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Newly Released Report on Landscape Conservation finds that Size Matters

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.