Tag Archives: landscape conservation

Breaking New Ground

In the Connecticut River watershed, a small meeting of conservation partners is leading to something big.

Last month, about 30 people representing a dozen or so federal, state and non-governmental organizations gathered at the Great Falls Discovery Center in Turners Falls, Massachusetts to begin mapping out a plan for conserving fish, wildlife and plants in the 7.2 million-acre watershed.

This was not your standard visioning exercise. The partners spent four hours discussing common goals for the project; reviewing science information and tools that can help inform conservation planning efforts; and hammering out a process for “designing” a landscape of intact, connected and resilient ecosystems that will sustain wildlife and the natural benefits they provide to people for years to come.


Partners are working together to develop a plan for conserving the 7.2 million-acre Connecticut River watershed. Credit: Lamar Gore, USFWS.

“We’ve been moving in this direction for years but now we have the scientific tools and capability to make it happen,” said Ken Elowe of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which is helping to facilitate the Connecticut River landscape conservation design pilot project.  “This is really a ground-breaking experiment on how to do collaborative landscape-level planning.”

A key to this experiment’s success is the partners’ ability to agree on conservation goals and objectives for more than a dozen species in the watershed – like black bear and wood thrush – representing the needs of larger groups of species with similar habitat requirements.  Using decision-support tools and regional species and habitat information provided by pilot partners and the North Atlantic Landscape Conservation Cooperative, those goals and objectives will be translated into maps that project the amount, location and type of habitat needed to support identified representative and priority species throughout the watershed, as well as important ecosystems and their functions.

By focusing on a limited number of species, scientists and managers can more effectively monitor results of conservation actions, as well as species and habitat responses to widespread threats such as changing climate, development and habitat fragmentation.

Wood Thrush

Wood thrush. Credit: USFWS

In the end, the partners hope to create an overarching blueprint for the watershed that will help guide management decisions and conservation actions at regional, landscape and local scales. The effort also will connect to broader goals for conserving wildlife populations and intact natural systems across the Northeast, which in turn support and enhance food production, clean air and water, storm protection, recreation and the overall health and well-being of people.

Lessons learned during the 6-month pilot will help refine and improve the process so it can be replicated by partners in other regional landscapes like the Chesapeake Bay and the Gulf of Maine.

This notion of working together to design and conserve sustainable landscapes is not new. Eric Sorensen, an ecologist with the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department who participated in the Great Falls meeting, said he remembers reading about the approach two decades ago in a book called Saving Nature’s Legacy, one of the first comprehensive texts dealing with large-scale conservation planning to conserve biological diversity.

“A lot of ideas in that book are still very relevant 20 years later,” he says. “I think it is really exciting that we’re moving forward on a regional conservation effort to do this now.”

It’s one meeting, and for now there are more questions than answers. But this is one idea whose time has come.

Click here for additional details on the Connecticut River Watershed Landscape Conservation Design Pilot.

Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge was established to conserve the abundance and diversity of native plants and animals and their habitats in the 7.2 million acre Connecticut River watershed.

Learn about fish restoration efforts in the Connecticut River watershed in this video.

Landscape conservation by design

I’m Allison Ludtke, and you’ll be hearing from me regularly over the next few months. I am a Student Conservation Association intern for Science Applications, focusing on telling stories about how we are working with partners to develop and apply science for landscape conservation across the Northeast. When I am not serving as an intern, I am a senior at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, double majoring in wildlife ecology and journalism while completing an honors capstone project specializing in narrative nonfiction. I am passionate about wildlife conservation and truly believe communication can make a difference in how we deal with major issues like climate change. My past experiences include fieldwork in South Africa focusing on lion, leopard and cheetah behavior, marine mammal rehabilitation of seals and turtles on Cape Cod, and writing for my college newspaper as well as about these experiences.

I’m Allison Ludtke, and you’ll be hearing from me regularly over the next few months. I am a Student Conservation Association intern for Science Applications, focusing on telling stories about how we are working with partners to develop and apply science for landscape conservation across the Northeast.

“Designing sustainable landscapes.” What does that mean to you?

Understanding the “what” and “how” of this phrase was difficult for me at first. Sure, the words sound simple, but what exactly is a sustainable landscape?

To find out more, I began with basic definitions.

Designing is technically defined as deciding upon the look and functioning of an object (typically) by making a detailed drawing of it. I associate the word design with planning, visualizing and ultimately, implementing.

Sustainable is defined as being able to be maintained at a certain rate or level. Although a word with vast, subjective definitions, I think of it as the likelihood to withstand conditions for future generations.

Landscape is defined as a combination of physical and living elements forming a larger ecosystem. All parts of a landscape are connected, from the wildlife to the forestry, to the water availability and soil. If one aspect is changed, all are affected.

All of these elements come together in the Designing Sustainable Landscapes project supported by the North Atlantic Landscape Conservation Cooperative. Led by Dr. Kevin McGarigal, a professor in the Department of Environmental Conservation at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, the project aims to conserve landscapes that provide diverse habitats and serve a variety of purposes- ranging from species habitats to erosion control. The end result is a model of landscape change that assesses ecological consequences and designs that prioritize conservation throughout the Northeast.

Designing Sustainable Landscapes began in October 2010 by developing and testing approaches in pilot watersheds, including models of wildlife habitats and ecosystems.  Examples of species represented by habitat models include black bear, diamond-backed terrapin, ruffed grouse, and red-shouldered hawk. Species are chosen based on their potential to represent multiple species with similar habitat needs.

Areas are prioritized based both on long-term predictions of how well species and ecosystems will cope with disturbances, such as climate change. McGarigal says there are three key components:landscape change, landscape assessment, and landscape conservation design.


Designing Sustainable Landscapes species models for New England and the Hudson Valley.

The crucial question in all of this is where do humans fit into the landscape? More importantly, can they undo the damage already done? Is it realistic to begin to design an idealized form of nature? Ultimately, do we have any other choice in an environment permanently changed by human behavior?

”Conservation design is really about being proactive,” McGarigal says “We can’t continue to approach conservation reactively. We need to preserve and maintain the landscape, while we still can.”

Witnessing the coverage of the recent typhoon in the Philippines prompted me to reflect on how crucial this kind of future planning is for nature and people. As climate change progresses, sea levels rise, and natural disasters become the norm rather than the exception, it is our job to plan ahead. Plan for resiliency. Plan for the physical, social and economic effects of climate change. Plan for landscapes that will be here decades from now, and an environment future generations will have the opportunity to know, enjoy, and treasure.

Dr. McGarigal and I discussed how we [humans] don’t often anticipate problems very well, but respond once the threat is great enough. McGarigal says it is now time to “think strategically” and focus on “what we can do today to affect long-term outcomes.”