are the hundred and hundreds of initiatives across the country identified by the Practitioners Network for Large Landscapes.

And yet all of these efforts face the same uphill battle, it is a struggle to gain and sustain funding for large landscape work. Federal programs such as the well regarded Bureau of Land Management’s National Conservation Landscapes that includes 21 national monuments and 16 National Conservation Areas, more than 220 congressionally designated wilderness areas, 2,400 miles of wild and scenic rivers, and nearly 6,000 miles of National Scenic and Historic Trails face Congressional budget cutting or even abolition. Funding for National Heritage Areas has been slashed in half for what seems like the umpteenth year and appropriations for most state heritage area are in the same boat. The new Practitioners network is turning over every leaf seeking dollars to ramp up their work and established landscape conservation networks report ongoing financial challenges. Foundations and donors like start ups and then ask that the work they started become self-sustaining.

Yes, funding is scarce. Federal government dollars for all discretionary programs are shrinking, and states have their own fiscal problem. Funding for charitable causes has diminished in the recent recession. But large landscape initiatives seem to have have been hit particularly hard. Why is this, is it just the availability of dollars? Here are some other possible reasons:

1) The value added by networks is harder to see and claim the credit: Politicians like to dig into shovel ready projects, organizational leaders and agency heads do not feel ownership for landscape scale projects where they are not large and in charge. There is a tendency to back away from the hard work of maintaining partnerships if it is a shared responsibility.

2) In hard times it is back to basics: “We are not talking about Yellowstone, we can’t afford to pay for people to just go to meetings” as I was once told by a not very friendly OMB examiner intent on stripping the National Park Service of what he viewed as superfluous partnership programs. Congress has argued that money for landscape programs would be better invested in repairing infrastructure or staffing individual sites.

3) Landscape scale work has a conservation agenda: The stated reason may be “back to basics”, but the underlying concern can be that these efforts will limit resource extraction, impose historic preservation controls and generally limit somebody’s access to resources.

4) And then there is climate change…

These ideas are interrelated and not easy to disentangle. However, for the growing number of parties who care about the future of landscape thinking and working, we need to start solving this knotty problem.

* McKinney, Matthew, Lynn Scarlett, and Daniel Kemmis. 2010. Large Landscape Conservation: A Strategic Framework for Policy and Action. Cambridge. Lincoln Institute of Land Policy.

Share

Large Landscape Conservation Conference: Read all about it!

By Brenda Barrett February 25, 2015
Credit: Wayne Sawchuck

Landscape in the Yukon to Yellowstone, an initiative which was honored at the NWLLC. Credit: Wayne Sawchuck

Just out is Expanding Horizons,  a report on the highlights of the National Workshop on Large Landscape Conservation (October 23-24, 2014). Not to be missed is the report’s inspiring foreword by Tony Hiss, a New Yorker staff writer for more than 30 years and now a visiting scholar at New York University.

The scale and depth of the conference, a sell out crowd of over 650 participants with hundreds of presentations, cannot be captured in a report of only 40 pages. However, Expanding Horizons offers an overview of some of the most compelling topics in large landscape conservation. Strategies to tackle the need for ecosystem services, the preservation of cultural heritage and intercultural connections, ways to engage metropolitan regions and of course the overarching issue of climate change. Other hard topics were also addressed like how to sustain the work, evaluate and measure results and reach out to the next generation. Conference Keynote Speakers included a high wattage cast: Secretary of Agriculture Michael Vilsack, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, Mike Boots of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, and Collin O’Mara, President and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation. There is definitely some political and organizational heft behind these big ideas.

Finally, one of the best things about being an online report is that the report is loaded up with links to other sources of information. PowerPoint’s, short video interviews, and links to related web sites are all just a click away. So open Expanding Horizons and begin your own voyage of discovery.

Go Beyond the Covers of the Report

Want to become more conversant in the field of large landscapes and connect to others of the same ilk? Two great sources are highlighted below:

The Practitioners’ Network for Large Landscape Conservation is an alliance of professionals and citizens united in building the capacity and sharing information in the emerging movement. Share your story and stay in touch by registering here.

Sign up for the latest information from the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, including free courses and a subscription to the to the quarterly magazine Land Lines. The institute’s mission is to be a leading center for the study of land policy and land-related tax policy throughout the world. It offers publications, web based programing and other educational programs. Check out the latest issue of their magazine, which republishes Tony Hiss’s great piece with gorgeous images.

