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Land Trusts: Bringing Landscape-Scale Resources to Local Communities

Work on a landscape scale can mean a number of things, but the main purpose is to create a network of people that share data and information, technology and tools, and lessons learned along the way to enhance conservation collaboration and make a greater impact on the landscape.
Land Trusts: Bringing Landscape-Scale Resources to Local Communities

AppLCC staff and Rick Huffines, Executive Director of the Tennessee River Gorge Trust, tour the Gorge after a science delivery workshop.

“Just because we all wear tan shirts, doesn’t mean we all play in the same sand box,” said Rick Huffines, Executive Director of the Tennessee River Gorge Trust (TRGT). “It’s all about conservation work, but each entity has their own mission and way of doing business.”

For land trusts such as the TRGT that means working with and addressing the needs of the communities they serve. While other agencies rely on and interact with their local communities, Huffines explains “(Land Trusts) live and die by the community. Folks don’t have to support what we do; folks choose to support what we do.”

That sentiment is carried by land trusts throughout the Appalachians. Kelly Watkinson, now with the Land Trust Alliance and former Executive Director of the Cacapon and Lost Rivers Land Trust in West Virginia, shared Huffines community-driven philosophy, “Our primary focus is working with private land owners to protect important resources in the watershed. We’re driven by the local land owners and their strong connection to the resources of the area.”

The TRGT near Chattanooga, Tennessee is a perfect example of the unique role land trusts play in local conservation. The Trust was formed in 1981, not by a government mandate but from a dinner party at a Chattanooga resident’s home where she and her guests expressed concern about the development on the mountains bordering Chattanooga. The residents decided the 27,000-acre gorge was worth protecting and from there the Trust was born to ensure the land would remain as a healthy and productive resource for the community.

To this day, land trusts are still operated by and for the communities they serve—keeping community involvement a central theme in their efforts. The territory of focus for the Cacapon and Lost Rivers Land Trust encompasses three wildlife management areas, two state parks, and cushions up against both the Washington and Jefferson national forests—all offering ample opportunities for outdoor recreation. Within five miles of the bustling city of Chattanooga, the TRGT encourages residents to take advantage of the Gorge’s immense beauty and many recreational opportunities, offering camping, kayaking, cycling, hiking, and much more.

Many of these recreational opportunities can also offer a double purpose. For example, a new bird observatory at the TRGT encourages birding and keeps track of what birds’ visitors can expect to see. It also allows the Trust to monitor populations as they come through the Gorge. Since birds are an indicator species, monitoring their populations over time can reveal vital information about the unique ecosystems within the Gorge and their health.

The information gathered by land trusts is vital, not just to the immediate territory of land trusts, but to the landscape on a larger level. As Watkinson puts it, “It’s essential to think about how our lands fits within the larger region. If we’re not seeing that, we’re not seeing the bigger picture.”

That’s where a partnership like the Appalachian Landscape Conservation Cooperative (LCC) comes in. It brings together a diverse coalition of scientists and resource managers from federal, state, NGOs, universities, and tribes to harness expertise, creativity, and passion to work at a larger scale and collectively tackle long-term conservation challenges.

Work on a landscape scale can mean a number of things, but the main purpose is to create a network of people that share data and information, technology and tools, and lessons learned along the way to enhance conservation collaboration and make a greater impact on the landscape. As Huffines puts it, “It’s not just people working in silos. If someone needs something, needs assistance, we should be coming together to help each other out.”

Recently Huffines and the Trust staff hosted a workshop with their partners and Appalachian LCC staff in the hopes of spreading this landscape conservation philosophy to neighboring organizations. The workshop familiarized participants with the Appalachian LCC; its mission, recent activities and newly developed resources available to partners to improve their conservation planning and management efforts. The workshop provided a wealth of regional information, provided a larger context to the local conservation taking place, and maybe more importantly brought neighboring land trusts in Tennessee together in the same room to talk about the challenges and issues they are dealing with.

“I worked for U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service back in 2009 when we started talking about LCCs and I realized that what we hoped for back then was finally coming to fruition,” said Huffines. “I was just overwhelmed to see how far the LCC had advanced and felt there was a need to share my excitement with others.”

The Appalachians are a big place with many incredibly unique ecosystems dotted across the landscape, each one worth protecting. There is no simple solution to how to achieve that, especially in a way where protected lands are connected to each other so wildlife can migrate and adjust to changing conditions. But we do know that one group cannot accomplish it alone. When neighboring organizations band together it lightens the work load for everyone.

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