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Conservation and Controversy: Agricultural Landscapes of Marin County CA

By Brenda Barrett January 26, 2020
Farming Landscape Marin County CA

The San Francisco Bay Area has an extraordinarily rich and diverse food system that is an integral part of the region’s economic prosperity, environmental sustainability and regional identity. A recent white paper estimated the annual value of the food economy to be around $113 billion, employing close to half a million people, around 13 percent of the region’s workforce.  While Marin County, just north of the Golden Gate Bridge, is only one part of this system, it is nationally known for the quality of its food products. However, not so long ago, the county’s agriculture lands and open space were threatened by rampant development

The powerful book Farming on the Edge: Saving Family Farms in Marin County by John Hart (University of California Berkeley 1991) recounts the early efforts to save the region from over-development. In his foreword to the book, Wendell Berry writes that the success of these open space initiatives “Brings tears to your eyes.” He notes that the landscape would not have been saved if the conservationists and the country people had not made common cause.  And he concludes that his one wish for the future is that there would be more conversation about the value of locally produced food. He opines that “Securest guarantee of the long-term good health of both farmland and city is, I believe, locally produced food.”

Cowgirl Creamery stand at the Tomales Store Point Reyes Station

Written more than thirty years ago, Berry’s dearest wish has indeed come true. Today Marin County’s locally and organically grown products are prominently featured in all the regional farm markets and restaurants. Food tourism is big business. Brands like Cow Girl Creamery are nationally known and the cheeses are so desirable that they have been acquired by international corporations.

Two strategies helped preserve the farmland. First, was the local government’s recognition of the need to act by adopting plans and appropriate zoning for agricultural conservation. Second, was the establishment of the Marin Agricultural Land Trust, one of the earliest land trusts to focus on working lands in the country. Today the trust holds easements on 86 family farms and ranches protecting 54,209 acres. 

Ranch Point Reyes National Seashore

However, the future of one portion of the agricultural lands in Marin is still uncertain – the lands known as the Pastoral Zone of Point Reyes National Seashore. The back story of these now 13 farms and ranches in the northern section of the park is a long and winding tale.  Originally, the idea behind creating a system of National Seashores was to secure access to the coastline near large population centers for the scenic and recreational enjoyment of the public.

This was the goal when Point Reyes was designated in 1962. The existing ranching and agricultural uses of the land within the park boundaries, uses that dated back over 150 years, were not seen as incompatible with the establishment of the park. In the following decades, the National Park Service re-prioritized its attention to include a much greater focus on natural resource protection. The agency and many environmental activists began to raise concerns about the impact of farming and ranching practices on these resources. The debate only intensified following the controversial cancellation of a lease for harvesting oysters in Drake Estuary and the re-introduction of a now expanding Tule Elk herd into the park. Congress has weighed in on the side of continued ranching  and a number of environmental groups on the side of re-wilding.

The debate was framed as cattle or elk?

Tule Elk in the Pastoral Zone Point Reyes National Seashore

Over the years, the National Park Service response to this contentious issue has been to undertake more planning and environmental assessments. A final decision on the future of working lands within park boundaries now projected to be issued in the Spring of 2020. The preferred alternative from these plans seems to be a continuation of use for landowners with many caveats and proposed new measures for environmental protection, elk conservation etc… Seems sensible, but perhaps a more vigorous endorsement of the cultural value of the dairying and ranching with the park is what is really needed. In Farming on the Edge, Jon Hart writes that if agriculture is to survive in West Marin Point then Point Reyes cannot be be excluded – “Point Reyes, after all, had been the heartland, the first and famous dairy district, with the foggiest fog, the greenest grass and the most hospitable terrain”.

Cowgirl Creamery

Today, as when the above was written in 1991, the dairies on Point Reyes constitute a significant percentage of the milk production in the county. Of the county’s 23 dairies, 8 are within the park. This is not just a historic use, but an important part of the regional food web and what makes the region culturally significant. The Marin Agricultural Land Trust supports the importance of these properties for food production. In addition the organization makes the case for their environmental value as a managed coastal grassland for habitat for endangered species, for sequestering carbon, storing water, supporting pollinators and keeping invasive plant species in check

 In conclusion, perhaps we need to revisit Wendell Berry’s 1991 wishes and words of wisdom about the value of a local agricultural economy. “Such an economy would make practical and economic connections between the people of the farms and the people of the city. These connections are necessary, and they imply further connections of mind and spirit.” Decades later one of the founders of Cowgirl Creamery Sue Conley agrees, “The ranches have contributed significantly to the sustainable food scene” in the area. It’s a great model to have working farms in a national seashore, connecting consumers with farmers. There’s a consciousness that comes from being around nature and farming that’s really important to urban life.” 

Unfortunately, this vision of what our parks and protected areas should be striving for is not yet in the tradition of the US National Park Service. Our current model gives a thumbs up to scenery, recreation, natural resource protection, and even historic properties, but there is no provision for living and working landscapes such as they have in Europe and other parks across the globe. Now we just need the National Park Service to add this to the values for which our parks were created.

Note:  For an in depth discussion of the challenges the National Park Service has faced and still faces today, see the excellent book by Laura Watts The Paradox of Preservation: Wilderness and Working Landscapes at Point Reyes National Seashore University of California Press 2016.

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Vatika Bay Maritime Landscape

By Guest Observer August 1, 2019
Pavlopetri site in Vatika Bay, Laconia Greece, Bing Images

 Vatika Bay is a maritime landscape located at the extreme southern end of the Peloponnese peninsula in Laconia Greece. Its marine ecosystem supports numerous endangered and exotic plant and animal species including Posidonia sea grass, Caretta Caretta (loggerhead) sea turtles, Sperm whales and Risso’s dolphins.

 Located at an ancient crossroads of Mediterranean navigation, Vatika has long been a hub of seafaring tradition. This heritage lives on in the modern shipping industry, in traditional fishing villages and through art such as the “Sailor of Vatika”, which overlooks the eastern shore at Neapolis (Visit Vatika, 2017).

 Vatika is perhaps best known as the site of Pavlopetri, the submerged ruin believed to be among the oldest known underwater sites in the world. Studies conducted during the years 2009-2013 by Dr. Chrysanthi Gallou of the University of Nottingham suggested it dated from the 5thmillennium B.C. The importance of its role in history of Mediterranean seafaring cannot be overstated (Gallou, 2008). 

 Given this complex environment, it is not unexpected that the interdependence between natural, cultural and historic layers has resulted in conflict due to competing objectives. The issue at hand is that anchor damage from commercial shipping activities is threatening both cultural and natural resources. Locals report that the anchors of large ships scar the bay bottom and destroy the meadows of Posidonia sea-grass there. Posidonia is the basis of Vatika’s ecosystem, providing erosion control, shelter for juvenile marine animals and a food source for multiple species. Because the port is unregulated, a corollary concern is that indiscriminate anchoring will destroy the submerged archaeological site of Pavlopetri.

Commercial shipping, Bing Images

The issues at Vatika Bay provide valuable insight into strategies in landscape conservation and protection. Furthermore, the escalating response to threats to the cultural and natural resources has been an informative case study in collaboration among local stakeholders and demonstrates the effective application of civil engagement in landscape conservation and protection.

The Harwood Institute for Public Innovation defines civic engagement as an “ongoing process of public conversation that allows people to collect information, share common values, and wrestle together with tough issues where values may be in conflict” (NPS, 2009, p.3). In the case of Vatika Bay public conversations took the form of town hall meetings between and among the surrounding municipalities and resulted in the passage of multiple resolutions calling for resource protections Vatika Bay (Euser 2019). Local attention catapulted the issue to the national and international stages, where representatives of the Greek ministries of both shipping and culture went on record in publicly opposing  use of the bay as a commercial anchorage, and even the Assistant Director-General of Culture for UNESCO at the time, Francesco Bandarin, appealed to the Greek authorities for regulatory protection of the site (Euser, 2019; Chhotray 2017).

Unexpectedly, this public outcry resulted in a divergence of strategies in protecting Vatika’s resources.  Cultural resource advocates relied upon pragmatic local grass-roots initiatives, whereas environmental strategists pursued a more legal and politically oriented approach.

