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Workshop Participants Build Their Land Trust’s Vision of Climate Change Adaptation

Workshop participants at Maryland's land trust conference build their situtation analysis for their target habitats.

In discussions about the role of land trusts in implementing climate change adaptation strategies, many have suggested that most of what land trusts do is already adaptation, while others have expressed the contrary opinion that adaptation is not “business as usual” for land trusts. Others worry that adaptation planning will take a lot of time and resources away from the day-to-day work of saving land. And others feel there is not yet enough information to start planning for how they will adapt their work to this new reality. These differing ideas can be confusing and discouraging.

To help get past this confusion, Defenders’ Living Lands facilitated workshops at the most recent Southeast Regional, Virginia, and Maryland land trust conferences to help the land trust community and their partners define their own vision for helping their communities adapt in the face of climate change.

The goal of this facilitated workshop was to demonstrate a quick and inexpensive process by which land trusts can begin to envision how climate change adaptation fits into their land conservation mission.

In this participatory workshop, the Defenders’ facilitated an exercise to build a common understanding of the biological, social, economic, political, and institutional systems that affect their conservation priorities. This process, called a “situation analysis”, is described in Step 1 of the Open Standards for the Practice of Conservation. The Open Standards were developed by the Conservation Measures Partnership (CMP) to bring together common concepts, approaches, and terminology to help practitioners improve the practice of conservation.

Planning for climate change adaptation will require that land trusts assess the drivers (e.g. air and water temperature increases, precipitation changes, sea level rise, species shifts in ranges) and the indirect and direct threats (e.g. floods, human responses, drought, invasive species outbreaks) to their conservation values under climate change. A “situation analysis” is a useful tool for documenting the drivers and threats affecting a biodiversity target as well as for identifying conservation actions that can be applied to contributing factors, direct threats, or even biodiversity targets.

We began the exercise by identifying the biodiversity targets as the habitat types used in the State Wildlife Action Plans of the southeastern US. For each habitat type we identified direct threats (which we cross-walked with the Standardized Threats Taxonomy developed by the CMP).

Using the US Global Change Research Program, Regional Climate Impacts: Southeast report and the Classification of Climate-Change-Induced Stresses on Biological Diversity, we identified the contributing factors related to climate change (i.e. climate change drivers) that lead to the direct threats and stresses on the target habitats. Contributing factors are often the entry points for conservation action (although actions may work through direct threats or even the target in some cases).

Then we identified how altered climate conditions link to direct threats using intermediate contributing factors. The facilitators helped the participants think through the causal relationships linking the altered climate conditions to the direct threats. The following thought process was helpful: Altered climate conditions result in this contributing factor which results in this direct threat which affects [via a stress] this target.

We were sure to discuss interactions between the altered climate conditions and non-climate-related threats (e.g. urban development). We identified potential relationships between climate factors and impacts on biological systems such as species range shifts, seasonal shifts, and disrupted biotic interactions. Ultimately the process of building the conceptual model assisted the group in identifying intervention points, or adaptation strategies.

The conceptual model shows the state of the world before taking action; the next step is for participants to think about adaptation strategies and the anticipated outcomes that will ultimately impact the habitat target. Participants identified broad categories of climate change adaptation strategies (e.g., outreach, policy, land protection, stewardship) and then described specific strategies that would reduce the effects of a contributing factor or direct threat on the habitat target.

In the example causal-relationships chain, yellow hexigons show adaptation strategies that intervene on contributing factors (orange) or direct threats (pink) to reduce stress on target habitats (green).

We talked about which strategies participants felt were most likely to achieve the desired outcome and which they felt were the most relevant to their land conservation work. We found it useful to consider several factors when evaluating strategies including: the likelihood the strategy will be successful, the feasibility of the strategy, the cost of the strategy, and the gap the strategy would address. Participants also identified the sources of uncertainty associated with the strategies (e.g., uncertainty associated with the direction/magnitude of altered climate conditions, the biophysical impact, or the outcome of the strategy).

