Tag Archives: North Atlantic Landscape Conservation Cooperative

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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

Bird’s-eye-view reveals priority habitat for threatened shorebirds

As the national lead biologist for the recovery of the threatened red knot, and the Service’s state lead (N.J.) for threatened piping plover, Wendy Walsh thinks a lot about managing the impact people can have on the habitat these species depend upon: sandy beaches and tidal inlets.


A new inventory of modifications to beach and tidal inlet habitat from Maine to Virginia has given Wendy Walsh — the Service’s lead biologist for the recovery of the threatened red knot — new perspective on habitat availability for shorebirds. Credit: FWS

During Hurricane Sandy, barrier beaches overwashed around Little Egg Inlet, an opening into Great Bay in the wilderness portion of  Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge. And that turned out to be a good thing for plover. “It created great habitat,” Walsh said. “Plover numbers really increased.”

Did they ever.

Today, Walsh said, “Beaches around Little Egg Inlet provide habitat for about a third of the plover population in New Jersey, as well as habitat for concentrations of migrating red knots, and for the threatened plant seabeach amaranth.”

But now proposed activities in and around the inlet threaten to interfere with the natural processes that are necessary to maintain this habitat complex. “There has been drift of sand from nearby beach fill, and a plan to dredge the inlet,” Walsh explained.  It’s not yet clear how these activities may affect the habitat.

In the face of these threats, an inventory of beach and tidal inlet habitat compiled by coastal geologist Tracy Rice has provided valuable perspective to help make the case for careful management around this inlet. Although Little Egg Inlet was previously considered important plover habitat in New Jersey, the inventory revealed something new:

“Little Egg Inlet is one of only two unmodified inlets between Montauk, N.Y., and Chincoteague, Va., a shoreline distance of nearly 350 miles,” said Walsh. “That means that nearly all other inlets along that entire stretch of coastline have been stabilized, dredged, sand mined, or altered in some way.”


Developed using imagery from states, private organizations, and Google Earth, the habitat inventory revealed that Little Egg Inlet in New Jersey is one of just two unmodified tidal inlets in a 350-mile stretch of coastline within the breeding range of piping plover and red knot. Credit: Google Earth

It seems Little Egg Inlet is an even rarer natural asset than anybody realized, and that’s important to know given the Service’s emphasis on prioritizing habitats that are considered to be of high value to at-risk species.

All three of Forsythe’s listed beach-dependent species thrive in the shifting habitats that surround the natural inlet. “We knew these species favor these kinds of inlet sites, and we knew most of them were altered, but we didn’t know it was all but two,” said Walsh. “The data provided a landscape perspective that enabled us to say Little Egg Inlet is unique, at least in the Mid-Atlantic,” she said.

“It just took someone adding it all up.”

That someone was Rice, with support from the North Atlantic Landscape Conservation Cooperative (LCC). Before she could even begin tallying all of the beach armoring structures (seawalls, revetments, giant sandbags) and inlet modifications (structures, dredging, mining for fill, opened artificially, closed artificially, or relocated) in the region, she had to find all of the things she needed to count.

Rice described the process as similar to assembling a puzzle with scattered pieces. She began by reviewing the literature, including maps dating to the 17th century, for any and all pre-existing data, then completed the picture with imagery from Google Earth, Google Maps, state agencies, municipalities, and private organizations.

The completed inventory provides a comprehensive look at the location, status, and condition of potential piping plover breeding grounds from Maine to Virginia in three periods: before Hurricane Sandy, immediately after Hurricane Sandy, and three years after post-storm recovery efforts.

The inventory encompasses a suite of products — including habitat assessment reports, Google Earth data layers, Microsoft Excel databases, and Data Basin shapefiles — that are available for anyone to download on the North Atlantic LCC’s Beach and Tidal Habitat Inventories product page.

Red knotThe products dovetail with Rice’s previous work to inventory coastal habitat in the Southeastern portion of the U.S. Collectively, these resources provide a comprehensive view of the red knot’s coastal habitat, and Walsh is already considering using the information in an upcoming project to develop a recovery plan for red knot.

“The recovery outline will give us perspective to think about future habitat availability, how much of that is managed, and how much is undisturbed,” she said.

Something for everyone in State Wildlife Action Plans

No two are exactly alike: Snowflakes, butterflies, and State Wildlife Action Plans.

Pennsylvania’s is the largest (a whopping 14 pounds) and includes a foreword written by a Pulitzer Prize nominee.


New and improved! The updated State Wildlife Action Plans are designed to inspire coordinated action to protect species in need.

Connecticut’s is the smallest (in their words, the most “concise”), and covers flora in addition to fauna.

