The Lincoln Institute's latest Policy Focus Report, Large Landscape Conservation: A Strategic Framework for Policy and Action, was available at the Obama administration's first "listening sessions" in Montana earlier this month, aimed at crafting a new approach for managing the nation's open space. The report regionally based initiatives currently underway in forest lands, ecosystems, watersheds, and wildlife corridors that involve multiple jurisdictions and ownership.
The listening sessions were held June 2 in Helena, Bozeman, and Missoula, Montana. At the White House Conference on America’s Great Outdoors in April, President Obama announced his interest in new approaches for modern-day land conservation and the importance of reconnecting Americans to parks, forests, and working landscapes. Nearly a century after President Theodore Roosevelt expanded the national parks system, a new approach is needed to balance many different stakeholders in large land areas that cross many boundaries, said Lincoln Institute senior fellow Armando Carbonell. “We are in a new era,” he said.
Recognizing that the most important land and water issues facing North America—including land use patterns, water management, biodiversity protection, and climate adaptation—require new approaches, several regional groups have come together to focus on land and water issues at the appropriate geographic scale, which almost always transcend the reach of existing jurisdictions and institutions.
A leading example 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 spanning western Montana across 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.
The common currency in large landscape conservation is regional collaboration—the ability to work across boundaries with people and organizations that have diverse interests yet share a common place, said Matthew McKinney, director of the Center for Natural Resources and Environmental Policy at the University of Montana, and lead author of the report. The other co-authors are Lynn Scarlett, former deputy secretary at the U.S. Department of the Interior under President George W. Bush, and Daniel Kemmis, former mayor of Missoula, Montana, and former speaker and minority leader of the Montana House of Representatives.
The includes these recommendations to improve the practice and performance of large landscape conservation initiatives:
* Gather and share information. Establish a common, coherent scientific database, and develop an annotated atlas of governance efforts.
* Encourage a network of practitioners to build capacity. Catalyze collaboration through a network similar to the Land Trust Alliance to identify best practices and advocate for policy reforms.
* Establish a national competitive grants program to enable and sustain promising efforts. Facilitate homegrown partnerships, improve coordination among ongoing efforts, and recognize the most promising approaches to large landscape conservation.
* Improve the policy toolkit. Strengthen incentive-based tools for landowner conservation and improve coordination and participation by federal and other governmental agencies.
* Facilitate innovative funding opportunities. Maximize and focus the use of existing federal and state programs and authorities that can be implemented quickly and without significant new funding.
While there is no single model for large landscape conservation, key guiding principles can be applied to create homegrown solutions for particular places, McKinney said.