As a wrap-up exercise, the group discussed what they felt were the opportunities and barriers to implementing some of the adaptation strategies they had identified. Many felt that the public’s skepticism about climate change and lack of funding were the largest barriers. But they also felt that the issue of climate change was potentially an opportunity to reinforce community support for their land conservation activities. Many participants felt the exercise was helpful to their thinking about climate change adaptation and thought they would use this process to initiate discussions with their organizations and stakeholders about climate change adaptation.


References and Resources 

Foundations of Success (FOS). 2007. Using Results Chains to Improve Strategy Effectiveness. An FOS How-To Guide. Foundations of Success, Bethesda, MD.

Foundations of Success (FOS). 2009. Using Conceptual Models to Document a Situation Analysis: An FOS How-To Guide. Foundations of Success Bethesda, MD.

Geyer, J. et al . 2011. Classification of Climate-Change-Induced Stresses on Biological Diversity.

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2007. Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – Synthesis Report

Salasfsky, N., D. Salzer, A. J. Stattersfield, C. Hilton-Taylor, R. Neugarten, S. H. M. Butchart, B. Collen, N. Cox, L. L. Master, S. O’Connor, and D. Wilkie. 2008. A standard lexicon for biodiversity conservation: Unified classifications of threats and actions. Conservation Biology 22: 897-911.

U.S. Global Change Research Program, Thomas R. Karl, Jerry M. Melillo, and Thomas C. Peterson, (eds.) 2009 Climate Change Effects from the U.S. Global Change Research Program, Regional Climate Impacts: Southeast.

US Global Change Research Program, Impacts of Climate Change on U.S. Regions and Sectors.

A full summary of the workshop with lists of strategies and the situation analyses is available here.

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Getting Off on the Right Foot with Conservation Planning Part III: How to Define the Problem

Conservation planning is a decision-making process to identify, prioritize, pursue, and protect conservation priorities in a way that will most effectively and efficiently achieve a goal.  (Third in a three part series).

Part 2 described why defining the problem is difficult, frequently overlooked, and yet important. Below is a list of questions that should help define the problem and develop a decision statement as the first step in the planning process.

How do we begin? We should start by evaluating our current decision-making processes. Ask why and how we need to improve the way we make decisions.

Who is the decision maker? This is a surprisingly difficult question and there are several scenarios – we may have single decision-maker, delegated authority, multiple decision-makers. Stakeholders, people outside the organization or agency that have interest or power in the decisions, have influence but they may not be decision makers.

What is our decision statement? At home it may be “My kid is acting up.” Our decision statement may be “How can we improve my kid’s behavior?”  At work it may be “We face competing interests between agricultural needs and habitat goals for riparian bird populations.” Our decision statement may be: “How can we optimize protection of riparian habitat for bird populations given competing needs for agriculture”.

Are we attempting to solve the right problem? Beware of decision frame blindness. Conservation issues are not simply technical or scientific, they reflect societal values – scientific, economic, political, and cultural values.  Are there other perspectives that aren’t being considered?  Are we framing the problem by earlier successes or failures? Are our assumptions false?   

Are we recognizing intractable problems? Intractable problems have already been decided, they are decisions that are out of our control, or they are decisions that require a greater level of investment of time, personnel, and resources than we have available. Failure is highly probable unless we re-define the problem so that it is within our ability to solve.

What is the scope of the decision? When & how often will the decision be made?  How large, broad, complicated is the decision?

What are our constraints for making the decision? Are there legal, financial, political constrains for making the decision. Are they perceived or real constraints?

A well-defined decision statement might take multiple attempts, but once you have a grasp on these questions, you can most likely develop a strong decision statement and get your conservation planning process off on the right foot.

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Getting Off on the Right Foot with Conservation Planning Part II: Why Identifying the Problem can be the Biggest Challenge

Conservation planning is a decision-making process to identify, prioritize, pursue, and protect conservation priorities in a way that will most effectively and efficiently achieve a goal.  (Part II of a three part series)

Defining your decision problem is the first, most important, but  often most difficult  and overlooked step in a conservation planning process. 