 In 2016 local and international chapters of the Alliance for the Restoration of Cultural Heritage (ARCH) entered the fray and succeeded in nominating the Pavlopetri archaeological site to the World Monuments Fund “watch list” – a list of endangered international cultural heritage sites – and facilitated a “watch day” for stakeholders to come together in solidarity for the cause (World Monuments Fund, 2016). ARCH also kept the issue relevant on social media and began a letter writing program in which shipping companies were engaged directly with respect to their anchoring practices. The correspondence was non-confrontational and aimed at recruiting the industry as a partner in conservation rather than an opponent to it (Bernard, 2018).   

Locally, in an agreement between the community and the Greek Euphorate of Underwater Antiquities, marker buoyswere purchased by private contributors and placed around the site to protect it from anchoring. They also succeeded in having the coordinates of Pavlopetri published on the hydrographic charts used by mariners, and discussions with port authorities resulted in the anchorage area recommended by the Coast Guard being located no less than two and one-half nautical miles from the site (Schultz, 2019)

Posidonia sea-grass, Bing Images

A legal analysis suggested the presence of ships in the bay to be in violation of international laws including MARPOL 73/78 and EU laws including 92/43/EEC (Bernard, 2018). A petition was submitted to the European Parliament protesting the environmental damage inflicted on Vatika Bay and citing evidence from a 2015 Environmental Report published by the Hellenic Center for Marine Research. (European Parliament, 2017). In response, the EU pledged to “draw the attention of the Greek authorities to the need to take adequate measures in order to prevent damage to Posidonia beds from anchoring activities in Vatika Bay” (European Parliament, 2017).  

 Unfortunately, as of this writing the Vatika Bay landscape is still in jeopardy from an environmental perspective. Despite the legal challenges, Greek authorities recently announced the preparation of a special port regulation which, if passed, will provide a legal means for ships to continue using Vatika Bay as an anchorage. The proposed Natura 2000 designation is yet to be approved, and ships continue to use the bay as an unregulated anchorage and dumping ground.

 In conclusion, the collaborative grass-roots efforts of individuals and organizations at Vatika Bay have resulted in enhanced protections for the Pavlopetri submerged archaeological site. These successes exemplify the effective application of civic engagement and highlight the expediency of direct action and locally focused initiatives toward landscape conservation and protection. Conversely the environmental campaigns for Vatika Bay have largely stalled in the purgatory of legislative procedure. Although political will and legislation are necessary for permanent change, this case illustrates the challenges inherent to initiatives based on environmental law and political pressure as they are lost in the muddled maze of national and international bureaucracy.

References

Alliance for the Restoration of Cultural Heritage (2019)Pavlopetri  accessed online 3/30/2019 from https://www.archinternational.org/projects/pavlopetri/

Bergin, T. (2015) The Great Greek Shipping MythHow Greek Shipowners Talk Up Their Role, and Why that Costs Athens Millions, The Greek Crisis, Reuters, accessed online from https://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/eurozone-greece-shipping/                                                                                                   

Benard, C (2018). Letter from The Alliance for the Restoration of Cultural Heritage to Mattheou Dimitrios, CEO, Arcadia Ship Management dated 11/06/2018

Bing, n.d.Freight, Photographic Image, Pixabay. from https://www.bing.com/images/search?view=detailV2&id=15EF8BE5010FEE1C2F8D7B4E6E35FEF552BAE11E&thid=OIP.LW6R5jQjM-cpY3mjCHZHOwHaFj&mediaurl=https%3A%2F%2Fcdn.pixabay.com%2Fphoto%2F2015%2F07%2F27%2F20%2F22%2Ffreight-863449_960_720.jpg&exph=720&expw=960&q=Creative+Commons+commercial+shipping+photos+&selectedindex=207&ajaxhist=0&vt=0&eim=1,2,6

Bing, n.d. Gres-Pavlopetri, photgraphic image, Wikimedia, accessed online from https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/1a/Gres-Pavlopetri.jpg

Bing, n.d., Posidonia Oceanica Portofino 01, photographic image, Wikimedia, accessed online from https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/a/ab/Posidonia_oceanica_Portofino_01.jpg/320px-Posidonia_oceanica_Portofino_01.jpg

Chhotry S. (2017) Vatika Bay Hope Spot: Ancient Grecian City Abuts Marine Abundance , National Geographic, accessed online 03/31/2019 at https://blog.nationalgeographic.org/2017/04/04/vatika-bay-hope-spot-submerged-ancient-grecian-city-abuts-marine-abundance/

European Parliament (2017), Petition No. 11078/2016, Committee on Petitions, accessed online at http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?type=COMPARL&reference=PE-610.664&format=PDF&language=EN&secondRef=02

Euser, B. (2019) Our Story, Ships Wreck Vatika Bay. Facebook. Accessed online 03/25/2019 at https://www.facebook.com/pg/Ships-Wreck-Vatika-Bay-916797861708584/about/?ref=page_internal

Gallou, C. (2008) ‘Between Scylla And Charybdis’:  The Archaeology of Mycenean Vatika on the Malea Peninsula,British Archaeological Reports Series 1889, Archaeopress,Oxford UK, accessed online 3/31/2019 from https://www.academia.edu/1826373/C._Gallou_2008._Between_Scylla_and_Charybdis_Vatika_in_Mycenaean_times_in_Dioskouroi._Studies_Presented_to_W.G._Cavanagh_and_C.B._Mee_for_their_30-year_joint_contribution_to_Aegean_Archaeology_ed._C._Gallou_M._Georgiadis_and_G._Muskett._BAR_IS_1889_pp._292-321._Oxford_Archaeopress                     

National Park Service (2009) Stronger Together: A Manual on the Principles and Practices of Civic Engagement. US DOI, NPS Conservation Study Institute, Woodstock

National Park Service (2017) National Heritage Areas Website. Feasability Studies. Accessed online 4/2/2019 from https://www.nps.gov/subjects/heritageareas/index.htm

Schultz, S. (2019). Underwater Update, Alliance for the Restoration of Cultural Heritage, accessed online 3/29/2019 from https://www.archinternational.org/2019/03/09/underwater-update/

Visit Vatika (2017) Settlements: Profitis Elias, accessed online 3/30/2019 from https://www.visitvatika.gr/en/vatika/settlements/prophitis-elias.html                                         

World MonumentsFund (2016), Pavlopetri Project, Accessed online from https://www.wmf.org/project/pavlopetri

Guest Observer: James Wright is a graduate student in Cultural Heritage Management at Johns Hopkins University. He has a background in maritime heritage and submerged cultural resources, and has worked on projects with the, the Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program in St Augustine Florida, the Florida Public Archaeology Network and the Maritime Archaeological Historical Society in Washington D.C. James currently works with the Alliance for the Restoration of Cultural Heritage on the Pavlopetri project, maintaining a database documenting commercial shipping in Vatika Bay, Lakonia Greece.

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Outsized Threats to Large Landscapes

By Brenda Barrett January 27, 2019

Boundaries of the Landscape Conservation Cooperatives.  Credit Department of Interior

It should be no surprise to readers of the Living Landscape Observer that conserving large landscapes in the current political climate is challenging. While the inevitable negative impacts of the recent shutdown (December 22, 2018 – January 25, 2019) represent the most immediate threats to the management of public lands and federal programs that conserve our cultural and natural resources, the bigger issue is the underlying erosion of landscape scale work throughout our national government.

The 2015 American Academy of Science report “An Evaluation of the Landscape Conservation Cooperatives”, identified the need for a landscape approach to resource conservation. The report noted that 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 times of scarce resources. Only through this approach can the nation address such systemic challenges as conserving wildlife habitat, combating invasive species, protecting cultural landscapes, and planning for climate change.  The Landscape Conservation Cooperatives (LCCs) were designed to provide a framework for federal agencies to meet these challenges. And of course, they were one of the first programs to be dismantled

National Marine Sanctuaires
Courtesey NOAA

Another set of actions that has had an outsize impact on large landscape conservation is the ongoing reduction in public land protections. In 2017, for example, the Trump administration launched a review of 21 national monuments. The most publicized outcome of this process has (thus far)  been the shrinking of Bears Ears National Monument. Within the borders of this monument alone, the potential losses are tremendous – decreased protection for an estimated 100,000 archaeological sites as well sites with significance for paleontology and geology. Even more important, the landscapes of the monument have tremendous ongoing cultural importance for many Indigenous peoples in the region. Shrinking Bears Ears is a lost opportunity to manage part of the country’s heritage on a landscape scale and to do so in partnership with the Native nations that have lived upon and cared for these lands for generations untold. Read more here.

