Nature does not respect political boundaries, which is why landscape initiatives working across jurisdictions have been successful at conserving critical habitat. Landscape conservation initiatives protect the health of ecosystems by ensuring that core habitat needs are met, by providing corridors for movement and migration, and by helping to coordinate management. State wildlife action plans and other federal and state policies have stressed the need for landscape-scale planning to implement their recommendations. Pennsylvania's Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy underscores the importance of forest landscapes for critical habitats:
Where large areas of contiguous, high-quality forest habitat remain, forest-dependent species may reproduce at high rates, creating a large population surplus on a yearly basis. On the other hand, forest species occupying highly fragmented forests, especially those in an agricultural or developed landscape, may have lower reproductive rates as a result of the effects of predators and nest parasites. Area-sensitive species may not occupy these patches at all (12-25).
To help understand how landscape initiatives are addressing habitat priorities in the 13 state Northeast megaregion, Regional Plan Association and America 2050 have compiled federal, state, and private information about habitat priorities for inclusion in our Northeast Landscape Initiatives Atlas
Pictured above, Map 1 shows recorded occurrences of threatened, rare, and endangered species as indicated by state programs, Map 2 shows other significant habitats identified by the northeastern states, and Map 3 shows TNC-listed Forest Matrix Blocks. Because Maps 1 and 2 reflect the best available public information for each State, they are necessarily uneven.
Composite map of priority habitat identified by non-profit, state, and federal sources.Click to see metadata
This information is being used by RPA to understand how landscape conservation initiatives can address these federal, state, and non-profit priorities.
Here are three examples of landscape initiatives that are focused on conserving important wildlife habitats, drawn from our inventory of 165 landscape initiatives:
Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission
Inland pine barrens are rare -- there are only about twenty of them in the entire world. The Albany Pine Bush is the remnant of a barren that used to stretch across northeast New York from Glenn Falls to Newburgh. Bisected by interstate highways, shopping malls, industrial parks, and residential development, the Albany Pine Bush is down to 20% of its original size. This unique ecosystem hosts a number of rare and endangered plants and animals from the wild blue lupine flower and the Karner blue butterfly to the hognose snake and the spadefoot toad.
In 1988, the New York State Legislature created the Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission to protect and expand this unique habitat. The commission's 2002 Management Plan recommended protecting a minimum of 4,600 acres of priority contiguous habitat in order to maintain the health of the ecosystem. The commission identified 61 large undeveloped areas within its service area and assigned a ranking to each one based on four criteria: ability to support Pitch-pine and Scrub Oak, ability to link existing habitats in the preserve, ability to buffer the preserve from existing developed areas, and ability to support significant cultural and environmental resources. Each property within these areas was then ranked and organized into one of three categories: full protection, partial protection, or maintenance as open space. The assessments done back in 2002 have led to a successful land protection strategy driven by a mix of land acquisitions and land swaps. More than 3,100 acres has been protected to date through this ongoing work.
Staying Connected Initiative
Staying Connected is a new initiative that aims to maintain and restore landscape connections for wide‐ranging, forest‐dwelling wildlife such as bear, moose, lynx, marten and bobcat in the vast Northern Forest that stretches across the northern Appalachians of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, and New York. The initiative's mission is to restore linkages and create protected wildlife corridors to mitigate habitat fragmentation from land development and create the resilience to help species adapt to climate change.
Founded in 2009 by The Nature Conservancy with grant money from the U.S. Fish Wildlife Agency, Staying Connected is a relatively new project. The initiative has begun collaborating with an impressively diverse stakeholder group that includes local landowners, conservation organizations, municipalities, and state transportation agencies. The first step towards meeting the initiative's goal of greater landscape connectivity is to develop quantitative metrics for evaluating the strength of linkages between existing protected areas.
Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture
The Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture (EBTJV) is a Fish Habitat Partnership made up of public and private partners in its seventeen state territory, including many state wildlife agencies, the Bureau of Land Management, Trout Unlimited, and the Trust for Public Land.
Besides the large service area of the initiative, one of the unique features of the partnership is its conservation strategy. It involves "prioritize[ing] policy changes and on-the-ground actions to improve water quality and restore brook trout habitat and populations in their individual state using locally-driven, incentive-based, and non-regulatory programs". Though ultimate progress towards the group's goals is locally driven, the agenda is coordinated at a regional level and based on quantitative assessments of current conditions. For instance, the seventeen state territory for Eastern Brook Trout is divided into three sub-regions in order to develop a conservation agenda that is based on "common conservation challenges and priorities".
Working at the regional level, the initiative is better able to link its priorities with the Wildlife Action Plans (WAPs) for individual states. Coordinating its efforts with those of the states is important for leveraging funds and other resources. Brook trout is a valuable asset to many ecosystems in the northeast. Ten of the thirteen states in the Northeast Megaregion (Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and West Virginia) identify Eastern brook trout as a Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN) in their Wildlife Action Plans. And brook trout is also important to the health of other species, supporting 57 additional SGCN including seventeen other species of fish, seven species of amphibians and reptiles, four species of mammals, one bird species, eight species of freshwater mussels, fifteen species of damselflies and dragonflies, four species of stoneflies, and one beetle species.
In the Northeast Megaregion, complex urban development patterns and high demand for land and resources pose particular challenges for conservation. RPA / America 2050 is working across political jurisdictions to produce a comprehensive inventory of landscape conservation initiatives that protect watersheds, wildlife habitat, and other natural processes at the appropriate geographic scale. The project was launched in November, 2010 with the support from The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and the USDA Forest Service Northeastern Area.
Visit the website to learn more: Northeast Landscape Conservation Atlas