The U.S. system of national parks and national forests is a great success story, but a new era in land conservation awaits. Ecosystems, watersheds and wildlife corridors don't fit neatly inside park boundaries, and typically involve multiple landowners and public and private entities, requiring a new approach to management and funding. Senior fellow Armando Carbonell will travel to Washington this week to join the White House Conference on America's Great Outdoors, to spread the word about some of these innovative strategies.
The conference, opened by President Obama and covered by USA Today, is centered on the challenges, opportunities and innovations surrounding modern-day land conservation and the importance of reconnecting Americans to parks, forests, and working landscapes, will be led by Nancy Sutley, Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, Ken Salazar, Secretary of the Interior, and Tom Vilsack, Secretary of Agriculture.
The Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, the Center for Natural Resources and Environmental Policy at the University of Montana, The Nature Conservancy, the Sonoran Institute, and the Program on Conservation Innovation at Harvard University are promoting strategies for protecting, managing and funding large landscapes across state and in some cases international boundaries, in community-based collaborations of private landowners, local and regional non-profit organizations, and governmental agencies. Representatives from these organizations have been meeting with senior administration officials in the Interior and Agriculture departments to highlight these "outside the beltway" innovations.
"A century ago, Teddy Roosevelt held a White House conference that built on our great national parks system. We are now in a new era," Carbonell said. "Today we recognize that large landscapes don't fit neatly inside park or forest boundaries - they spread across states and even nations, and involve multiple agencies and stakeholders. A fresh approach for management and funding reflects the wisdom of grassroots regional collaboration."
A leading example of the new approach in land conservation is the Crown of the Continent Roundtable, a network to unite the more than 100 government agencies, non-government organizations, tribal groups, and place-based partnerships with a stake in the 10-million acre area from western Montana spanning the Canadian border into Alberta. The Crown of the Continent is known as a cultural and ecological crossroads, where plant and animal communities from the Pacific Northwest, eastern prairies, southern Rockies, and boreal forests mingle. Other examples, featured in an upcoming Policy Focus Report, include:
- Freedom to Roam: A coalition of business, government and conservation groups ensuring that wildlife can move, migrate, and adapt under the challenges of habitat fragmentation and a changing climate in North America.
- America's Longleaf Pine Initiative: An ad hoc public-private partnership with a multi-state strategy to restore Longleaf pine forests in the southeast U.S.
- Platte River Cooperative Agreement and Implementation Program: A negotiated agreement for managing the river basin in Colorado, Nebraska, and Wyoming, to protect endangered species while allowing recreational water uses to continue.
- Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor: A grassroots initiative blessed by Congress to protect the natural and cultural heritage of the birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution, along the 46-mile run of the river from Worcester, Mass. to Providence, R.I.
- Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan: A $7 billion inter-governmental effort for the nation's most ambitious ecosystem restoration initiative, encompassing an 18,000-square-mile region of subtropical uplands, wetlands, and coral reefs from south of Orlando to the Florida Keys.
- Las Cienegas National Conservation Area: A shared decision-making authority authorized by Congress through the Bureau of Land Management and the Sonoita Valley Planning Partnership to manage public lands and resources across a high-desert basin and wildlife corridor across the Southwest and northern Mexico.
- Tahoe Regional Planning Agency: The nation's first interstate land use authority to maintain environmental quality within the 500-square-mile Lake Tahoe Basin spanning Nevada and California, amid private development, tourism, ranching, and logging.
The aim is to highlight a strategic framework to address large landscape conservation, climate change, biodiversity protection, water management, and land use, through partnerships of federal and state government, tribes, business, community, and conservation interests, while meeting national conservation priorities. Another key component is to integrate existing federal funding programs to catalyze, enable, and sustain large landscape conservation initiatives, building on the Lincoln Institute's longstanding commitment to develop innovative conservation finance strategies.