Bears Ears National Monument as well as another Utah national monument, Grand Staircase Escalante, were not the only places that have suffered reduced protection. Protection for marine reserves have also been reduced. Overshadowed by the controversy over shrinking the size of national monuments that protect large swaths of the United States’ western landscapes, is a parallel effort to change the protected status of the nation’s marine resources. While all eyes have been focused on Department of the Interior, the Department of Commerce has prepared its own report to review the size and protection offered to six national marine sanctuary expansions and five marine national monuments. Read More here.

Greater Sage Grouse
Courtesy of the US Fish and Wildlife Service

Less reported on – but also a real calamity – is the dismantling of the multi state effort to save the Greater Sage Grouse. Spurred to action by strong interest in preserving the bird and its habitat and concern about a possible endangered species listing many agencies and organizations came together to protect the species over a large landscape. These efforts to conserve greater sage-grouse habitat were not limited to state and federal agencies. Industry and private landowners also developed means of conserving greater sage-grouse.  The Sage Grouse Initiative  has worked with more than 1,129 ranches to conserve more than 6,000 square miles of sage-grouse habitat in 11 western states. Although hailed as a conservation success, in 2018 the Department of the Interior decided to revise this broadly backed and science-based approach. The proposed changes could have significant and far-reaching effects on sage-grouse in America—specifically by weakening protections on the landscapes the species calls home. Read More here.

Across the board the budgets for large landscape programs have been slashed whether it is the Landscape Conservation Cooperatives or the National Heritage Areas. And that does not even begin to touch on what is happening to climate change research. However, as we start 2019, we do have a few bright spots. Private organizations are stepping up.  The new Network for Landscape Conservation  has dedicated a lot of energy to the effort to bring conservation to scale. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy has launched a comprehensive landscape scale initiative

States are also continuing to support landscape scale conservation. North American fish and wildlife agencies have recommitted themselves to coordinated conservation strategies on a national and international scale. See Association of Fish and Wildlife Organization’s Strategic Plan Goals 3. States like Pennsylvania are expanding  support for innovative Conservation Landscape efforts.  Virginia has adopted  a new Conservation Vision  to guide development on a landscape scale.

 All these efforts are praiseworthy, but we still need federal agencies at the table. A couple of  points to consider:

  • Because of the pattern of land ownership in the United States, large landscape work west of the Mississippi must engage Federal partners. If those essential partners are not engaged in these efforts, the work becomes immensely more problematic. For example, the reduced size of both Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears National Monuments eliminated protected status for more than 2 million acres of land in Utah alone.

 

  • Federal partners bring more than just land ownership. Until recently they brought a powerful voice for a landscape ethic, partnership programs like the Landscape Conservation Collaboratives and landscape programs in the Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management and even the Department of Defense have played a critical role in making the landscape approach work.

 

  • In addition to  other actions the administration has delayed re-appointments to friends groups and Advisory boards. They might as well post a big sign “Not Open for Partnership Business.” Well not completely, the federal government is open for other business such as the business of extractive industries as demonstrated by, increase in drilling permits alone. And these interests have no reason to embrace landscape conservation. Under the current administration there is hardly even a nod to the landscape benefits to the recreational industry or to gateways communities. Issues were on the table during the last republican administration of George W Bush.

Of course, all this makes total  sense, if as the National Academy report states, landscape scale work is powered by the need to address issues like unregulated development, energy extraction, and  climate change.  Seen through this lens, the idea of landscape scale conservation is in clear opposition to the current administration’s agenda.

So, what can we do?

Many groups are tackling pieces of the puzzle by pushing back with activism on specific issues  and if needed law suits– see the work of the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks. Other are working harder to be successful in their own bailiwick such as the Network for Landscape Conservation. But there is also a need to call out this dismantling of critical Federal programs and  partnerships as what it is – a systemic challenge to landscape scale thinking. Perhaps we need a more unified platform, a bigger vessel in which to track the risks to this important work. We need to merge the agendas of nature and culture conservation not just around protected lands, but in advocating  approaches  that engages all partners and incorporate our lived in landscapes toward achieving conservation goals at scale.

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Interpreting histories of pollution

By Eleanor Mahoney October 4, 2018

Street signage in Butte, Montana.

Street signage in Butte, Montana.

During a two-week cross country drive this summer, I convinced my husband to stop in Butte, Montana. At first, he protested, arguing that it made more sense to spend the night in either Bozeman or Missoula, both lively college towns.

Eventually, after some cajoling on my part, he finally agreed, though I admit that it might well have been the lower motel prices along that stretch of Interstate 90, rather than my own entreaties, which focused on Butte’s compelling past and present, that ultimately persuaded him to reserve a room at the local Super 8.

As a student of labor and environmental history, Butte had long been on my list of places to visit. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, Butte and the surrounding region became synonymous with both copper production and union organizing. At its peak in the years before World War I, this part of Montana provided almost a third of the world’s copper – a material that was essential to the burgeoning telecommunications industry. Butte became a boom town, with many sources identifying it as the largest city between Minneapolis and Seattle in the early 1900s. Companies operating in and around the city, which included huge corporations as well as smaller, locally-owned businesses, employed tens of thousands of men and women in occupations that were both dirty and incredibly dangerous. (1) In an effort to improve conditions and ensure that the incredible profits of mining accrued to both labor and management, Butte’s workers organized. By the early 1900s, over 18,000 could claim membership in one of more than two-dozen unions active in the area. Significantly, however, not all workers were welcomed by organized labor. Chinese-owned businesses were systematically boycotted by unions and Chinese workers discriminated against.

The history briefly outlined above would be enough to justify Butte’s inclusion as one of the country’s most significant industrial regions. But, the story doesn’t end there. Copper continued to be incredibly profitable after World War II, with prices reaching new heights during the 1950s. The companies operating in the city and neighboring communities thus had a compelling motivation to continue mining, though they faced a challenge in that the most easily accessible deposits had long since been tapped out. In response, a new method of extraction became the preferred means to access the remaining copper ore – open pit mining.

Before the 1950s, vein mining predominated in Butte. This technique depended on human labor. Workers using picks, shovels, and dynamite dug deep underground shafts, with stations and drifts extending to the ore beds. The shafts were connected to huge iron head frames, which lifted out the ore. Over a dozen of the head frames are still visible in the city.

In contrast to vein mining, open pit mining is a surface-focused technique. It employs gigantic earth-moving machines that remove layers of soil (and trees etc.) on the surface to get to the mineral deposits underneath. A far smaller number of workers are employed using this method.

In 1955, using the open pit approach, the Anaconda Copper Company initiated excavation of the Berkeley Pit. Over the course of the next three decades, hundreds of millions of tons of ore and waste rock would be dug out of the pit, leading the “hole” to grow exponentially. It eventually measured 1.5 miles wide and 1,700 feet deep. In order to allow for the site’s expansion, nearby neighborhoods, home to some of Butte’s working-class ethnic communities, were abandoned with the Anaconda Company buying out residents and business owners.

View of Berkeley Pit, 2018

In April 1982, the pit, now owned by the Atlantic Richfield Company (ARCO), officially closed. But, of course, the story is not that simple. After active mining ceased and the pumps that had been keeping liquid out stopped running, the pit began to fill up. The groundwater flowing in was not only incredibly acidic, but also contained high concentrations of metals, including copper, cadmium, iron, and cobalt, as well as arsenic. Designated a superfund site by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1983, the Berkeley Pit is now the largest body of toxic water in the United States.

The more recent history of Butte is – I would argue – just as significant as the earlier “boom town” period. While a fair number of historic sites (though probably not enough) examine stories of resource extraction in the 1880 – 1920 period, few examine post World War 2 industrial history, especially in the context of pollution and toxicity. We need to understand and debate the costs and benefits of extraction and production in the past in order to make better decisions in the future.

Vistors walking to the Berkeley Pit.

Walking to the Berkeley Pit, which is visit-able.

These stories, which are present in communities across the United States, are by no means cut and dry. The tensions between jobs, ecological well-being, human health and wellness, and corporate influence on politics are difficult and often painful to tell. Yet, they need to be explored.