Share

National Conference Celebrates Innovative Large Landscapes Programs

By Brenda Barrett November 4, 2014
(BB no need to credit)

Happy 30th Anniversary National Heritage Areas at the National Workshop on Large Landscape Conservation.

The National Workshop on Large Landscape Conservation October 23-24 was a sold out success. Almost 600 leaders and practitioners gathered to develop strategies for addressing the nation’s significant land and water challenges on a landscape scale. The conference also took the opportunity to celebrate the anniversaries of two of the more ground-breaking large landscape projects – National Heritage Areas and the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative.

These landmark efforts blazed the trail – demonstrating that large landscape conservation is possible with collaboration, hard work and big dreams.

Steve Guertin, Deputy Director for Policy at the US Fish and Wildlife Service, recognized the two anniversary milestones – 30 years the for National Heritage Area program and 20 for the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative. He offered both his “congratulations and sincere thanks to those leaders who have shown us that it is possible to make the visions that inspire our work a reality on the ground.”

The national workshop also featured keynotes from high-powered conservation leaders such as Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, Mike Boots of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, and Collin O’Mara, President and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation. Presenters shared research and insights that show how large landscape efforts are an integral part of our response to challenges such as wildlife habitat degradation, threats to water quality and quantity, losses of working farms and forests, and limited public access to urban, rural, and wild open spaces.

“Large landscape conservation initiatives are actually working to provide solutions for some of our nation’s most complex environmental challenges, while at the same time enhancing economic prosperity and energy security,” said James Levitt, Lincoln Institute of Land Policy fellow and NWLLC co-chair.

Share

NHA@30: Key Documents 1983 New York Greenline and Urbanline Parks Conference

By Guest Observer March 30, 2014

The 1970’s and early 1980s were a period of experimentation in the fields of conservation, historic preservation and planning. Looking back, what is perhaps most exciting is the rapprochement (integration may be too strong a word) that occurred across these knowledge areas at the local, state and federal levels.

The mixing and sharing of ideas among practitioners in these different fields, in conjunction with the input, organizing and passion of local communities, resulted in the initiation of a large number of landscape-scale projects.

These proceedings from the 1983 Greenline and Urbanline Parks Conference (link is to a PDF-copy of the document housed in the New York State Library digital collections) capture and report back on wide variety of programs, including the New York Urban Cultural Parks, the New Jersey Pinelands and Lowell National Historical Park – all efforts that would be pivotal in influencing the designation of National Heritage Areas beginning in 1984.

Citation:  Proceedings [of] Greenline and Urbanline Parks Conference : held at the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government of the State University of New York, Albany, New York on May 20, 1983. Publisher: Department of Environmental Conservation, Assembly Committee on Environmental Conservation, State of New York.

Share

Wanted: Ideas for the Next 100 Years

By Brenda Barrett August 31, 2013

Centennials are rather a big deal. The National Park Service (NPS) hopes to take advantage of their 100th birthday in 2016 to spark interest in the future direction of the agency.  They have created a new web site to begin the discussion and are asking the public to submit their ideas by October 20th. To share your thoughts on how to mark this important anniversary go to The Next 100 Years for America’s National Parks.

The site also provides an opportunity to create your own discussion groups and post your own comments. The National Heritage Areas already have a number of topics on the site such as examples of educational programs  and some updates on the areas. Large landscape practitioners may want to jump in and in share their thoughts on existing park partnerships and where this movement should be headed in the future.

While many of the proposals for the centennial will be celebratory in nature, this is also a time for reflection. As always the George Wright Society is out in front on this issue. Starting in 2007, the journal The George Wright Forum began publishing a series of Centennial Essays by the leading thinkers on the both NPS today and tomorrow.  Thanks to the society for gathering all these essays in one easy to use location. You can read them here.

The year 2016 will be here before we know it!

 

Share

Five New National Monuments – Four at Landscape Scale

By Brenda Barrett March 28, 2013
A new National Monument on the Eastern Shore of Maryland recognizes Harriet Tubman's contributions to freedom struggles for African Americans and women.

A new National Monument on Maryland’s Eastern Shore recognizes Harriet Tubman’s contributions to freedom struggles for African Americans and women.

On Monday March 25, 2013 President Obama exercised one of the coolest powers of the presidency. He designated five new national monuments. Unlike designation of units of the National Park system, which require congressional action, the 1906 Antiquities Act authorizes the President to set aside public land, or land offered to the government, on his own initiative to ensure the future conservation of historic treasures and natural values. See press release.

Of these five new national monuments all but one, the Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument in Wilberforce, Ohio, preserve large swaths of landscape that offer multiple opportunities to connect to other preserved lands.

The First State National Monument in Delaware includes Dover Green, the New Castle Court House complex, and the large Woodlawn Trust property in the in the iconic Brandywine Valley. The Woodlawn property is 1,100 acres of protected land stretching along the Brandywine Creek in Delaware and into Pennsylvania. For more than a century, the land has been managed as a wildlife preserve and as open space for public recreation. The new monument connects the Hagley Industrial Site (235 acres) and Winterthur property (almost 1,000 acres) both legacies of the DuPont family with conserved land in Pennsylvania. There a mix of parks and scenic easements (40,000 acres) protect the landscape that inspired three generations of the Wyeth family as well as the terrain of the 1777 Battle of the Brandywine.

Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument is on Maryland’s Eastern Shore and includes landscapes in Dorchester County that are significant to Tubman’s early life and places that evokes her life as a slave and conductor of the Underground Railroad. According to the Presidential Proclamation, the monument boundaries encompass 11,750 acres, which includes lands that are part of Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The monument will partner with the State of Maryland’s Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad State Park Visitor Center, which is to be open to the public in 2015.

Río Grande del Norte National Monument in New Mexico is located northwest of Taos. It contains stretches of the Río Grande Gorge and extinct volcanoes that rise from the Taos Plateau. The monument will permanently protect 240,000 acres. The area is known for its spectacular landscapes, cultural resources, and recreational opportunities. The area is already part of the Bureau of Land Management’s Conservation Landscape program and will continue to be managed by that agency.

San Juan Islands National Monument in Washington is a chain of 450 islands, rocks and pinnacles located in Washington State’s Puget Sound. The region is home to bald eagles, orca whales, harbor seals and other rare species. The designation will protect more than 1,000 acres of undeveloped land on the individual islands containing American Indian sites and a maritime heritage marked by lighthouses.

Besides enriching nation’s portfolio of diverse cultural sites and spectacular natural places, these designations protect over 30,000 acres of land with the potential to connect to thousands more. All of the new national monuments received enthusiastic local backing and bi-partisan Congressional support. They offer great opportunities for future partnership at the local, state and national level.

Finally, let’s not forget the small national monument in Ohio that will preserve the home of Col. Charles Young (1864–1922). A distinguished officer in the United States Army, he was the third African American to graduate from West Point and the first to achieve the rank of Colonel. He also served as an army superintendent of Sequoia and General Grant National Parks before the National Parks Service establishment in 1916. In effect, he was one of the first to protect our great landscapes and is a worthy role model to help sustain our work in the future.

Share

Revisiting Leopold: Resource Stewardship on a Landscape Scale

By Brenda Barrett January 31, 2013

Let me start my overview of the recent report Revisiting Leopold: Resource Stewardship in the National Parks (August 2012) by the Science Committee of the National Park System Advisory Board with a fan letter to the George Wright Society.  The organization’s mission is to advance scientific and heritage values of parks and protected areas and to promote the best in research and resource stewardship. It is my experience that whatever the issue, the society is always on the cutting edge.

So it is no surprise that the most recent issue of the George Wright Forum: The Journal of Parks, Protected Areas & Cultural Sites  (Vo. 29 No. 3 2012) is dedicated to reprinting the Revisiting Leopold report in full and providing some excellent commentary by Rolf Diamant and Mary Ellen Hannibal. The original Leopold Report, officially titled “Wildlife Management in the National Parks,” was published in 1963 and was a first in articulating an ecosystem approach to managing natural resources in national parks. For fifty years it has had a major influence on park resource management.  But times change and the new report was commissioned to update the science and the philosophy behind it.  Revisiting Leopold recognizes that managing parks in an unimpaired and unchanged state is unrealistic in the face of environmental change and a growing and diverse population.

For those who are committed to the large landscape approach Revisiting Leopold says all the right things. It notes that every park unit is “embedded in larger regional and continental landscapes influenced by adjacent land and water uses and regional cultures.” It gives the role of culture an equal seat at the table and decries the artificial division between the two disciplines. It calls for the management of resources that is informed by scholarship and science. However, as Rolf Diamant points out in his George Wright Journal article, the new report falls short in the most difficult challenge – How to empower park management to envision and experiment with what these new ecosystems may look like and How to meet the most pressing need for all large landscape efforts to gear up and sustain partnering efforts for the long haul.  Diamant asks that we go beyond science and calls for building ”…capacity in social science, cultural competencies, community planning, new models of governance, and sustainable development. “

In conclusion, this is why I am a George Wright fan. For those who just want to understand where resource management and research is trending for the world’s protected areas then read the George Wright Journal or attend the society’s content packed Biennial meeting.  For those who want to shape this world, then write for the George Wright Journal and organize a session at the conference.

This year the conference will In Denver CO March 11-15.  This is the gathering I most look forward to attending so come and join the club!

 

 

Share

What are the Components of Creative Conservation?

By Brenda Barrett November 30, 2012

Many thanks to Bob Bendick, Director of U.S. Government Relations at The Nature Conservancy in Washington, D.C., for sharing his recent article Creative Conservation: Reflections on a Way to the Future published in the October 2012 of Land Lines, the quarterly magazine of the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy. He makes an excellent point that the most hopeful and innovative strategies for landscape conservation are emerging at the ground level within individual landscapes like the Blackfoot Valley in Montana, the Flint Hills in Kansas, and the Hudson Valley on the east coast.

I know this is true, as I have seen the success of the Pennsylvania Wilds or the Lower Susquehanna in my home state of Pennsylvania. Bendick identifies a number of critical ingredients for these efforts such as working at a landscape scale, recognizing the human benefits, involving the people who live in the region, and mentoring a new generation of local conservation leaders. Government is assigned the role of maintaining a fair and consistent regulatory process and providing economic incentives for the right things to happen.

But can our government do more? With the election behind us, it is time to revisit the vision sketched out by the America’s Great Outdoors and other landscape scale programs initiated over the past four years. Call it what you will, these big ideas can help support local efforts and fire the imagination of what might be possible. I have seen it happen with the Conservation Landscape work in Pennsylvania and the many governmental partnerships in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Theodore Roosevelt’s vision of government as the protector of the common good should still be an important part of the mix.

Do read the article Creative Conservation. It is a great summary of some of our biggest challenges and best opportunities.

 

 

Share

Signs of the Landscape Times

By Eleanor Mahoney August 27, 2012

Hudson River view from Poughkeepsie

A few weeks ago, I drove from New York City to Montreal, Canada. Over the course of four days, I explored the Hudson River Valley, eastern Adirondacks and Lake Champlain region, all among the Northeast’s most iconic large landscapes. During the trip, I encountered a fair amount of signage, identifying or marking the landscape in different ways. What follows are some general thoughts on what I found – I am also interested in learning what others think, have done or have learned about using signage to create awareness of place.

Highway signs:What does it mean to pass a sign, while going 70 miles per hour that reads, “Entering [insert name here] landscape/heritage area/trail/ etc? For most visitors, I would hazard to say little to nothing if (important if) that is all there is! I only have anecdotal data to support this claim, but multiple friends and relatives have told me they passed heritage area road signs for years (in the case of my own father for over 10 years) and never knew what to make of them until I began working for the program and explained its significance. One recommendation I would offer is that these signs link-up to an actual place a visitor can exit and get information, even if it is an unmanned kiosk at a rest stop. So, instead of just “Entering [insert name here] landscape/heritage area/trail/ etc,” the sign should read Entering [insert name here] landscape/heritage area/trail/ etc – Stop at Exit 1 for information.” Obviously, it is impossible to go back and change all the existing signs, but, in the future, it might be worthwhile to consider this approach.

Hyde Park, Home of Franklin Roosevelt National Historic Site

The Importance of Hubs:One of the stops on my drive was Hyde Park, the Home of Franklin Roosevelt National Historic Site. This is one of the most highly touristed sites in the Hudson River Valley and draws regional, national and international visitors. As such, it can (and hopefully does) serve as a springboard for visitation to other interesting, but lesser known, locations. A great use of a sign I saw at Hyde Park was a map that showed the boundaries of the Hudson River Valley National Heritage Area and identified multiple points of interest. Many visitors stopped and looked at the map (always draw people in) and discussed possible visits. In considering how best to create informational signage like this for large landscapes, prioritizing quality signage at a highly visited hub like Hyde Park seems important because many of those stopping may only be familiar with 1 or 2 such sites. Another idea might be to identify sites by driving distance. While it seems less interesting than thematic grouping, it might make more sense for trip planning purposes.

Tourist vs. Resident – One of my favorite stops was a state park near the highway in New York where we stopped to stretch our legs. The park had free parking nearby and most of the visitors appeared to be local residents out for an evening stroll. There was a large amount of conspicuous signage, but no one seemed to be reading it. The signage discussed both natural and cultural history. I wondered, when a park serves residents of a large landscape, rather than tourists – what kind of information is best? Do residents read signs? Are they (it seems obvious) in a different mindset than a tourist who has set out to visit a specific place to learn its story. What are the best ways to generate a dialogue/ interpret a landscape for those who live there, such that they can offer their expertise on the place and possibly learn something new as well in a setting as informal as a riverside walking trail?

Do organizations keep track of their signs effective or conduct cost/benefit analysis?

Have you seen great landscape-scale signage?

Please, share your ideas/thoughts!

 

Share

Landscape of Loss: Defending the Appalachian Trail

By Brenda Barrett August 23, 2012

For many of us folks on the eastern seaboard the Appalachian Trail (AT)  is our National Park.  The trail links communities from Maine to Georgia along its 2184 mile length. It is an unparalleled example of a large landscape conservation effort. It is also the National Park Service’s most successful long-term partnership effort. Since 1925 the nonprofit Appalachian Trail Conservancy has managed  this resource for the park service raising millions of dollars, harnessing the energy of thousands of volunteers  (206,000 volunteers hours in 2011), and partnering with hundreds of landowners.  Today the NPS claims that over 99% of the trail is preserved for the benefit of the over 2 million people who use the trail every year and  for the generations who will be hitting the trail in years to come.

But is it really protected?  Every once awhile the social contract that connects this landscape breaks down. Trails are an inherently fragile resource; they are only as strong as the weakest link. So it is important that we react to what is happening along the AT on the Kittatinny Ridge in Pennsylvania.  Recently the Appalachian Trail Conservancy found out that Berks County officials were proposing to build a cell tower next to Pulpit Rock an iconic site on the AT.  The conservancy contacted the local government owner, Hamburg Borough. Since the property had been deeded to the borough with provisions to protect the AT, the conservancy hoped the issue could be quickly resolved. This did not happen.

Berks County insisted on moving forward with the tower and the matter ended up in county court. Not wanting to wait even for even a judicial resolution, the county recently filed an eminent domain action to take the property owned by Hamburg Borough for the purpose of extinguishing the deed restriction that protects the trail. This act places the whole structure of the AT at risk.  The great thing about the conservancy is its partnership approach to land conservation. The organization saves us all money by caring for the trail with volunteers from 30 trail organizations and by preserving the trail on public land through easements and deed restrictions.  Because of their work, the federal government has  not had to purchase of every foot of the trail.

Everyone including the National Park Service had thought the trail in Berks County was protected. While most of the AT is owned in fee, easements or similar deed restrictions have been considered adequate protection. However,  if local government partners can erase the deed restrictions on this property, it will send shock waves through the length of the trail. It calls into question a cooperative strategy that has worked for decades.

Hopefully, the Berks County Commissioners will rethink condemning one of our national treasures and seek alternative locations for their tower.

 

 

 

Share

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.

 

Share

Landscapes: Improving Conservation Practice in the Northeast Megaregion

By Brenda Barrett July 9, 2012

The conservation movement recognizes the limitations of just of saving individual parcels and creating parks and protected areas to address the big issues of protecting watersheds and habitat. The solution is to work towards landscape scale conservation. However, as the recent February 2002 report by the Regional Plan Association notes “There is little published information on the science and management of landscapes.” The Regional Plan report, which is aimed at practioners who are working at this larger scale, is an important contribution to the field.

With a focus on the densely populated Northeast region of the United States, the report summarizes information from an inventory of over 165 landscape scale initiatives.  It provides a comprehensive examination of their conservation priorities and identifies their conservation challenges. But on the critical issues of improving the practice, the report only begins that conservation. Read the full report here.

Share