Rhode Island’s was the first to be finished in the nation and features a companion Wildlife Quiz. (I scored an abysmal 40 percent, but have a newfound appreciation for opossum.)

The District of Columbia’s includes two freshwater sponges once found in Rock Creek Park.

Each one is unique, but they all have the same purpose: outlining exactly what needs to happen in each state to protect the fish and wildlife we care about in the face of increasing threats.

Fortunately, the plans all have the same basic structure too, which makes them particularly handy for people who work in conservation in different parts of the region. People like U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staff.

“We want to inspire ourselves and partners to figure out: What are the biggest threats? What are the best ways to respond? How do we mobilize people? What do we want them to do?” explained Virginia’s State Wildlife Action Plan coordinator Chris Burkett during a presentation at the Regional Office to introduce Service staff to the new plans on March 22nd.

Burkett and 11 of his counterparts from across the region (only New Jersey and D.C. were unable to attend), stopped by the Regional Office for the meet and greet in the midst of a three-day SWAP coordinators meeting in Amherst, Mass., where they compared notes (and page counts) from the second generation of documents that were already ahead of their time when first developed ten years ago.


The brains behind the plans: Wildlife Action Plan coordinators from across the Northeast region met in Massachusetts in March to compare notes (and page counts) from the 10-year updates of comprehensive plans to support species of greatest conservation need.

“After decades spent working one critter at a time, we realized we needed a more strategic approach,” said Burkett. “It’s not enough to keep species from going extinct. We need to keep them from becoming endangered in the first place.”

That ambitious goal led Congress to establish the State and Tribal Wildlife Grant Program in 2001 to provide annual appropriations to each state for targeted investments in wildlife. On one condition: Come up with a plan for how your state is going to do it.

The completion of the first generation of State Wildlife Action Plans (SWAPs) in 2005 signaled a new era for endangered species conservation, with the Northeast at the leading edge.

“One of the things that came out in discussions after the first Wildlife Actions Plans was that few of these species are confined to one state. They occur over multiple jurisdictions,” said Burkett. “So how do we address their needs collectively?”

In 2006, representatives from all 13 states met in Albany, N.Y., to identify issues of regional concern, and to determine what needed to be done at the landscape-scale to address them. Along with priorities, the meeting in Albany gave rise to a means of funding them: the Regional Conservation Needs (RCN) program, which draws four percent of each state’s Wildlife Grant funding into a common pool to support regional projects.

“We are the only region that has done this,” noted Burkett. “As a result, we have funded more than 40 projects that are meant to support all of our Wildlife Action Plans, including the the Northeast Habitat Classification system, Northeast habitat maps, and effectiveness measures that have contributed to the development of national measures.”


State lines? Black bear don’t care. Since many at-risk species occur across multiple jurisdictions, the Northeast states have worked together to develop shared strategies for protecting fish and wildlife based on regional scale habitat data.

The 10-year Wildlife Action Plan updates completed last fall reflect the evolution in regional planning born of the RCN program, and fostered by the North Atlantic Landscape Conservation Cooperative (LCC) after its establishment in 2010.

During their recent meeting, the SWAP coordinators focused on how to keep the momentum going with plans that are designed to help identify opportunities to collaborate with each other, and with the Service.

“Having been with these folks for a day and a half, I can tell you that because these plans were cross-walked so well, they speak like a regional plan, which intersects with Fish and Wildlife Service priorities left, right, and up and down,” said Chief of the Division of Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration for the Northeast region Colleen Sculley, ticking off examples: “Aquatic Connectivity, Species At Risk, Coastal Resilience. Our priorities are emerging and aligning, and putting us in a position to do great conservation across the Northeast.”

The North Atlantic LCC has played a key supporting role in that regard by coordinating a team of partners from 13 states, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, nongovernmental organizations, and universities to develop a landscape conservation design that lays the groundwork for unified action across the entire region by incorporating habitat needs for more than 3,000 species of animals and plants, including those identified as Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN) in updated Wildlife Action Plans.

“We’ve been working for 18 months to identify where to put resources on the ground to do the most good, and to make the best use of our money,” said Burkett, a member of the project team. As such, the products of that effort provide regional perspective that can be used in complement to information in SWAPs to find places where partners can act on shared priorities.

“So if you live in Hampton Roads area of Virginia, you can use the plan to see: here are the things we care about, here are the threats, and here are best places to start,” said Burkett. “We want to be as clear as possible.”

That includes outreach to Service staff who are working in any of these states. “We want to get information out in a form that you can use it,” said Emily Preston of New Hampshire. “If you are working in New Hampshire, we want to know where. We are here to partner with you.”

Find more information and links to all of the revised SWAPs on the North Atlantic LCC website.