I believe we need a National Park unit that addresses this issue, environmental pollution and remediation, head-on as one of its primary themes, perhaps developed cooperatively with the EPA. The NPS would not have to “own” the land and be responsible for clean-up – indeed, that would be prohibitive. This would be a partnership site, like many other new units. Butte, home to the largest (in terms of number of buildings) National Historical Landmark District in the country is one possible location (it is also important to recognize all the important work already underway in Butte in regard to interpreting its past and also tracking the current state of the environment), but there are many others. (2) The Gulf Coast, the Appalachian coalfields, the industrial farms of the California Central Valley, the many locations where natural gas extraction is proliferating, all come to mind.

It is time we interpreted this past – it is central to U.S. history. A site or sites that focused, at least in part, on the themes of pollution, remediation, and environmental recovery would do much to communicate the costs of industrial production as well as the resilience of communities and landscapes living with the long lasting effects of toxic waste.

For more information on the Berkeley Pit, visit the detailed website. www.pitwatch.org.

An excellent history of the region is Laurie Mercier’s book Anaconda: Labor, Community, and Culture in Montana’s Smelter City (2001).

1. Estimates put the number of miners who died during the underground mining period as 2,000 or more.
2. There have been efforts to designated Butte as a National Historical Park in the past. Indeed, the New York Times documented these efforts. Timothy Egan, “In it’s Own Decay, Butte Sees a National Treasure,” New York Times, August 30, 1997.

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Nature and Culture: The Journey Continues

By Brenda Barrett August 29, 2017

The voyaging canoe Hokulea'a Credit: Polynesian Voyaging Society and ʻŌiwi TV.

The voyaging canoe Hokulea’a
Credit: Polynesian Voyaging Society and ʻŌiwi TV.

In 2013, the traditional voyaging canoe Hōkūleʻa set sail from Hawai’i on a round-the-world journey using only traditional Polynesian wayfinding techniques, including observations of the stars, the sun, the ocean swells, the winds, birds, and other signs of nature. After a journey of over 60,000 miles, visiting more than 23 countries and territories and 150 ports, the Hōkūleʻa returned to Hawai’i on 17 June 2017. The wayfarers carried a message of Mālama Honua –  a Hawaiian expression meaning “to care for our island Earth” – and gathered ideas to meet the challenges facing our world today.

And so it was in September 2016 that another journey occurred with similar intentions to the Hōkūleʻa – this one at IUCN’s World Conservation Congress (WCC) in Hawai’i .  In the Hawaiian spirit of Mālama Honua, over 8,000 people travelled to Honolulu from around the world to share ideas and learn from each other’s innovations to better address the many conservation challenges facing our planet.

unnamedIn the conservation world, the two faces of nature and culture have become more a dichotomy than a duality. And yet, there is growing recognition that only by taking a more holistic approach can the field address the most urgent issues facing our planet – climate change, urbanization, and the transformations wrought by globalization. To explore these challenges  a Nature-Culture Journey was launched part of the larger WCC conference. It brought together a broad array ideas that touch on the duality of the nature – culture divide. For example, how the World Heritage Convention has shaped our perceptions of the two fields, the role of indigenous communities, traditional knowledge and spiritual values, and the challenges of conserving agricultural heritage landscapes.  While it would be impossible to represent the many threads of dialogue from last September’s journey, an upcoming issue of the George Wright Journal titled Nature – Culture Journeys: Explorations on Shared Terrain is dedicated to highlighting some of these intersections from   different fields and different geographies. The Journal provides a dive into some of the most critical topics where nature and culture merge and is a must read for those who recognize the urgency of taking a holistic perspective for a sustainable future.

March Billings Rockefeller National Historic Site Credit: Nora Mitchell

March Billings Rockefeller National Historic Site
Credit: Nora Mitchell

To read all of the articles in this issue of the George Wright Journal Nature – Culture Journeys: Explorations on Shared Terrain, you will need to become a member of the society. Note that selected content from this issue is available now and all the  content will become available to all readers on line after the publication of the next issue of the Journal.

As a reader of this blog I know you will be interested in this issue of the George Wright Journal and I urge you to consider becoming a member and supporting the mission of the society. The George Wright Society promotes professional research and resource stewardship. As a bridge between science and management, the GWS brings together hundreds of leaders across disciplines in natural and cultural resource management. With members in nearly all 50 U.S. states and numerous countries around the world, the GWS unites a community of Indigenous peoples, resource managers and park staff, researchers, professors, emerging leaders, educators, government agencies, nonprofits and outdoor enthusiasts.

This article draws in part from the work of Nora Mitchell in the Introductory essay to the issue of the George Wright Journal Nature – Culture Journeys: Explorations on Shared Terrain

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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.

 

 

 

 

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A Nature Culture Journey at the World Conservation Congress in Hawai’i

By Brenda Barrett October 1, 2016

September Sunset Waikiki Beach Honolulu

September Sunset Waikiki Beach Honolulu

The Hawaiian Islands were created by a chain of volcanic hot spots in the Pacific and long settled by voyageurs who travelled thousands of miles across open water. The interrelationship and adaptation of nature and culture on these islands by early settlement and more recently by the arrival of Europeans and others starting in 1778 present lessons for the future of conservation. So it was fitting that the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) held its first ever World Conservation Congress  in the United States in Hawai’i. For ten days in September (1-10, 2016) more than 10,000 conservationist leaders from at least 193 countries gathered to advance conservation thinking and strategies around the theme of “Planet at a Crossroads”.  The need to approach conservation at the landscape scale was implicit or explicit in most of the presentations and the importance of looking at nature and cultural in a holistic manner was highlighted at the congress by a track (called a journey) dedicated just to the topic.

IUCN and ICOMOS (International Council on Monuments and Sites – the cultural heritage counterpart to IUCN) co-sponsored the Nature-Culture Journey   and a companion World Heritage Journey at the conference. This special track helped bring together a diverse community of international conservationists who are members of indigenous community groups, working with World Heritage Sites, large landscape practioners, and representing the traditional ecological knowledge of working landscapes and seascapes.  Featuring over 50 related sessions, the journey examined the growing evidence that natural and cultural heritage are closely interconnected in many landscapes/seascapes and the need to better integrate both disciples for effective conservation outcomes.  Both natural and cultural heritage experts face similar conservation challenges in places with complex interrelated ecological and cultural networksoften across large landscapes – and each brings a body of complementary knowledge and capacities.

The connections and insights gained during the journey underscored the need to work more closely together to advance good conservation practice. This dialogue produced a statement of commitmentsMālama Honua: to care for our island Earth that was signed by the Nature Culture Journey attendees at the Journey’s closing reception.  This statement (currently being translated into French and Spanish) will soon be on-line and available for additional signatures. Follow up discussions are being planned for the 2017 ICOMOS General Assembly in Delhi, India. Based on the promising work in Hawai’i, strengthening the connections around a shared interest in nature and culture conservation is an idea that is now on the horizon.

Many thanks to Nora Mitchell one of the lead planners of the Nature Culture Journey for her contribution to this article.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Highway Planning on a Landscape Scale: The Next Generation

By Brenda Barrett June 29, 2016

Proposed Central Susquehanna Transportation Project Courtesy Pennsylvania Department of Transportation

Proposed Central Susquehanna Transportation Project
Courtesey Pennsylvania Department of Transportation

What happens when a highway project long planned to improve the functionality of the overall transportation system runs up against newer approaches of planning on a landscape scale? I recently spoke to this issue at the Pennsylvania Statewide Conference on Heritage   (June  6-8, 2016 Lewisburg PA). The project in question, the  Central Susquehanna Valley Transportation Project (CSVT) ,  was under construction nearby and involved a bypass and a major new bridge crossing over the Susquehanna River. It  was planned to remedy traffic congestion on the one of the state’s major north south corridors and reroute through traffic, particularly truck traffic, out of small towns in the region.  But the project’s history was anything, but straightforward.