A decision is as an outcome of a thought process that leads to a course of actions (among many possible actions).  A decision is many times an irrevocable allocation of resources.

What decisions do we need to make during a planning process? Values and Visions: What do we care about, and what do we want the future to look like if we are successful in our mission?  Priorities: Are some conservation values are more important to us than others? Stakeholders: Who has power and interest in what decisions we make?  If our projects are land-based, where are our conservation values located on the landscape? Strategies: What actions are we going to take to reach our conservation goals? Implementation: Who is responsible for each action and by when do we want them to implement? Monitoring: How are we going to measure our success towards meeting our conservation goals? Adaptive Management: How do we learn from our projects and readjust our strategies as needed?

Why are decisions are hard? Uncertainty: We feel we don’t have all the information we need to make conservation decisions.  Complexity: We need to consider many interrelated factors. High-risk consequences: The impact of the decision may be significant and costly. Alternatives: We may have many alternative projects with each its own set of uncertainties and consequences to weigh. Controversy: It can be difficult to predict how other people will react to our decisions?

Part 3 will describe how to define the decision problem to get off on the right foot with conservation planning.

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Getting Off on the Right Foot with Conservation Planning Part I: Why plan?

Conservation planning is a decision-making process to identify, prioritize, pursue, and protect conservation priorities in a way that will most effectively and efficiently achieve a goal.  (First in a three part series)

Why plan? Just to name a few reasons: Planning builds organizational consensus over the selection of projects and allows the organization to be more proactive. Planning improves outreach to the community by stating the values of the organization or agency and by rigorously reviewing projects for public benefits.  Planning improves chances for success with funding programs that rely on criteria for selecting successful applicants. Planning helps with vetting conservation projects for their long-term suitability to meet the mission. Planning makes conservation decisions more defensible to withstand scrutiny by outside parties and the community in general.

Seems logical enough, no?  Then why is even the idea of undertaking a conservation planning process is a seemingly overwhelming task for both small and large conservation organizations and agencies alike?  Even though we know that we need conservation planning to move us from being opportunistic  (taking projects as they  come through the door) to being more strategic (figuring out a decision process for selecting actions that will be the most effective at meeting conservation goals), we can’t seem to muster the time, energy, or resources to begin the journey.  The notion of embarking on a lengthy and complicated process, taking time away from the “real work” of conservation, and stretching limited resources even further can be a strong deterrent from planning. 

So, it seems, if we are going to plan, we should make the process as useful as possible.  No one wants to think they are being more strategic because we have a plan, then to realize down the road that their plans are not useful in the end. We all know it is pointless to go through the process of developing plans that are not being used to guide our decisions, yet it happens all of the time.  Many times it happens because the process is flawed from the beginning.

Planning Parts 2 will describe why identifying a decision problem is the biggest challenge, but one of the most important initial steps in the planning process. Planning Part 3 will describe how to define the decision-problem.

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koopmann 084

Protecting ranchers protects wildlife habitat – What?

Picture from the California Cattlemen's Association

Yes, it’s true. For generations, many ranchers have been managing their lands for wildlife on purpose and inadvertently. In California, private ranches contain unique and vulnerable habitats, such as vernal pools, grasslands, and oak woodlands. These ecosystems have been largely shaped over thousands of years to withstand and thrive under disturbances from fire, roaming buffalo, deer, and other ungulates. With the loss of these large herds and natural disturbances, ranchers have stepped in to mimic many of these disturbances through management of livestock. As Pelayo Alvarez says, Co-director of the California Rangeland Conservation Coalition, “They are ‘keystone species’ – you lose them and you lose the ecological integrity of the lands they manage.”

