Nature’s Network

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to conservation. That’s why the North Atlantic Landscape Conservation Cooperative (LCC) brought together partners from 13 states, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, nongovernmental organizations and universities to create Nature’s Network.

A suite of decision-support tools that complement the work of different agencies, organizations, and individuals conserving lands and waters across the Northeast, Nature’s Network offers something for everyone.

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Dan Murphy, Chief of the Division of Habitat Conservation for the Service’s Chesapeake Bay Field Office.

For Dan Murphy, Chief of the Division of Habitat Conservation for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Chesapeake Bay Field Office, it provides a foundation for partners to develop a plan for achieving shared goals for Maryland’s Patuxent River watershed. “None of the information we have worked with before was based on the degree of collaborative, careful, in-depth analysis as has gone into these products,” he said.

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Carly Dean, Project Manager for the Chesapeake Conservancy.

For Carly Dean, a Project Manager for the Chesapeake Conservancy, it offers a way to engage local landowners in helping to define conservation priorities in their own communities. “With input from local stakeholders about what information they need to make a decision about conservation on their land, we were able to rank 43,833 opportunity areas for improving water quality in Clinton and Centre Counties, Pa., that had been identified by combining regional and high resolution data,” she said.

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Chris Burkett, State Wildlife Action Plan Coordinator for Virginia.

For Chris Burkett, Virginia’s State Wildlife Action Plan Coordinator, it’s the product the Northeast states have been dreaming about for more than a decade. “Few of the species we care about are confined to a single state, so when the time came to start thinking about updating of our State Wildlife Action Plan ten years ago, we realized we needed to have a vision that went beyond borders,” he said.

Virginia wasn’t alone. While most species of fish and wildlife don’t stop at state lines, until recently, a lot of the information about them did. In response to the need for seamless, regional data to support strategic conservation of priority species, the North Atlantic LCC and the Northeast Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (NEAFWA) initiated a collaborative effort to develop a scientific roadmap to help partners find opportunities to work together at scales that matter for fish, wildlife, and people.

The result is Nature’s Network — a road map for identifying some of the highest conservation priorities to sustain natural resources and benefits for future generations of wildlife and people.

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The Nature’s Network conservation design outlines a network of connected, intact, and resilient lands and waters that provide important habitats for key species, and benefits like clean water to people.

But it’s more than just a map. Developed by the conservation community for the conservation community, Nature’s Network offers a menu of tools and datasets that people can mix, match, and tailor to the needs of their organizations, agencies and communities. People like Murphy, Dean, and Burkett, who was also a member of the project team.

“We worked together for 18 months to identify the places where we should put resources on the ground to do the most good, and to make the best use of our money,” Burkett said.

That’s valuable guidance for Burkett and his counterparts in other Northeast states who are responsible for carrying out Wildlife Action Plans. “The ultimate goal of each plan is straightforward: to keep species from becoming endangered. But the process of doing that is complicated,” he said. “The biggest threat to fish and wildlife in Virginia is the loss or degradation of habitat. That means our capacity to support these species hinges upon our ability to find places for them to live.”

In the context of changing land use and environmental conditions, that goal became sort of a puzzle: “Out of the patchwork of land use and habitat in our region, how do we piece together a conservation network that will maintain our natural heritage, and provide benefits to people as well?” he said.

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Nature’s Network incorporates habitat needs for hundreds of species of fish, wildlife, and plants, including those identified as Species of Greatest Conservation Need in State Wildlife Action Plans, like the Delmarva fox squirrel.

The Nature’s Network team addressed that challenge using innovative modeling approaches developed by the Designing Sustainable Landscapes project at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and The Nature Conservancy (TNC) that helped them consider things from the perspective of species in greatest need. When the going gets tough, where’s the Delmarva fox squirrel going to go? By identifying the places we can’t afford to lose to sustain vulnerable species and important game species, Nature’s Network accounts for the needs of people, too. Protecting habitat for fish and wildlife also contributes to other natural benefits, such as public access to outdoor recreation like hunting and fishing, storm protection, food and timber production and water quality.

“If you look at our Wildlife Action Plan, the majority of our species are aquatic,” said Burkett. “The biggest issues for these species are water quality and quantity. Those are some of the biggest issues for people too,” he pointed out.

“Even if people don’t care about the green floater — a kind of freshwater mussel — they do care about clean drinking water,” said Burkett. “The best opportunities occur where these needs overlap.”

Nature’s Network was designed to find those areas of common ground. It’s not one-size fits all, but it leaves room for everyone to grow. See where you fit in at: www.naturesnetwork.org

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