A few takeaways from last month’s GCPO/GCP/GOMA joint meeting:
- The Tuesday joint sessions on the Gulf and Bottomland Hardwood systems were well-attended, and certainly showed a high level of interest in what’s going on with LCC-associated projects. For the Gulf session, it was an opportunity for us to highlight some of the research that LCCs have been involved with over the last several years, and which have recently come to a conclusion. The Gulf is an area in which we have been very active, and it was gratifying to see how these projects that we have supported are beginning to paint a picture of a forward-looking conservation path. I thought that Dr. Virginia Burkett, in her comments to close out the session, was very timely in her observations that we have come a long way in the Gulf in understanding the implications of sea level rise and land use change on the natural resources of the Gulf. She challenged the group to continue making progress, and to move beyond sea level rise in planning for the future conservation landscape of the Gulf. For instance, storms and wildfires are important episodic events that can have big impacts on the landscape – how do we plan for those events and make our landscapes and communities more resilient to those events?
- One other comment by Dr. Burkett that perked up my ears had to do with carbon; the recent COP21 Agreement in Paris allows for the creation of international carbon markets, so there is increasing anticipation on what that could mean for the United States and our future carbon markets. This reminds me that in the Lower Mississippi Valley there has been a lot of interest in establishing a viable carbon market for at least a decade now; there have also been some notable successes with carbon sequestration projects in restoring bottomland hardwoods in the LMV. I haven’t really kept up with where markets for carbon sequestration projects are in recent years, but Virginia’s comments about carbon certainly rekindles my interest in the topic.
- The Tuesday afternoon session on Bottomland Hardwood systems and Hydrology was really interesting to me, prompting more questions than answers, I think, but it was good to get those questions out on the table. Our land managers are telling us that they’re seeing changes on the ground in how bottomland hardwood restoration projects perform, but they’re really not sure why those changes are occurring – they suspect that changes in hydrology might be part of the issue. This session helped us to start identifying some of the questions, and gave exposure to the issues. There will be a symposium on the Bottomland Hardwood/Hydrology issue at the upcoming SEAFWA Conference this October, where we can continue these discussions. It’s my hope that we’ll be able to find some funds to support future research into this area, and unravel some of the answers on how bottomland hardwood systems interact with hydrological systems.
- Our Wednesday/Thursday Steering Committee sessions had excellent presentations and discussion by our Steering Committee members and other partners, and I think will really help to set the direction of this LCC for the next couple of years. Our GCPO LCC Science staff has done an outstanding job over the last year and a half of completing the ecological assessments of our priority habitat systems, and engaging our partners in developing a first draft GCPO LCC Blueprint. We had an excellent presentation by Dr. Tom Bonnot of the University of Missouri, which illustrated an innovative landscape conservation design approach for achieving landscape-scale conservation in the Ozark Highlands region (AR, MO, OK) of the GCPO (note: there is a webinar scheduled for July 20, 2016 - DATE CHANGED - at 11am that will present the results of this work). We plan to expand this approach to other sub-geographies in our LCC.
- We also presented a new communications strategy to the Steering Committee, a more refined and focused approach to communications that not only measures our communications outputs, but more importantly also attempts to evaluate the outcomes of our communications. And finally, we introduced some ideas about better incorporating human dimensions and social sciences into our conservation planning, and beginning to think about how we might better integrate ecosystem services into our conservation toolbox. We agreed to collaborate with the Gulf Coast Prairie LCC to establish a joint human dimensions work group and will look for opportunities to bring ecosystem services into our conservation portfolios.
All in all, it was a really productive week in Baton Rouge, incredibly busy, but very productive. We’ll be back there in the fall for the Southeastern Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies Annual Conference. We’ll have our Steering Committee meeting there and also opportunities to learn more about the Southeast Conservation Adaptation Strategy, where we’ll roll out the SECAS Blueprint 1.0, and there will also be a symposium on the issue of Forested Wetlands and Hydrology, building on the joint session that we hosted last month. I hope to see you all there – it should be a great meeting in Louisiana!