Defenders of Wildlife, along with the Coalition and some of their partners are working on keeping ranchers ranching by paying them for the ecological and socio-economic benefits they provide. Current conservation programs mostly pay ranchers for their practices, however there are groups working on moving beyond this form of conservation and paying ranchers for actual outcomes. These innovative conservation programs are taking shape in the form of Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES) programs and/or markets.

To help inform the formation of these innovative conservation programs in California, Defenders of Wildlife conducted a survey of ranchers, the first of its kind to focus on the supplier perspective towards PES programs or markets. The survey was designed to give insight into the demographics of ranchers; their knowledge and attitudes towards current conservation programs; their level of interest in participating in future PES programs or markets; and outlining the most important aspects of a potential future program with respect to administrator, level of payment, and length of contract.

Five key insights emerged from the survey’s results:

  • The threat of rangeland conversion in California is real and immediate and the time is ripe for a new approach to conservation
  • California ranchers’ high rate of participation in public conservation programs, coupled with their dissatisfaction with the perceived administrative hurdles associated with these programs, offers an opportunity to introduce more appealing conservation options.
  • California ranchers are strongly interested in PES programs, particularly those tied to wildlife habitat.
  • California ranchers recognize the importance of the environmental benefits provided by their land and want to improve these benefits with the right mix of assistance and incentives.
  • California ranchers prefer flexible program structures that are built on shorter contracts, larger payments, and non-profit organizations or private companies as administrators.

The report is still in its final stages and has not been released to the general public. A shorter report and blog post will be accompanied with the release of the final report within the next few weeks. Stay tuned.

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Bog Turtle

Saving America’s smallest turtle

Bog Turtle

Bog Turtle, Scienceray

Programs like the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wetlands Reserve Program rely on voluntary conservation measures, providing financial support to private landowner’s wetlands restoration and conservation projects.   The Federal government is able to obtain conservation easements with landowners, and provides cost-share payments for wetland rehabilitation practices and the implementation of conservation measures, like setting up fences around identified habitat.  The hope of making a small profit can do a lot to convince a cost-conscious landowner to take the steps necessary to protect endangered species on their property, demonstrating the great potential of incentives in species recovery on private lands.

Why is this important?

Because the majority of America’s endangered species depend on private land for their survival; indeed, private land comprises 80 percent of threatened and endangered species habitat (Crouse et al. 2002).  What’s more, most of these species need active habitat restoration and management, and not just protection, in order to thrive.  Consider the threatened bog turtle, America’s most diminutive turtle.

Infant bog turtle, from turtlesandmoreturtles.blogspot.com

Bog turtle distribution map

The bog turtle is found from Maryland to New York in small isolated wetlands at the headwaters of the region’s streams and rivers (see distribution map on the left).  We tried to catch up with bog turtles on a recent survey of wetlands in Chester County, Pennsylvania, with expert herpetologists, Jason Tesauro and Brandon Ruhe.

We had high hopes of seeing a lot of bog turtles, but instead found some fresh tracks, and happened upon three box turtles.  According to Jason and Brandon, prime viewing time for bog turtles actually occurs earlier in the spring, and in the fall.  In the summer months, they prefer to retreat into the underbrush and burrow into the mud, living off a healthy diet of slugs and other prey.  It is also possible that we simply did not spot them; wetland meadows, sunny but moist, are optimal habitat, but over the course of the years bog turtle habitats have turned into overly dense thickets often consisting of invasive plants – the dense vegetation made our search more difficult.

Example of agriculture-related development near bog turtle habitat.

Nearby agricultural activity and development has resulted in secondary impacts, most notably nutrient loading.  An enriched soil mineral content is a haven for invasive plants and may have caused the unnaturally productive growth of certain native plants, like maple trees, triggering succession and disrupting turtle microhabitats.  In stark contrast to what perfect turtle habitat should look like – low-lying vegetation, soft wet soil and plenty of sun exposure – some of the conservation easements we visited were grown over with tall grasses, invasive trees and woody thickets.  The disappearance of traditional or prehistoric grazers (bison, elk and mastodon) means that these turtles’ best hope is habitat protection and controlled grazing by farm animals like cows, goats and sheep, combined with the eradication of invasive species.  And since 95% of bog turtle habitat lies within private properties, landowner incentives and active management are crucial to bog turtle recovery efforts.

