Did you know that within the 275 million-acre Southeast region of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) which includes 10 states, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, only 4 million acres are owned and managed by the agency? A similar pattern holds true throughout the entire 15-state (plus Caribbean) region of the Southeastern Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies (SEAFWA). The world’s 36th recognized biodiversity “hotspot,” the North American Coastal Plain, spans 13 of the SEAFWA states and the vast majority of the entire region (90 to 95%) is in private hands.
These are just a few reasons that federal agencies from the Southeast Natural Resources Leadership Group (SENRLG) came together with state directors from many of the SEAFWA states at the Southeast Conservation Adaptation Strategy (SECAS) Conservation Leadership Summit in Baton Rouge on October 17, 2016. The topic of discussion: a major milestone toward achieving one integrated system for land conservation and development across the Southeast - in the form of the Southeast Conservation Blueprint 1.0.
The value of a conservation vision
At the Summit, directors emphasized the value of having a conservation vision that can serve as an invaluable tool in conveying the shared interests of many parties. The Blueprint “connects the dots” and helps reduce redundancies across jurisdictions. They also lauded efforts by the Landscape Conservation Cooperatives (LCCs), the Southeast Climate Science Center, and the Southeast Aquatic Resources Partnership (SARP) to incorporate future change into the Blueprint, a process that will continue as the Blueprint is updated annually.
Susan Gibson, the Department of Defense (DOD) Southern Region Environmental Coordinator said, “I was impressed with the tremendous partnership behind SECAS, the LCCs, and the development of the Blueprint. In the Southeast, we've long known that a good map was key to conservation and natural resource planning for the region. The Blueprint provides us the tool we've needed. The LCCs also provide an excellent forum for building relationships between agencies. They provide a platform for building trust between partners, and that trust is manifested in the Blueprint and SECAS.”
The paradigm for large-scale landscape conservation planning and implementation is also spreading. Elsa Haubold, the LCC Network Coordinator, told the assembled partners that both the Northeast and the Midwest states are looking at SECAS as an example for similar collaborative efforts. “Within the next several years, we could have a Conservation Blueprint that covers all of the United States east of the Mississippi!” she said.
Cynthia Edwards summed up the Summit results by stating “We are on our way to realizing the vision of a connected network of landscapes and seascapes to sustain fish and wildlife and people! This was, and will continue to be, a great team effort.” You can read Greg Wathen's views of the Summit in his SECAS blog.
Not a “one and done” effort
Cindy Dohner, USFWS Southeast Region Director cautioned that this is not a “one and done” effort. Many leaders in the room recognized that one of the biggest challenges will be how to expand SECAS collaboration to include a wide array of “nontraditional” conservation partners, such as local jurisdictions, city planning agencies, private landowners, and forest/energy/industrial partners.
Ed Carter, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency Director, echoed this thought saying, “Now that we have a product that’s really usable, let’s not all splinter off again. We need to continue to work together.”
“Cynthia Edwards was the tipping point for success,” Gibson added. “While Ed Carter and Cindy Dohner had the master vision and brought the partners together, she tied the pieces together. SECAS is the net result of everyone working together. We know the Blueprint will be useful to us as a planning tool and for communication. It puts resource management on a new level of accessibility. We look forward to Cynthia and the LCC team providing more details about how to use these tools.”
A NOTE ABOUT THE BLUEPRINT 1.0 MAP: The Blueprint shown above represents lands with high conservation value, but it is not an acquisition boundary, in fact much of the “high” priority is already in the conservation estate, while the "medium" areas are important for promoting and maintaining connectivity. There are many potential actions embedded within the Blueprint; if you look at any one action, e.g., prescribed burning or reforestation, a much smaller subset of the Blueprint is relevant. Erring on the side of inclusivity is always wise at the outset; the Blueprint will be updated and refined on an iterative basis.