Conservation issues

Aerial image of the Prairie Pothole farmland region

Conserving natural and cultural resources at a landscape level is about making better-informed decisions, and working collaboratively with stakeholders who have interests in and impacts on the same landscapes. 

Cooperative landscape conservation related to farming, ranching, and forestry center around finding balance between conventional agricultural practices and sustainable use of soil, water, and other natural resources. LCC-funded research on working landscapes focus on ecological impacts of agricultural and conservation practices, mapping and modeling conservation activities such as wetland and grassland restoration, reducing hypoxia (oxygen-deplete dead zones) in streams and waters, and conducting social and economic analyses of conservation. 

Aquatic habitat connectivity

Restoring access for anadromous fish (species that migrate between marine and freshwater) to upstream areas for spawning and rearing young is a significant contribution to the improvement of stream health and water quality. Stream barriers such as dams and road crossings prevent native species from moving up and downstream to important habitat.

To restore native fish migration in the Great Lakes tributaries, the Upper Midwest and Great Lakes LCC created a decision support tool that prioritizes fish passage projects across the Great Lakes basin.

Image of Alaska bay

A recent national news program posed the question, “Will the residents of Kivalina, Alaska be the first climate change refugees in the U.S.?”

The 400 residents of Kivalina depend on marine mammals for subsistence. They are already encountering difficulty obtaining seals, walrus and whales due to changes in the thickness and timing of freeze-up and thawing of the ice pack. Fall storms that used to blow harmlessly across a frozen sea now bring pounding waves and storm surges that threaten to flood the village. Scientists predict that Kivalina could fall below sea level as soon as 2025.

Image of a beach

Rising sea levels, coastal erosion, and changing frequency and intensity of storms are impacting landscapes and seascapes and the people, fish, wildlife, and plants that depend upon them. Coastal- and island-oriented LCCs support applied science efforts to help communities impacted by sea level rise to increase their local resilience; safeguard people, infrastructure, and natural resources from catastrophic damage from extreme weather events; and plan for their future.


Alaska

In Alaska where change is rapid, coastal communities and important natural resources are at risk. Changes in snow, ice, and weather have resulted in infrastructure damage, risk to human lives, disruption of hunting and fishing, and threats to economic resources.

Wind farm

Energy development and landscape-scale conservation are not mutually exclusive activities. LCC partners can support science and stakeholder forums to help minimize risks to fish and wildlife while improving certainty for energy developers.

For example, the Appalachian Mountains are a landscape filled with globally significant biological diversity and cultural resources that provides essential benefits to large cities and surrounding human communities. The region is also rich in energy resources that meet national and regional demands for energy. As wind, natural gas and oil energy development expand along with traditional coal, there is an increasing need for research to inform discussions on how to meet immediate and future energy needs while sustaining the health of natural systems. 

Satellite image of the Gulf of Mexico

Midwestern states within the Upper Mississippi River watershed currently contribute the greatest nutrient load to the Gulf of Mexico hypoxic zone. Often called “dead zones,” hypoxic areas have oxygen levels that can decrease to the point where the zone can no longer support living aquatic species. High concentration of nutrients — particularly nitrogen and phosphorous — is one of the major events that contribute to Gulf hypoxia.

To reduce water quality impacts downstream to fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico, the conservation community identified the need for tools that prioritize the design and configuration of actions that appeal to upstream agricultural communities. As a result, the Mississippi River Basin/Gulf Hypoxia Initiative (MRB/GH) was created.

Conservation Blueprint workshop

Landscape Conservation Cooperatives (LCCs) are developing Landscape Conservation Designs (LCD) as mechanisms – living blueprints for the future – for identifying, designing, and delivering through partners an ecologically connected network of landscapes and seascapes adaptable to global change. LCD is an iterative, collaborative, and holistic process resulting in products that provide information, analytical tools, maps, and strategies to achieve landscape goals collectively held among partners.

Male greater sage grouse photo

LCCs work collaboratively with federal and state agencies, industries, non-governmental organizations and private landowners to address the conservation of declining species in priority landscapes. State fish and wildlife agencies, in particular, play a key role in providing expertise to identify the specific management needs of species, priority areas to do this work and receptive landowners.

LCC capacity helps to support pre-listing conservation by:

Photo of expansive sagebrush landscape

The sage-steppe is one of the largest ecosystems in North America and is highly imperiled. It’s home to more than 350 western wildlife species including big game, sagebrush obligates, migratory song birds and rare fish.  

Historically, conservation of the sage-steppe has not been a high priority because of its wide geographic distribution, relative remoteness, lack of dramatic scenery and its perception as a “working landscape.” Yet, the recent documentation of greater and Gunnison sage-grouse population declines has focused long-needed attention to the landscape.

Research now clearly shows that degradation in the quality, integrity and connectivity of sage-steppe habitat is the primary mechanism for sage-grouse declines. This habitat decline also impacts a host of other species and ecosystem services in the interior west.

Photo of a leopard frog

Full and active engagement of state agencies is vitally important to the success of each LCC. State agencies help drive the identification of science needs, and in return, LCCs can provide applied science resources and support to help agencies uphold their public trust responsibilities within their borders.

State Wildlife Action Plans are blueprints for wildlife conservation within individual states and are revised every ten years. A wealth of regionally focused information exists that could be incorporated into the revision process if synthesized and made accessible. Additionally, recognizing that species-ranges, -habitats, and -threats cross state borders, linking shared priorities and efforts will lead to greater efficacy of conservation actions.

Image of a First Nation's blessing

Traditional Ecological Knowledges (TEKs) are an understanding about the relationships among species and ecosystems acquired by Tribes and indigenous and local people over hundreds or thousands of years. This knowledge is handed down the generations through traditional stories and beliefs. TEKs can play a fundamental role in preserving natural and cultural resources by bridging human and environmental systems. LCCs support projects that study TEK to inform conservation strategies as a way to increase cultural resiliency and adaptation.

Image of a bridge crossing a river

Connectivity is the mission of the nation’s transportation system of roadways and waterways. Connectivity is also mission-critical when advancing landscape and seascape scale conservation for fish, wildlife, and their habitats. LCC resources can help agencies, companies, and communities model future risks from landscape-scale change for smarter decision-making that can reduce risks and costs and protect strategic infrastructure investments on a longer-term and larger scale. 
 

Urban conservation

Our nation’s cities are built on lands and water systems that are connected to larger natural areas. The health and security of that land and water is vital for a city’s economy and the well-being of its metropolitan area residents. For example, LCC-funded efforts such as Ecological Places in Cities (EPiC) in the Midwest and the South Atlantic Conservation Blueprint (also see SECAS) are creating new visions for their landscapes that integrate nature’s benefits and natural defenses with planning approaches and civic leadership to grow ecologically resilient urban communities. 

Image of a dry habitat

Adequate and safe water supplies are essential to the health, economy, security, and ecology of the country. To achieve sustainable water management and maintain economic productivity in the western U.S., action is required to address current and future water shortages; degraded water quality; increased demands for water from growing populations and energy needs; amplified recognition of environmental water requirements; and the potential for decreased water supply availability due to drought and long-term changes in weather patterns.

Mountain vista

That's how we see it. Occasional views and commentary on landscape conservation and the importance of collaboration in sustaining natural and cultural resources for generations to come.