Conservation easement boundary indicator issued by the USDA on the first private property we visited.

Ideal nesting habitat for bog turtles consists of low-lying tussocks of grass, supported by a bed of soft mud.

Jake picking his way through cattails, ferns, sedges, rose bushes and skunk cabbage – a textbook example of overrun habitat.

In our conversations with Jason and Brandon, it became rapidly apparent that not only are bog turtles highly conservation-reliant, but our main tool for protection is the USDA Wetlands Reserve Program.  This program is critical to providing the funding to eradicate invasive plants, manage herds of grazers and protect and restore wetland hydrology in dozens of wetlands throughout Pennsylvania that are critical to the turtle’s survival.

We were lucky enough to find turtle tracks on this visit, but if we transition towards and strengthen voluntary active management measures to rehabilitate this conservation-reliant species’ habitat, maybe we’ll actually see some turtles next time we visit these swamps.

Bog turtle tracks, but no bog turtles this time around!

Jason Tesauro is the owner of Jason Tesauro Consulting; Brandon Ruhe is a co-founder of MACHAC and Aqua-Terra Environmental Ltd.  Both are United States Fish and Wildlife Service Qualified Bog Turtle Surveyors.

Co-authored with Jake Li and Tim Male.

DT Crouse, LA Mehrhoff, MJ Parkin, DR Elam, LY Chen. 2002. Endangered Species Recovery and the SCB Report: A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Perspective. Ecological Applications 12: 719-723.

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Chesapeake Bay tidal marsh, David Curson, Audubon MD/DC

Climate Change Adaptation in Maryland’s Somerset-Wicomico Marshes Important Bird Area

Chesapeake Bay tidal marsh, photo by David Curson, Audubon MD/DC

The State of Maryland is moving forward with critical climate change planning for coastal areas by figuring out how to protect lands into which soon-to-be-inundated wetlands and marshes can retreat. In response to the threat of sea level rise, these efforts are essential to maintaining the long-term ecological functions of storm surge buffering, carbon sequestration, water filtration, wildlife habitat, recreation and others that wetlands provide.

Defenders of Wildlife, Audubon Maryland/DC and the Lower Shore Land Trust have teamed up on a project focused on increasing the adaptive capacity of salt marshes and salt marsh obligate bird species in the Somerset-Wicomico Marshes Important Bird Area

View video on Climate Change Adaptation in Maryland’s Somerset-Wicomico Marshes Important Bird Area

The coastal wetlands in the Chesapeake Bay provide a range of “ecosystem services” that are critical for improving the water quality by helping to remove nutrients, chemicals, and sediment from urban and agricultural runoff before reaching the open water of the Bay. In addition, coastal wetlands provide a first line of defense against rising sea levels and increased storm damage, flooding and erosion.

These wetlands are habitat for ducks, geese and shorebirds and are home to unique flora and fauna, including two birds, the Seaside Sparrow and the Saltmarsh Sparrow, which are identified as Maryland species of greatest conservation concern in the Maryland Wildlife Diversity Conservation Plan. These species evolved in this tidal environment and are found only in salt marsh habitats along the U.S. Atlantic Coasts.

Sea level rise is impacting low-lying coastal lands at twice the global average rate. Maryland Department of Natural Resources explains that the State has already seen a foot of relative sea level rise during the past 100 years, causing the disappearance of 13 barrier islands from the Chesapeake Bay. Within the Chesapeake Bay, additional sea level rise impacts are already evident, including wetland erosion and forest die-back as a result of saltwater intrusion.

