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)