Let’s say you’re the head of a land trust with a detailed map outlining the network of lands and waters you need to protect so that fish, wildlife, and natural splendor may endure in your community for generations to come. If the next town over decided to site a housing development on priority habitat just beyond your group’s boundary, would that affect wildlife movement within? Would you even learn about the plan in time to suggest an alternative?
The 12 Rivers Initiative isn’t waiting for the ominous rumble of bulldozers in the distance. Last year, the Maine-based conservation partnership applied for a grant from the Open Space Institute (OSI) to reexamine their long-term conservation planning through the lens of regional climate data. The objective wasn’t just to refine conservation priorities within their boundaries; it was to better align with conservation priorities outside of them.
“We saw this as an opportunity to approach land trusts at the edges of our landscape to talk about where conservation corridors should go once they leave our map,” said Anna Fiedler, Director of Conservation for Midcoast Conservancy, one of the eight land trusts that comprise the 12 Rivers partnership.
12 Rivers is one example of how conservation groups working across a relatively small area are having a meaningful impact on the larger landscape by incorporating climate change into long-term planning. Building on its partnership with the North Atlantic Landscape Conservation Cooperative, OSI is now offering support for land trusts across the eastern United States, helping them integrate climate change into their conservation plans through workshops and outreach support available across the region in partnership with the Land Trust Alliance.
With guidance from Gillian Davies of the BSC group, Fiedler’s colleague Ruth Indrick, Project Coordinator at Kennebec Estuary Land Trust, created a map highlighting overlapping priority areas identified by combining the Terrestrial Resilience and Regional Flow datasets developed by The Nature Conservancy and the Index of Ecological Integrity developed by the Designing Sustainable Landscapes Project at UMass Amherst. Together these datasets can help practitioners identify sites in the Northeast with characteristics necessary to support biodiversity and wildlife movement into the future, and all three are available for anyone to access in the Land Protection in a Changing Climate gallery in the North Atlantic LCC’s Conservation Planning Atlas.
Idrick and Fiedler then presented this co-occurrence model along with individual maps depicting each dataset at a workshop for staff from all eight land trusts of 12 Rivers, as well as for those along the boundaries.
“We talked about what we envisioned for planning, shared maps with the lands committee at each land trust so they could ground truth what the models showed, and agreed to reexamine the edges and corridors with new information provided by our neighbors.” said Fiedler. “Mapping is a great tool, but it’s important to use local knowledge to put it to the test.”
It’s also good diplomacy. “The conversation really strengthened our relationships with the land trusts at our borders,” she said.
The map has provided scientific reinforcement for the direction the partnership is heading. “The data showed us that we already had a solid conservation plan in place, but by making sure it is aligned with new knowledge, it shows that we are looking ahead,” said Fiedler. “That’s really valuable when going to donors and funders.”
While 12 Rivers is still in the process of realigning its conservation plan based on input from partners and neighbors, the mapping exercise itself has initiated important conversations as the partnership looks ahead. “We are seeing now that the bulk of the effort moving forward will be communicating about it,” said Fiedler. “We are incorporating more climate change context into our work, and we are looking for ways to talk about it that keeps a range of different people engaged, without using the kinds of buzzwords that can close the conversation.”
In addition to addressing sensitivity to language, they are trying to make it real for their members. Fiedler explained that during a second workshop, in which they shared the maps with board members and staff from all 12 Rivers partner land trusts, they also asked attendees to take part in a role-playing activity. Everyone paired up and pretended to be either a skeptical landowner or a member of a land trust who was trying to convince that landowner it was critical to conserve his or her property.
“Most people didn’t even use the phrase ‘climate change’ in their conversations,” explained Fiedler. “Rather, they said that finding some common ground with the other person was the best way to get through to them.”
It seems just like in productive conservation, productive communication demands meeting people on their terms, even if that’s beyond where your own map ends.
Since the staffs of land trusts within 12 Rivers approach donors and community members as representatives of their own organizations, it’s important that they are equipped with consistent messages about the climate data at the foundation of their shared plan. As such, Fiedler said the circuit rider helped them develop initial messaging about their work based on research from the Yale Program on Climate Communication. OSI is considering providing further support to 12 Rivers to advance their climate communications.
“It’s wonderful to have that kind of support,” said Fiedler. “I’m glad they understand that communication is critical to long-term planning.”