Our work will focus on assisting the Lower Shore Land Trust to identify the highest priority marsh migration corridors so that they can protect these areas from future development. This project takes place within the context of Defender’s work with state wildlife agencies to update their wildlife action plans to consider the impacts of climate change, as well as Defender’s Living Lands program that enhances the capacity of land trusts and their partners in protecting biodiversity in the face of climate change.

For more information on sea level rise in the Chesapeake Bay, see the following online resources:

Maryland Commission on Climate Change  

Strategy for Reducing Maryland’s Vulnerability to Climate Change Phase I: Sea-level rise and coastal storms

National Wildlife Federation

U.S. Climate Change Science Program

North Atlantic Landscape Conservation Cooperative

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Vernal Pool

Valuing California Rangelands – A Way Forward

Vernal Pool

Co – written with Jessica Musengezi

Three weeks ago, the Woods Institute for the Environment at Stanford University hosted an Uncommon Dialogue on Rangelands Policy and Research with the intention of bringing together scientists, policy-makers, economists, and representatives from local and state government agencies to share perspectives on ranching and its role in conserving California rangelands.  Rangelands are integral to the protection of services we sometimes take for granted – clean water, clean air, and pollination of our food crops. These systems are currently under siege from high-intensity agriculture and development of infrastructure, such as subdivisions.  The issue of conserving not only natural habitats, but preserving the culture that protects these habitats is complex, and involves multiple stakeholders encompassing an area of more than 34 million acres in the Central Valley and interior Coast Range.

Conserving rangelands is a multi-level problem, it is about conserving landscape (maintaining connectivity, extent, and biological diversity); improving and maintaining the financial and ecological viability of working ranches that are the bedrock of the landscape; and managing pastures, understanding the vegetation and habitat, and how to maintain and improve the services they provide.

Complex as the problem may be, there are promising market-based mechanisms to address the challenges rangelands are facing.  Ranchers are struggling to maintain profitability and they need additional incentives to help them stay in the black. Dr. Gretchen Daily of Stanford University emphasized the need for a new business model that allows ranches to combine revenue streams from ecosystems services (i.e. carbon sequestration, water quality improvement and wildlife habitat),  as well as sale of cattle, conservation easements, and government programs providing the level of income needed to keep ranchers from converting their lands.

Paying for ecosystem services entails identifying and quantifying the services provided by rangelands and implementing practices on ranches to secure provision of services.  Dr. Claire Kremen of U.C. Berkeley presented research that demonstrated the important services provided by wild pollinators. According to her research, wild bees pollinate approximately 35-39% of our commercial crops and about 50% of these bees come from rangelands. This is a strong argument to identify and quantify these services, so they no longer go unrecognized.

At the farm level the science of understanding the benefits of grazing is substantial and gives ranchers a variety of options for ecologically sustainable management. One novel idea is teaching cows to eat weeds. Cows are trained to seek out and eat nasty weeds, sparing the herbicide a farmer might choose to use instead – talk about cost effective weed management! Clearly there is no shortage of innovation and creativity, it is ‘Uncommon Dialogues’ such as this one held by Stanford and partnerships fostered by groups like the California Rangeland Conservation Coalition that synthesize existing knowledge and chart an integrated path forward to meet our shared conservation goals.

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Something exciting is happening in the Dominican Republic (and it is not the latest Merengue)

Something exciting is happening in the Dominican Republic (and it is not the latest Merengue)

It is conserving private lands for biodiversity!

Photo of Judy Boshoven at the workshop in the DR

Judy Boshoven, Manager, Living Lands Program with Mr. Jaime David Fernández Mirabal, Minister of the Environment of the Dominican Republic and Ginny Heinsen of Centro para el Desarrollo Agropecuario y Forestal, Inc at the workshop to discuss private lands conservation in the Dominican Republic.

The Minister of the Environment of the Dominican Republic is keen on the idea – so much so that he invited representatives from organizations involved in private lands conservation in their respective countries, including the Living Lands Program of Defenders, to present at a workshop  to conservation groups, environmental agencies, landowners, journalists and business people in Santo Domingo recently.  All involved in planning the event are hopeful that it is the start of something good.