Susquehanna Canoe Sojourn Courtesey Susquehanna Greenway Partnership

Susquehanna Canoe Sojourn
Courtesey  Susquehanna Greenway Partnership

Planning for the project began long ago with the Final Environmental Impact Statement on the selected alignment approved in 2003. After project design was underway, it was put on hold due to lack of funding. With the passage of a new funding package in 2013, the project was reactivated. However, during that ten-year hiatus ideas about the cultural and natural values in the region had undergone a substantial shift. The project now crossed through the Susquehanna Greenway , a 500 miles state greenway. This section of the river was now designated as a National Recreational Trail by the Secretary of the Interior. And most significantly, the river corridor was incorporated into the CaptainJohn Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail.  Originally authorized by Congress in 2006, its goals was to help the visitors to the Chesapeake Bay understand the significance of John Smith’s explorations and his impact upon the rich American Indian cultures and to appreciate and care for the life and landscape of this national treasure. The trail now extends up the many of the tributaries of the Chesapeake in Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

When long delayed construction of the CSVT  was announced, all of these new designations brought new partners to the table  seeking to conserve landscape scale cultural and natural resources in the project area – resources that had not even been envisioned in 2003. The traditional transportation planning approach had been to identify individual historic or archeological sites and the specific location of a threatened flora or faunal species and then avoid or mitigate site specific impacts. Now this whole approach was being called into question. In the case of the CSVT compromises were negotiated and in particular minimization strategies were developed to reduce impact on the Susquehanna River crossing, provide additional public access, and offer more consultation on riverfront development in the future.

btn15_mapBut what about the next time?  To begin with we need to recast our perspective to embrace a larger landscape approach. If the one of purposes of planning for infrastructure development such as transportation projects is to do so in a way that minimizes the impact on cultural and natural resources and maximizes the benefit to the public, then we need to stay abreast of the new frameworks by which these disciplines define themselves.

Let’s start with Natural Resources. The field has long used an ecosystem approach, which understands the importance of the interaction of organisms with their wider physical environment. A recent report from the National Academy of Sciences on large landscapes  tackled the central question of the best way to conserve the natural world noting that conservation challenges exceed the capacity of any single entity or protected habitat. Increased urbanization, extreme weather events, and fragmentation of habitat threaten both flora and fauna require that resource conservation take a broad landscape scale approach and build in connectivity for species to migrate and have room to range. So, it is not enough to avoid the spot where an endangered species was last spotted. What is needed is to predict where it is going, where can it thrive in the future.

Things are also shifting in the world of Cultural Resources. Historic preservation practioners know that that the discipline has moved from identifying individual landmarks to considering historic districts and now whole landscapes. The National Park Service has been a leader in calling for this re-examination of cultural landscape approach. Our commonwealth has also been in the forefront  develop ing a comprehensive multiple property documentation for the   Agricultural Resources of Pennsylvania, a good example of evaluating a complex living landscape. It is true that cultural resources are not going to migrate or fly away, but we need to accept that they are more dynamic and larger than our past concepts of what is significant. Cultural resources are best understood in a larger context that tells the whole story.

Finally, Recreational Resources are also being viewed through a wide angled lens.In the middle Atlantic many rivers and stream system are being developed into a statewide network of water trails. Former rail lines and canals are now the backbone of  trail systems running for hundreds of miles across the state. And of course the National Park Service manages National Scenic and Historic Trails system that crisscross the whole country. The most iconic being the Appalachian Trail from Maine to Georgia and a chunk of PA in between. The connectivity of these resources is critical.  Once a trail crossing is severed, it may be impossible or at best expensive to reconnect.

 This new larger perspective presents management challenges, but there are also new regional partnerships to help coordinate these regional geographies. For example, the commonwealth of Pennsylvania is fortunate in having a whole host of such organizations. The list includes multiple National Heritage Areas and a robust state heritage areas with 12 designated areas dedicated to melding natural, cultural and  recreational objectives along with community revitalization goals. The states’ Department of Conservation and Natural Resources has launched 7 conservation landscapes to drive strategic investment and actions around sustainability, conservation, community revitalization, and recreational projects. And the agency has taken a leadership role in statewide recreational resource planning.

In addition, land trusts and other regionally focused land conservation groups have been expanding rapidly – a survey a number of years ago counted over 130 of such initiatives in New England alone as well as the newly launched “Practioner’s Network for Large Landscapes”. The National Academy of Science ‘s 2015 report identified over 20 federal programs that are utilizing a landscape approach in the Department of Interior, of course, but also in agriculture and defense.

There are some difficulties as the older paradigms about place and partnerships have expanded.  Our project management skills and our regulatory tools have yet to catch up to this new way of thinking. While there are no overnight fixes and project planners will always have to play catch up,  I do want to conclude with a couple of specific suggestions:

1) Harness the power of big data – Big data is defined as large (or extremely large) data sets that may be analyzed to reveal patterns, trends, and associations, especially relating to human behavior and interactions. The good news is that this is an area where transportation planners have been early adopters using GIS mapping in particular. But more can be done, for example,  adding the layers for rivers and trails, and other resources identified by partnership organizations. This will provide a leg up in project scoping. To get a taste of what these data bases can offer, take a look at the work of Landscope Chesapeake.  A data base that shows all the public lands and privately protected areas, trails and access points and also links in the conservation partners and state program. What a great place to begin high level 30,000-foot infrastructure planning.

2) Harness the Power of Partnerships – While much talked about, this is not easy to accomplish. And It also can seem like a burdensome add-on to what is an already crowded project planning schedule. But let’s look at the practical side,  effective public input or even better public engagement is both required as part of project planning and can make the project go more smoothly. Many of the heritage areas, land trusts, recreation organizations and conservation landscapes have identified significant resources and developed resource management plans with extensive public input.  They know what is important to the impacted region. This is great way for infrastructure planners to identify potential challenges and opportunities as well as reaching many of people who live on the ground where a project is happening.

3) Harness the power of other programs – Everyone should take a lesson from productive partnership organizations and look for the sweet spots where multiple objectives intersect. And note – this does not mean that one partner pays all – success is when projects integrate public and private dollars along with volunteer energy to deliver better communities. So think outside the box who else might have a stake in the ground? A good way to start is with an interagency approach. Who else is planning something in the region how can their work be coordinated with infrastructure development? What is in their budget and how can dollars be leveraged? High level planning that is open to new ideas is one way of accomplish these ends.

In conclusion, If I have one concern, it is that much of our planning in the past has zeroed in way too soon on way too small geography and then come up with the three least bad alternatives. Perhaps it would behoove us to spend a little more time in the stratosphere  identifying partner and programs that can help everyone be successful and accomplish their respective missions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

 

 

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The U.S. Biosphere Reserve Program: Can the challenges of the past contribute to the resiliency of the future?

By Guest Observer October 25, 2015

 

Big Bend National Park: A Biosphere Reserve

Big Bend National Park: A Biosphere Reserve

It is easy to acknowledge our current state in UNESCO’s international Man and the Biosphere (MAB) program, but neglect to see how we got to this point. As one of the innovators in large landscape conservation, biosphere reserves paved the path for many future landscape-scale efforts over the past several decades. Yet, most people in the United States are unfamiliar with the term, biosphere reserve, or assume the program has dissolved because of its long period of inactivity. While many countries’ biosphere programs have grown around the world, the United States’ relationship with the MAB program has been quite tumultuous. Serving as a role model in the international program in the 80s and 90s, the U.S. program’s reputation was quickly transformed by the skepticism of a few vocal groups worried about land sovereignty and any program associated with the United Nations among other challenges. While this contributed to the downfall of the U.S. program, it is important to look at the evolution of the program instead of just a snapshot in time. For example, there were many factors that contributed and inhibited the success of the program at the beginning and these differed from challenges faced decades later.

Big Bend National Park: A Biospehere Reserve

Big Bend National Park: A Biospehere Reserve

While the biosphere program now coexists among many newer large landscape initiatives, their significance continues to serve as a foundation for other efforts. The long history and evolution of the biosphere reserve program can offer lessons learned for many of these new initiatives such as identifying obstacles to anticipate and offering strategies to overcome these governance challenges. In addition, biosphere reserves’ long history has created an invaluable network of relationships that have strengthened over the past several decades, which serve as a key benefit for newly emerging collaborative efforts.

In a recent attempt to revive the U.S. biosphere reserve program over the past year, there is a renewed enthusiasm for the U.S. to reengage with the international network. However, with a decade of inactivity the U.S. has a long road ahead to rebuild the image of the biosphere reserve concept and gain the necessary support at the local, regional, and national levels. Some of the recent activities have included reestablishing the U.S. National MAB Committee, individual units submitting reviews to UNESCO to maintain their biosphere reserve designation, and engaging in international meetings with MAB constituents. Additionally, Biosphere Associates has emerged as an organization this past spring as a forum for professionals to collaborate on biosphere reserve efforts. Some of these efforts include creating an information-sharing platform, gaining a better understanding of the needs and perceptions of the individual biosphere reserve units, strengthening international partnerships, and supporting the efforts of the National Committee.

