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Regional landscape conservation design efforts take key next steps forward

As partners in the Connecticut River Watershed Landscape Conservation Design Pilot test the final design product, representatives from the Northeast states begin the process of identifying Regional Conservation Opportunity Areas.

The Connecticut River Landscape Conservation Design Pilot

The Core Team of the Connecticut River Watershed Landscape Conservation Design pilot project, representing over 30 Federal and State agencies and conservation organizations, met on May 1 to celebrate the team’s accomplishments over the past year and determine the next steps for implementing a long-term, strategic plan for conserving wildlife and ecosystems in the 7.2 million acre watershed.

The team has reached an important milestone in nearing completion on the final package of data products.  Specific products include a mapped network of core areas and connecting pathways that represent the highest priorities for terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems and species, information about how future change from climate and development will affect the landscape, and a watershed-wide prioritization for restoration projects, such as culvert upgrades.

These products provide new analysis tools to support local and regional decisions about conserving wildlife habitats and other important lands and waters in the watershed. Together the products offer agencies, organizations, and local communities a resource that can help them meet their own resource objectives more strategically, while simultaneously contributing to regional conservation goals.

The Core Team members, together with their partner organizations, are the ideal group to test the applicability of the tools. Members are currently reviewing and using the products within their organizations, and with their partners, and will be sharing the results with the full Core Team over the next month. Once the review process is complete, the team will refine the data products and roll out a final landscape conservation design product for the watershed.

Regional Conservation Opportunity Areas

What areas in the Northeast represent the best opportunities for states to protect core landscapes, enable wildlife connectivity, restore threatened ecosystems, and support Regional Species of Greatest Conservation Need and associated habitats?Credit: USFWS

That’s the question representatives from the Regional Conservation Opportunity Areas (RCOA) team are working to address through the RCOA project - an effort to develop a landscape conservation design for the Northeast that reflects conservation priorities shared throughout the region.

During a three-day workshop hosted by the North Atlantic Landscape Conservation Cooperative in mid March, the team of scientists representing states and other North Atlantic LCC partner organizations met to work through decisions needed to lay the groundwork for long-term success in a project with a far-reaching vision.  

The ultimate product of the RCOA effort will be a spatially delineated network of areas within the Northeast where actions to support fundamental objectives are most likely to have the greatest impact.  But before the team can begin to determine where these areas will be, they need to figure out what information and approaches they will use to identify them. To that end, the March workshop focused on developing a sound methodology for selecting areas that will contribute to realizing overall project objectives by refining a list of recommended modeling approaches that could be used to meet them.

The RCOA project evolved from foundational efforts of the Northeast Fish and Wildlife Diversity Technical Committee to identify a list of regionally important species that could inform State Wildlife Action Plans. That list has since been updated, and continues to inform the RCOA process, both through modeling species habitats and developing datasets for those species and their habitats in all of the Northeast states.

Moving forward, the next step for the RCOA initiative is to develop and test recommended alternatives that all of the team members agreed upon, and to refine them further to reflect each state’s specific needs. 


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