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Interactive Conservation Planning and Design

Conservation Design Image Well-connected landscapes are necessary to sustain many of the natural and cultural resources important to the Appalachian region today and into the future. If these large connected areas are to endure and be resilient to impending environmental changes, it will require a collaborative effort involving many organizations and reaching across jurisdictional and political boundaries.

Conservation Planning, a process of spatially identifying and prioritizing lands and waters important for functioning ecosystems and biodiversity, is well suited to address the many large-scale biodiversity challenges facing the region and lead to conservation outcomes that link pristine and natural lands into an interconnected landscape for plants, animals, and humans. Where planning is the process, Conservation Design is the product. It can be a series of maps or data layers that illustrate the location of key focal landscapes and priority resources, or combined into decision support tools that can inform managers and conservations about the quality, quantity, and location of habitat needed to protect biodiversity. To realize this vision, there is a need to prioritize places and actions that hold the greatest promise for the protection of biodiversity. Once these opportunities are identified, they then are placed into a framework that coordinates the collaborative work of organizations and individuals who will implement the plan.

In Phase I of the Appalachian LCC Conservation Planning and Design Initiative, researchers at Clemson University identified five conservation design elements covering many critical ecological processes and patterns across the Appalachian LCC geography. These elements include large interconnected regions as well as broad landscapes that connect them. Small areas that are likely to contain larger ecological significance than their size would suggest were also mapped. Examples of aquatic and terrestrial conservation targets are provided that represent design elements. All of the elements are assessed in regards to the three major landscape level threats in the geography (climate change, energy development, and urbanization from housing density).

In Phase II, researchers and Appalachian LCC staff coordinated a series of consultations with experts across the region to ensure priority aquatic species, habitats, and ecosystems were integrated into the design. Discussions built on results of the Phase I modeling to include appropriate metrics and threats for assessing aquatic ecological integrity in the region. From these consultations, Clemson researchers developed an aquatics only scenario for landscape prioritization based on catchment level predictors. They also integrated freshwater and terrestrial scenario for spatial prioritization. An online tool will soon be available that will enable partners to ask multiple questions about the underlying data (e.e. why is this place important and what priorities are within this area.)

Since cultural resources are an additional critical piece of conservation design in the Appalachians, a conceptual framework is being developed for mapping cultural resources across the entire geography and will be integrated in a future iteration of the conservation design.

The success of this or any conservation planning and design enterprise is dependent on human communities. A successful conservation plan provides public land managers, NGOs, and private landowners the ability to incorporate landscape data into their own local land use decisions. In order for these organizations and individuals to find plans useful, the plan must be dynamic and well informed by stakeholders. The LCC system provides a great model for bringing these parties together to form a unique and comprehensive conservation vision across the region.

View a video presentation by Paul Leonard of Clemson University, which provides an overview of the Interactive Conservation Planning and Design research, conservation elements, and major deliverables.

This next video presentation by Paul Leonard focuses on phase 2 of the Conservation Planning and Design project, where Clemson researchers and technical teams will refine phase 1 by selecting metrics to fit into the conservation design framework, integrate aquatic and cultural resource components, and discuss major threats and determine best scale to examine integrity.

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