It is through these voluntary efforts and support that maintains the momentum for the U.S. to once again become an active participant in the international MAB network. For the program to reach its full potential, the U.S. program needs to learn from its history and also from other large landscape conservation efforts. Quoting from George Santayana, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” For the success of the U.S. biosphere reserve program and new large landscape initiatives, let us learn from the past to anticipate and actively respond to challenges in order to create a more resilient future.

The author Jennifer Thomsen is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Society and Conservation at the University of Montana. She has done research that involved biosphere reserve units in the U.S., serves on the U.S. National MAB Committee, and is leading the working groups in Biosphere Associates. Her research interests focus on large landscape conservation and stakeholder collaboration. To get involved in biosphere reserve efforts or if you have any questions, contact Jennifer at jennifer.thomsen@umontana.

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Mitigation: Now thinking on a Landscape Scale

By Brenda Barrett October 20, 2015

Pennsylvania Landscape Credit: PA DCNR

Pennsylvania Landscape
Credit: PA DCNR

In the world of both nature conservation and historic preservation mitigation has become a hot concept. This is the idea – if a proposed project might have an adverse impact on natural or cultural resources then a series of options should be considered. The first and foremost is always to avoid impacts on a significant resource. The second, if not all impact can be avoided, is to work to minimize such impacts. Finally, if resources will be effected and these impacts cannot be avoided then they should be offset by some kind of ‘compensatory mitigation”. This sometimes can be accomplished by taking special measures at the site of the actual impact. However, increasingly mitigation is being structured in a more complex ways including off-site mitigation in another location or mitigation banks in-lieu of onsite mitigation. A growing trend is to fund regional remediation and/or land conservation using these mitigation strategies.

While on site and even off site mitigation is not new, today it is the scale of the projects being considered that is different.  A vast web of energy projects – pipelines, transmission corridors, wind farms and solar arrays – is being planned to criss-cross the country. For conservation and preservation interests there is general agreement that mitigation for these projects needs to be addressed at the landscape level. However, this brings a host of new challenges.

A recent gathering of the Chesapeake Conservation Partnership highlighted some of them.

  • Do we even know what is important? Documenting what resources will be impacted is essential. Big data mapping such as Landscope Chesapeake  has been making rapid progress, but it also has shown some glaring holes in our information gathering. Without good information, it is hard to make a case for protection or mitigation and it is difficult to set priorities.
  • What about cultural landscapes? All the partners agreed that although many historic landmarks and districts have been identified, remarkably little is known about rural and cultural landscapes. These resources are also intertwined with the concept of scenery, which is not even addressed in most land planning and mapping programs. Finally, in a densely and long populated region like the Chesapeake Watershed, there are real questions of who gets to decide what is cultural significant.
  • How can we assign a value for mitigation purposes? New methodologies will need to be developed to assess both monetary or comparable resource values of impacted areas. For example can the impact a natural resource like a wetland in one place be mitigated by the protection of another property with similar characteristics? This concept is still being tested for nature conservation and has hardly ever been applied to historic, cultural or scenic resources.
  • How could such a program be administered on a landscape basis? Trying to answer this question is one of the goals of the Chesapeake Conservation Partnership  A regional coalition of over 50 diverse organizations engaged in land conservation and related initiatives in the Chesapeake watershed. The partnership has the right players at the table federal and state agencies, local governments, Native American Tribes, and non-profit organizations to start tackling issues of documentation, setting priorities, and ensuring cultural resources get a fair shake. In addition the partnership can speak from a common perspective on what resources need to be conserved and how to expand the financial wherewithal to do so.

This work is still in its early days although the partnership recognizes that they are playing catch up with so many infrastructure projects on the drawing board. But one thing is clear, without a landscape scale perspective, it could not even be imagined.

Many thanks to Chris Miller, President of the Piedmont Environmental Council, Jonathan Doherty, Assistant Superintendent at NPS Chesapeake Bay, Kate Baker, Chesapeake Conservation Partnership Coordinator, Russ Baxter, Virginia Deputy Secretary of Natural Resources, Nikki Rovner, Virginia Associate State Director at The Nature Conservancy, and Joel Dunn, President & CEO of the Chesapeake Conservancy, their hard work  provided much of the backbone of this article.

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

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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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Sapelo Island: Still a Living Landscape

By Brenda Barrett May 31, 2013

Last month (May 18, 2013) the New York Times reported on the sale of a house on Edisto Island to the new Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.  Once a slave cabin on the Point of Pines Plantation, it will be reconstructed as part of an exhibit titled Slavery and Freedom in the museum, which is scheduled to opens its doors in 2015.  According to the article, the building is in a remarkable state of preservation.

The Wallows Lodge, Sapelo Island

The Wallows Lodge, Sapelo Island

But for an even more remarkable preservation story, head south on Interstate 95 and take one of the three ferries a day to Sapelo Island. The 16,500-acre Sapelo Island, the fourth largest barrier island of Georgia, is 97% owned and managed by the state’s natural resource agency. However, the other 3% is the community of Hog Hammock whose residents can trace their lineage back for over two centuries. If you are lucky, you can book a room at the Wallows Lodge.

Built and operated by community residents Cornelia Walker Bailey and Julius Bailey, the Wallows offers more than a place to stay on the island. It offers a seat on the porch in the center of living landscape. Cornelia Walker Bailey, who was born and educated on Sapelo Island, is the community historian. Her book God, Dr. Buzzard, and the Bolito Man (New York : Doubleday 2000) is a already considered a classic cultural memoir of Geechee culture. My husband and I enjoyed the Wallow’s hospitality for two nights in May (2013). We were fortunate to be there for the 147th Anniversary of the First African Baptist Church just down the road and blessed to attend the morning service. Best of all we sat on the porch of the Wallows and enjoyed ourselves.

These special occasions continue to call people back to Sapelo Island. The population of Hog Hammock almost doubled the weekend we visited, but by Monday morning most of the crowd had departed. The five children living on the island were all on the 7 AM ferry headed to school on the other side. Although the locally owned Wallows Lodge, catering for visitors, and island tours offer some economic opportunities, the community’s aging population continues to dwindle. To help preserve and revitalize Hog Hammock, the residents have formed a non-profit corporation known as the Sapelo Island Cultural and Revitalization Society (SICARS). Through the efforts of SICARS, the Hog Hammock Historic District of Sapelo Island was entered into the National Register of Historic Places in 1996. The organization also sponsors a well-attended cultural festival every October.

The gradual attrition of population is a long-term problem, but the community now faces a more immediate threat. Last fall property tax reassessments by Macintosh County raised the tax bills of Hog Hammock residents by as much as 500%.  Appeals have been filed, but the future is still uncertain. The loss of real estate particularly in valuable costal locations is a recurrent theme for the larger Gullah Geechee community.  Communities in places like Hilton Head and St. Simmons Island have been overrun by the development of upscale resorts and gated communities. Other islands like Cumberland Island are protected lands set aside for nature conservation. Today a living traditional community like Hog Hammock is the most rare and endangered place of all.

The Management Plan for the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor  devotes a whole section to the topic under the chapter Land Ownership and Land Cover  (Pages 96-101). However, implementation of the management plan, approved by the Secretary of the Interior on May 6 of this year, is just getting underway. Partners from the National Park Service and both historic preservation and land conservation organizations should be called upon to help conserve this part of our past before it is too late.

To see some wonderful recent photographs by a student at the Savannah College of Art and Design who also enjoyed staying at the Wallows: Visit Annelsie Moore’s Portfolio.

 

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Green Fire: The Landscapes of Aldo Leopold

By Brenda Barrett April 30, 2013

One of the great champions of a holistic view of the world is Aldo Leopold. His slim volume A Sand County Almanac (1949) consistently ranks as one of the most influential “must reads” for the conservation and environmental movement.  The book is a crossover favorite as it integrates both humanistic and natural values arguing for an approach that he called land health.  Ben Minteer in his book The Landscape of Reform (MIT Press, 2006) believes that if Leopold were writing today this would be a very modern message ” …he would frame much of his discussion of land health in the language of ‘ecosystem services,’ those natural services such as purification water, cycling of nutrients, assimilation of wastes and regulation of climate that human communities derive from healthy ecological systems”.

