Conserving Fish and Wildlife Through Science, Technology, and Partnerships
Last month, I attended a meeting of the national LCC Coordinators and Science Coordinators, an All Hands Workshop, in Kansas City, MO. It was the first time that our national LCC network had gotten together in over a year, and there had been a lot that had occurred during that time. Perhaps the biggest change had been in the national LCC office in Washington, DC, where new leadership has been assumed by Dr. Elsa Haubold, after the capable tenure of Doug Austen ended last summer. Doug has moved on to a new position as Executive Director of the American Fisheries Society, but it's good to have Elsa on board as the new National LCC Coordinator. It was also good for Elsa to meet all of the Coordinators and Science Coordinators from across the vast LCC network.
For me, however, the biggest and most far-reaching outcome from our meeting was a decision that received the unanimous support of 22 LCC Coordinators, and provides a compelling and unifying message for LCCs: LCCs support the creation of an ecologically connected network of landscapes, as defined in the National Fish, Wildlife and Plants Climate Adaptation Strategy (NFWPCAS). LCC Coordinators, from the Pacific Islands to Alaska, to the Caribbean, all agree that an ecologically connected network of wildlands, waters, and seascapes, are an essential outcome of the LCC enterprise, and the future health of our nation's fish, wildlife, plants, and cultural resources will depend on our work to accomplish this objective. From my perspective, this decision is huge, and it will help shape our future as an LCC network and provide a compelling message of what LCCs are all about.
Our decision didn't come easily - it was the culmination of discussions of more than a year, where LCC Coordinators discussed the relevance of initiatives like the Wildlife Habitat Policy Research Program, which envisions a national system of wildlife lands, and concepts like landscape conservation design, which is being increasingly looked at by some agencies to inform their future land acquisition decisions. The problem was that these ideas don't necessarily translate to all LCCs, such as those that are predominantly marine systems, or LCCs where land bases are already largely in public hands. However, the NFWPCAS definition of ecologically connected network of landscapes specifically includes marine systems, and water systems, and it's large enough that all LCCs are able to see themselves in the Strategy.
Where do we move from here? Next steps
While I'm excited about the LCC Network's decision to pursue an ecologically connected network of ecological systems, the truly important question is "What's next?". From my perspective, we in the GCPO LCC have been heading in this direction for some time now, and our commitment to the Southeast Conservation Adaptation Strategy, and our letter committing to help implement the NFWPCAS are both decisions our Steering Committee has made that reflect the importance of aligning our conservation planning across LCC boundaries. For me, having those priorities affirmed by the LCC network is a huge winner for the GCPO LCC. Concretely, we're looking to develop a conservation blueprint for the GCPO LCC, which will be used to help define the future conservation landscape of the GCPO LCC, and will tie into the blueprint that has been identified through the South Atlantic LCC. Then we will truly be able to see what such a network of ecologically connected landscapes will look like.
At our upcoming Steering Committee meeting in Nacogdoches, TX in April, we’ll be discussing what an ecologically-connected landscape should look like, especially focusing on the conservation design elements of building a conservation blueprint for the GCPO LCC. I’m truly excited about the upcoming year in the GCPO LCC, as we move forward with our partners in designing functional landscapes in our geography, and work with our neighboring LCCs to develop an ecologically connected network of landscapes across the southeast region. Stay tuned for lots of exciting work in 2014!
 NFWPCAS Strategy 1.1. Identify areas for an ecologically-connected network of terrestrial, freshwater, coastal, and marine conservation areas that are likely to be resilient to climate change and to support a broad range of fish, wildlife, and plants under changed conditions.”