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Landscape conservation design projects advance goals outlined in national strategy for climate adaptation

The innovative landscape conservation efforts supported by the North Atlantic LCC are using the best available science to identify ecologically connected networks of resilient lands and waters, an approach recommended in the National Fish, Wildlife, and Plants Climate Adaptation Strategy.
Landscape conservation design projects advance goals outlined in national strategy for climate adaptation

Al Braden Photography

From rising sea level to changing precipitation patterns, the consequences of climate change will play out across vast geographies and time scales, triggering long-term impacts for both natural and human communities. In anticipation of predicted changes and the uncertainties associated with them, identifying and supporting ecologically connected networks of terrestrial, freshwater, coastal, and marine conservation areas - landscape conservation design - is critical in order to ensure that natural resources and systems can persist over time.  

The North Atlantic Landscape Conservation Cooperative is committed to supporting both the process and products of landscape conservation design, as demonstrated in two pioneering efforts: Connect the Connecticut, a large watershed scale design, and the Regional Conservation Opportunity Areas (RCOAs) project, and a regional scale design. 

Combining assessments of species, ecosystems, and geophysical settings, predictions of landscape change, and an optimization process to identify core areas and corridors, these landscape conservation designs identify opportunities to meet partner goals across an entire geography under current and predicted future conditions.

Connect the Connecticut is a partnership effort to create a landscape conservation design for the Connecticut River watershed that offers a roadmap for identifying the best starting places for conservation — areas that partners agree should be priorities in order to ensure that important species, habitats, and natural processes will be sustained into the future, even in the face of climate and land-use change.

A core team of more than 30 partners from state and federal agencies and non-governmental organizations spent more than a year outlining the network of intact, connected, and resilient places, or “core areas”, that provide the foundation for Connect the Connecticut. In order to capture the links between species, systems, and predicted changes, the partners used an innovative modeling approach developed by the North Atlantic LCC-supported Designing Sustainable Landscapes project at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, along with key information and tools from states, The Nature Conservancy, U.S.G.S. and others.

More than a map, Connect the Connecticut offers a variety of datasets and tools people from all sectors can use to make more informed decisions about managing lands and waters that provide habitat for wildlife, and support local economies and the overall health and well-being of communities.

Starting this fall, partners have begun testing the design and exploring potential applications with their agencies and organizations. Information and lessons learned from the landscape conservation design process will be used to refine the products over time, and can be applied in other efforts.

The RCOAs project is using many of the datasets and approaches employed to determine conservation priorities in the Connecticut River watershed to take the landscape conservation design approach to the next level: the entire 13-state Northeast region. Led by a team of experts from states, conservation organizations, and universities, the project is identifying places where the actions of individual agencies to support Regional Species of Greatest Conservation Need, restore priority ecosystems, protect core landscapes, and promote connectivity between them, will have the greatest benefit for fish and wildlife across the region.

The result of this collaborative effort will be a spatially delineated network of priority areas and accompanying regionally consistent datasets that can be used by the state’s Northeast Fish and Wildlife Diversity Technical Committee , state staff, and conservation partners to inform decisions about protecting land and restoring habitat, and to justify those decisions among their stakeholders and funders.

More than just addressing conservation needs in the North Atlantic region, these projects reflect a national priority for preparing for climate change. The first goal outlined in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Fish, Wildlife, and Plants Climate Adaptation Strategy is to conserve habitat that can support healthy fish, wildlife, and plant populations and ecosystem functions in a changing climate. And the first strategy listed for achieving that goal is to identify ecologically connected network of terrestrial, freshwater, coastal, and marine conservation areas that are likely to be resilient to climate change, and able to support a broad range of fish, wildlife, and plants under changed conditions.

Because they are informed by partnerships, landscape conservation designs are both products and collaborations that can offer guidance for organizations and agencies working at different scales in the same area, and will play a key role in responding to climate change.

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