Credit: Aldo Leopold Foundation

Aldo Leopold Shack in Baraboo, WI. Credit: Aldo Leopold Foundation

Books are great, but it was the sense of place that inspired Aldo Leopold’s values and his writing from the mountains of New Mexico to his family’s shack in Baraboo, Wisconsin. For those who want to have a better understanding of this connection, I recommend that they seek out the recent Emmy award-winning movie Green Fire. It tells the story of Leopold’s life by walking in his footsteps and following the evolution of his thinking about the balance of man and nature across the landscape.

The movie is a project the Wisconsin based Aldo Leopold Foundation whose mission is to inspire an ethical relationship between people and land through the legacy of Aldo Leopold. It has been shown in special screenings, in conferences, and now on PBS stations across the nation. For show times visit the web site at www.greenfiremovie.com. For how you can become involved in foundation’s Land Ethic Leadership program go here.

Movies are a great medium for telling conservation and landscape scale stories where images help carry the message. So I am surprised that there are so few examples. Two documentaries with strong historical footage are the Greatest Good (A history of the US Forest Service 2006) and The Life of Maurice K. Goddard (WITF 2010), which can be watched on streaming video.   Also see an earlier LLO post on Maurice Goddard here.

Enjoy!

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Finding a fit for cultural landscapes: Is it “preservation” or “conservation”?

By Guest Observer April 30, 2013

By Paulette Wallace

As an offshore visitor attending the recent George Wright Society conference: “Protected areas in a changing world,” in Denver in March, I was pleasantly surprised by the number of sessions focus sing on the cultural elements of protected areas management. What made the presentations all the more exciting was that the concept of “cultural landscapes” was a frequent topic of discussion. On at least three occasions, (and despite the sequester), I heard of the United States National Park Service’s efforts to revitalize the toolkit it employs for the identification and management of cultural landscapes. As part of how this “revitalization” might be enacted, US Park staff were working to have cultural landscapes included as a distinct property type within the National Register of Historic Places criteria. It was also conveyed that staff were working to enable greater recognition of National Heritage Areas for cultural landscape management.

Yet, while these initiatives were widely supported, Hugh Miller, a stalwart of the cultural landscape movement in the United States, drew attention to the view that any innovation for the identification and management of cultural landscapes is impeded by the existence of “preservation” at the heart of the US Park Service’s system of cultural resource management. My interpretation of preservation recognises that the term has traditionally been concerned with properties and districts of architectural and/or historical significance. The term is fabric focused and suggestive of minimising change to the original configuration, arresting the tangible to a certain point in time, and closing the heritage item off to all external forces. People’s feelings and ideas of connection to place do not automatically associate with my ideas of what preservation encompasses. This kind of understanding of preservation does not lend itself to the concept of cultural landscapes where change is inherent, and where cultural landscapes look to the future with an eye to the past, rather than capturing a date, or era from that past.

In contrast, “conservation” is the guiding term that I am familiar with in my part of the world. In Australia and New Zealand our heritage management systems are led by “conservation” – “conservation” is not the same thing as “preservation”. Rather than focusing on arresting change, conservation connotes a more processual approach to caring for heritage for the future. Conservation also seems to be more open and connected to cultural significance – people’s feelings and connections to place. To conserve is to accept that change and progress may be necessary. It is perhaps also a term that sits more easily across the natural and the cultural, and one which might also be more aligned with indigenous heritage perspectives.

Therefore, if our understandings of what heritage involves in today’s “changing world” are growing exponentially to mirror the mounting complexity and diversity of surrounding social and economic forces, then the ways and means for managing that heritage also necessitates a more open and inclusive approach. Cultural landscape provides a useful tool, yet at the same time it is restricted by falling under the direction of preservation. If the US Park Service is serious about cultural landscapes to support the management of the vernacular, ethnographic, and the indigenous, in addition to the more standard historically designed landscapes, than perhaps cultural landscapes needs to function as a management category that sits between “Natural Resource Management” and “Cultural Resource Management”. Then if this could be achieved, there needs to a further adjustment of the terminology to support “Bio-Cultural Landscapes” as the section heading.

Paulette Wallace is a PhD Candidate at Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia. Her research is investigating how the major parks agencies in New Zealand, Australia, Canada and the United States of America are engaging with the concept of cultural landscapes for heritage management. Paulette worked as a historic ranger for the New Zealand Department of Conservation before moving to full-time study in March 2011.

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Secretary Salazar and Large Landscapes – A Fine Legacy

By Eleanor Mahoney January 31, 2013

In 2012, Sec. Salazar signed the designation of connecting components to the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail, with Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley on the left and NPS Director Jon Jarvis on the right. The Smith Trail represents two of the departing Secretary’s priorities – large landscape conservation and water trails. Photo: National Park Service

Earlier this month, Secretary Ken Salazar announced that he would be retiring from the Department of the Interior (DOI) by the end of March. Salazar, a Democrat who served for the entirety of President Obama’s first term, had previously been a Senator from his home state of Colorado. In declaring his intent to leave the administration, Salazar joined several other departing high profile figures on the “environment” team, including Lisa Jackson, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, and Jane Lubchenco, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Administrator.

Salazar’s legacy will likely hinge on the impacts of his energy policies, including the DOI’s handling of the Deep Water Horizon disaster and subsequent re-vamping of drilling safety standards, as well as his support for renewable energy projects on public lands and his role in settling Cobell vs. Salazar. However, he also should be recognized for his commitment to the field of large landscape conservation, in particular his emphasis on collaborative models and public-private partnerships.

Shortly after taking office in 2009, Salazar began discussing the idea of a “Treasured Landscape” initiative aimed at bringing diverse stakeholders together to conserve both federal and private lands. Based on experience with Great Outdoors Colorado, the Secretary and his staff hoped to draw support from local, state and national government agencies as well as nonprofit entities like land trusts and the private sector.  The program suffered negative publicity within a year however, owing to the leak of an internal departmental memo outlining potential future National Monument designations on Bureau of Land Management Lands in the West.  A testy exchange with members of Congress followed (this press release from Congressman Bob Bishop of Utah gives a bit of the tone) and, whatever the veracity of the document or its plans, the leak made “treasured landscape,” a dirty word and undoubtedly slowed momentum on some aspects of the program.

In late 2010 and 2011, attention shifted to the America’s Great Outdoors (AGO) Initiative. Launched by the President himself, the AGO directed the Secretaries of the Departments of the Interior and Agriculture, the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality to develop a joint conservation and recreation agenda based on input from the public. There followed a series of 51 listening sessions held across the country, an effort that ultimately engaged more than 10,000 participants in live sessions and generated more than 105,000 comments. Key points that emerged from the meetings as identified in a summary report included:

  • A need for accessible parks and green spaces for children
  • Enhanced support for urban parks and community green spaces.
  • More funds for river restorations and recreational “blueways,” which contribute to economic revitalization
  • Support for farmers, ranchers, and private landowners that help protect rural landscapes and provide access for recreation
  • Reinvestment of revenues from oil and gas extraction into the permanent protection of parks, wildlife habitat, and access for recreational activities
  • A 21st century conservation ethic that builds on local ideas and solutions for environmental stewardship and connecting to our historic, cultural, and natural heritage

In late 2012, Salazar signed a Secretarial Order establishing a formal AGO program within the DOI. The Order identified projects in all 50 states and included a list of landscapes of significance (take a look here), with a focus on working lands, rivers and urban parks. The Secretary also recently oversaw the establishment of a network of National Water Trails and the National Blueways System to conserve and promote outdoor recreation on key rivers. In addition, during Salazar’s tenure, the US Fish and Wildlife Service started the Landscape Conservation Cooperative program and the National Park Service committed to making “Scaling Up” a key point in its 2012 Call to Action.

Not a bad legacy for four years on the job!

So what is next? The short list of candidates is already growing. Whom would you nominate? Share your thoughts!

 

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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.

 

 

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Taking on Large Landscape Conservation in the Amazon – Part II

By Guest Observer October 30, 2012

In Part I of this series, Amy Rosenthal described the current challenges for environmental and human health in the southwest Amazon. In Part II, she addresses some of the most promising solutions.