Conservation of biodiversity on private property has taken off in the US over the past 25 or so years, but in Latin America the concept is relatively new.  However, country by country, governments and non-profit conservation organizations throughout Latin America have been working to put the pieces in place to be able to allow private landowners to voluntarily protect the natural resources on their property. Private lands conservation has taken many forms. In the US, the most common form is the conservation easement, which, very simply put, is a legal agreement between a landowner and a land trust or government agency that permanently limits uses of the land in order to protect its conservation values. This concept is not always easily transferable to Latin America.

For one, in the US there are state enabling statutes, as well as strong tax incentives for landowners to donate an easement on their property. To get the federal tax benefits, the conservation easement must be perpetual.  Agencies and land trusts may also purchase the conservation easement (development rights) from the landowner.  In contrast, most Latin American countries do not yet have the legal framework or the incentive programs in place to protect private land at the scale that we have in the US.

But still there has been a growing impetus for private land conservation in Latin America over the past 20 years. Costa Rica and Mexico are among the countries that have led the way. A number of Latin American countries have passed new laws that recognize the creation of private nature preserves.  Nonprofit organizations have inventively used existing laws to create easement between two landowners, but not for traditional purpose of a right of way, but instead to protect the conservation values of the property.

In the US, paying less tax is an attractive incentive for landowners to put their property under a conservation easement. However, tax rates are generally lower in many Latin American countries. Therefore, tax breaks might not be a strong incentive for landowners in Latin America, and governments may be apprehensive about initiating programs for landowners to pay less. Instead, it may be more feasible to create payment for ecosystem services between, for example, private landowners and a water utility or hydro-electric facility.

Another limiting factor is the lack of clear land tenure in the Dominican Republic and in other Latin American countries. In the US, due diligence for a conservation easement project includes a review of the title and a survey of the boundaries of the property.  In the Dominican Republic, as in many Latin American countries, obtaining this documentation may be an insurmountable challenge.

Aside from Merengue, the Dominican Republic has a lot to be proud of – 104 national protected areas covering 25% of the country. Although it will not be an easy mountain to climb, establishing a program to protect biodiversity of private lands will be critical to connecting these public lands into a biologically diverse network.

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New Report Highlights the Importance of Private Lands to Biodiversity Conservation

New Report Highlights the Importance of Private Lands to Biodiversity Conservation

Forest in the Fall

Copyright Raul Touzon/National Geographic Stock

For those of us who are dedicated to protecting private forests, a recently released 20-page report by the USDA adds even more credence to our work.  “Threats to At-Risk Species in America’s Private Forest” contains a number of important findings that can lend additional weight to your conservation efforts.  Here are some findings that I found especially helpful in “fueling my fire” for protecting forest on private lands:

  • “Sixty percent of the at-risk species of plants and animals in the conterminous, or ‘lower 48’, United States are associated with private forests (Robles et as. 2008)”
  • “Seventy-five percent of all forest lands in the East are privately owned”.
  • “More than 4,600 native animal and plant species associated with private forest in the United States are at risk of decline or extinction.”
  • “In some watersheds, up to 95% of forest-associate at-risk species occur only in private forests.”

Clearly, these findings show that working with private-forest landowners, especially in the East, is an absolute must if we care about protecting biodiversity.

And this is just the big picture – the report also contains maps of the US in which the number of at-risk species and the relative threat to their habitat from increased housing density, wildfire, and insect and disease are shown by watershed.  So, for example, if you work in a watershed in the northwest corner of North Carolina, you will discover the relative threat to forest-associated at-risk species in your little corner of the world compared to the other hundreds of watersheds in the US.

Whether you work to reduce vehicle-wildlife collisions, negotiate conservation easements, or advocate for tax incentives for landowners for forest stewardship, this report reaffirms that forest wildlife needs you!

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dotWild is the blog of scientists and policy experts at Defenders of Wildlife, a national, nonprofit membership organization dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities.