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Practicing Large Landscape Conservation: Can You Say that Again?

By Brenda Barrett July 30, 2013

The benefits of working at a regional scale are many and the large landscape work is being re-invented and reformulated all over the country, but  it is not always easy to explain how to operationalize this approach. The challenge of describing the process came home to me three times in the last two weeks, when I was called upon to explain, “So how does this work, again?”

So I decided to try and decode the large landscape approach by drafting a checklist of the common elements. The ones that show up over and over again in most landscape scale projects.  It seems that to be successful – you need to:

1)     Start with the Big Picture – To bring together communities and organizations at such a large scale, you need a compelling reason. What can help, as one observer noted, is a “regional storyline”. For example, heritage areas have done a good job of bringing together diverse people to tell authentic American stories. When thinking about a large landscape, always follow the resource whether it is a watershed, a mountain range, or the cultural resources that define a sense of place.

2)     Engage the Community – To understand both the landscape and the steps that can be taken to conserve it, ask the people who live there. They can ground truth the storyline and point the way to future opportunities. Nobody likes to be surprised, so plan to take your time on this part of the process. Always be on the look out for partners, who are interested in stepping up to the plate.

3)     Set Some High Level Goals – To make things happen, you need to have defined objectives. These should be specific enough to seem achievable, but general enough that they attract multiple partners.   The secret to effective landscape scale work is aligning the dollars and sweat equity of many partners to achieve a common goal.  

4)     Take Early Action – To build momentum for a landscape size projects, you need to be action oriented. Partnering is a skill that improves with practice. So get everyone’s hands in the dirt. Accomplish something that region has always wanted, to do but has just needed a little extra effort. Look for projects that cross traditional boundaries and bring in new partners.

5)     Sustain a Central Core or Hub – To continue any large landscape effort, somebody has to make it a priority. Somebody has to get up every morning and say, “how can I advance the work”.  Networks of partners thrive when they are tended by good communication and some incentives for good behavior. An effective core entity or hub needs to be a special purpose organization that is considered an honest broker, one, which will put the interest of the landscape first. And most difficult in this financial environment, one that is not always competing for funding with the other regional partners.

What is so exciting about the large landscape movement today is that recent research shows that it really does work.  The movement should take heart — not only from the growing numbers of initiatives*, but from new evidence that documents the effectiveness of our hard work. Many thanks to the National Park Service’s Chesapeake Bay Office, Conservation Study Institute, and National Heritage Area Program, and others in the academy for tackling  this important research.  To access a bibliography see: Research on the Effectiveness of Large Landscape Conservation

In the end the most important thing is to put this research into action.  It is the networks of practioners like the Alliance of National Heritage Areas  and the Large Landscape Practioners Network that are central to the future of the movement. So join in the conversation and share your ideas on what are the core principles of this new way conserving the landscape.

 

*For an inventory and analysis of large landscape efforts:

 In the Northeastern United State see:  Landscapes: Improving Conservation Practice in the Northeast Megaregion (Regional Plan Association 2012)

In the Rocky Mountain West see: Large Landscape Conservation in the Rocky Mountain West (Center for Natural Resources and Environmental Policy 2013)

 

 

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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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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.

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Newly Released Report on Landscape Conservation finds that Size Matters

By Brenda Barrett April 1, 2012

It is all the rage these days to convey information with “big” numbers and the just released report by the Regional Plan Association (RPA) is no exception. The report “Landscapes: Improving Conservation Practice in the Northeast Megaregion” uses state of the art mapping and statistics to look at large landscape conservation initiatives in the densely developed 13 states of the Northeast.

These initiatives seek to protect vital natural and cultural resources in a region of over 72 million people. While they vary in scale and in organizational structure, they share a whole systems approach that is both multi-jurisdictional and multi-objective. The new report makes recommendations for improving these large conservation efforts that stretch across city and state boundaries including how to address governance questions, ensure adequate financial resources, and create tools for measuring the impact of these regional efforts.

So let’s go back to the numbers.  The number of large landscape projects launched in the last couple of decades in the Northeastern United States as reported by the Regional Plan Association 165, the number of designated National Heritage Areas 49, the number of areas that want to become National Heritage Areas – even in this congressional environment – more than 12, and the number of Conservation Landscapes Initiatives underway right now in Pennsylvania 7.   The number of large landscape projects across the nation, well that is anyone’s guess!

To assist this new movement, the Regional Plan Association is  funding a peer exchange program in the fall of 2012 for qualified, non-profit organizations. The program will pair emerging landscape initiatives with more established projects in a series of workshops across the Northeast. Landscape scale conservation also will be the topic of a  conference scheduled for June 2012 in New York City.

So, by whatever trend-spotting metric you prefer, large landscapes is a growing field. Across the nation, the idea of working on a regional scale by engaging a multiplicity of partners and funding sources is being proposed and, in many cases, acted upon. But, while the program frameworks are different, the critical ingredients are often similar and so are the challenges. In the current political climate, the value of any project that does not deliver direct benefit on the ground (and even some that do!) can expect to be challenged. How to fund the infrastructure of partnerships and how to measure believable outcomes on a large landscape scale is the big question? And if your landscape project has not been asked this question yet, it is coming your way.

 

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