What can we do?

First, we need to admit that we don’t know the single right answer – the silver bullet that will shift the balance between development and environment from discord to harmony. Challenges continue to confront the region, and solutions elude us. But, we can point to some early successes at the landscape scale that can be sustained and replicated.

The Amazon Conservation Association (ACA), a consortium of Peruvian, Bolivian, and U.S. conservation organizations with a joint mission, is at the forefront of this work. In 2008, ACA pioneered an innovative strategy to address the changes on the landscape and the threats to the Amazon forest and human welfare. Bringing together a range of stakeholders from civil society, government and private industry, the team laid out a plan to avoid or minimize each threat at a scale that could preserve the benefits from nature that people and animals depend on: pure drinking water, clean air, plentiful and healthy fish, access to forest products like Brazil nuts, stable water supply, forest landscapes that protect from flooding and erosion, and natural beauty that gives us peace of mind, opportunities for recreation, and potential income from tourism.

The MAP[i] plan takes on threats at multiple scales – from the local to regional – by relying on a landscape approach. It incorporates several strategic areas of work:

  • seeding and supporting smart policy – locally to nationally,
  • engaging local communities through education and organization,
  • fostering and investing in sustainable economic activities and sectors, and
  • directly protecting critical resources through conservation and improved land management.

What does the MAP plan look like?

To communities, it looks like a new community-managed forestry and agro-forestry systems – including 185,000 trees planted by ACA staff and communities in the Andean highlands and, in the Amazonian lowlands, 38,000 new trees and 80 families trained to care for them and earn revenue from native fruits and fibers.

To the local government, it looks like workshops to train representatives on the newest techniques and international policies they can now take advantage of and technical support developing maps for new regional parks – of which there are now more than 15 created or proposed.

To sustainable industry, it looks like improved management and quality control for supply that can now be sold for better prices locally and overseas – including dryers and processing plants for several associations of Brazil nut harvesters that serve 509 Brazil nut concessions on 600,000 hectares of forest, managed by 420 families.

To indigenous groups, it looks like more sovereignty over their traditional lands and more protection for their resources from invaders – including 2 new indigenous areas for the Wachiperi and Q’eros groups, and several more that are proposed.

To tourists, it looks like natural bounty never before seen: Forests full of exotic, rare birds – over 1000 species. Meadows of brightly colored butterflies and frogs. Hundreds of fresh, juicy tropical fruits. Waterfalls, cliffs, and blankets of forests. And, Indigenous-led tourism that showcases their rich cultural traditions. This includes more than 5 new tourism sites, focused on cultural tourism, science tourism, and ecotourism.

To those of us in environmental conservation, it looks like a new model – one that creates a holistic program that is greater than the sum of its parts. A model that creates allies from business, government, and communities, rather than enemies. One that has to potential to be built – albeit through great labor and skill – brick by brick into a new system for the southwest Amazon.

ACA calls it a mosaic-based conservation corridor initiative. On a map, like the one below, it looks like a patchwork of areas that radiate from a core – a trifecta of some of Peru’s most treasured protected areas: Manu National Park, Alto Purús National Park, and a National Reserve for uncontacted indigenous peoples. These corridors connect ecosystems that create spillover benefits for people – the clean air and water, the natural beauty and forest products mentioned above, as well as desperately needed stores of carbon to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and slow climate change – which also provide critical habitat for many species, including the jaguars, arapaima, Shihuahuaco trees and harpy eagles, and peccaries that have been under threat.

The three corridors are made of conservation areas – managed by government, communities, or civil society – and zones dedicated to sustainable uses, like agroforestry, Brazil nut harvest, fish farming, community forestry, and ecotourism. And each corridor is designed to confront a different set of threats and opportunities. The ManuTambopata Corridor limits the negative social and environmental impacts of the new Interoceanic Highway and destructive mining. The Castaña Corridor secures habitat for jaguars and traditional livelihoods for Brazil nut harvesting communities under threat from rapid in-migration, logging, and ranching interests. And the Andean Cloud Forest Corridor runs an elevational gradient from the lowlands to the tips of the glaciers to give people, plants, and animals refugia under the hard-to-predict changes of global warming (or, as I’ve heard it referred to, “global weirding”).

Although I’m really excited about these efforts, I can’t claim that the problem has been solved. We still face bureaucratic hurdles to managing corridors since they have no legal status in Peru and Bolivia. The forces that are degrading environmental and human health continue to multiply, and the partners that make the MAP plan a reality are comparatively resource-poor and politically weak. And, in some cases, there remain tradeoffs that can’t be harmonized among the immediate needs of people and the environment. If we want final solutions, we need to figure out ways to change the systems in which these activities are embedded. And, we’ll need to band together to push for the institutional building blocks that can make efforts like these accessible and sustainable over the long-term.

For more about these initiatives, check out Amazon Conservation Association or an upcoming article in the journal Ecological Restoration.

 


[i] Madre de Dios, Peru; Acre, Brazil; Pando, Bolivia. This is the southwest Amazon region, which faces similar threats and communities, outlined in Part I of this post. ACA’s MAP plan also includes critical initiatives in Cusco, Peru.

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N.Y. the Vanguard of Conservation

By Paul Bray October 21, 2012

Hudson River Greenway

Conservation of nature and heritage is important to having both good places to live and to leaving a better legacy for future generations. New York has done well in conservation, better than most people realize.

Bob Bendick, a former deputy commissioner with the state Department of Environmental Conservation and now director of U. S. Government Relations at The Nature Conservancy, recently wrote an article titled “Creative Conservation: Reflections on the Way to the Future.” It can be found on the Lincoln Institute website . It reinforced my belief that we have been in the vanguard of conservation for a long time.

Bendick advocates moving beyond the “100-year-old debate between conservationist John Muir and forest manager Gifford Pinchot.” This debate was about choosing between protecting nature for its intrinsic value, as we do in national and state parks, or being utilitarian and practicing sustained harvesting of forests, as we do other places.

It was simpler when conservation solutions could focus on specific places like creating a particular park. Today the health of land, air and water is at stake and impacts of threats like global warming mean every place needs some form of management.

Conservation organizations like The Nature Conservancy are working at the landscape scale. A little more than a decade ago, The Nature Conservancy would concentrate on small areas of habitat to protect endangered species like the Karner blue butterfly in Albany’s Pine Bush. It has changed its focus to whole landscapes or what it now calls “whole systems.” Disconnected pieces of natural systems often do not survive. Nor does nature thrive just by being in traditional gated parks separated from their ecosystem.

This more holistic approach is spreading according by people like Bendick into “a nationwide movement of landowners, government agencies, nonprofit organizations and community groups working together to protect the places they value, such as the Blackfoot Valley in Montana, the Flint Hills of Kansas, and the Connecticut and Hudson River valleys in the East.”

Bendick’s strategies for creative conservation are not new in New York. We have examples of working at landscape scale for more than a century starting with the creation of the “forever wild” Forest Preserve in 1885, the vast Adirondack Park in 1892 and the Catskill Park in 1904. Our natural landscapes were celebrated in the 19th century by the Hudson River School of Artists.

Now we have the Hudson River Greenway, the Hudson River National Heritage Area and the Hudson River Estuary program all working at landscape scale to protect the environment and serve human needs in the Hudson Valley.

The state’s innovative state heritage area program was established to achieve management goals for the amalgam of natural and cultural resources both cities as well as regions like the Concord grape region in western New York.

Former Gov. Mario M. Cuomo said in a speech at a National Park Service conference in 1991 that the Adirondack Park is “home to thousands of residents and welcomes millions of visitors a year, but at the same time retains much of the majesty the Iroquois knew a century ago.” He declared “the greenway, I hope, will become New York’s emerald necklace — a place where the resources of one community become the resources of a broader community, where the value of the whole transcends the sum of the parts.”

Inspired by this legacy of working at an ecosystem scale, Rep. Paul Tonko has introduced legislation in Congress to establish a five-state Hudson-Mohawk Basin Commission encompassing the Mohawk River and Hudson River valleys and the New York Harbor.

Creative conservation is not new to us. We should be proud of our conservation achievements and take more advantage of our having had the foresight to protect and celebrate the large landscapes and heritage areas that are increasingly being valued.

Paul M. Bray was the founder of the Albany Roundtable – Read more and see this article in the Albany Times Union

 

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