The Gulf Coast Prairie (GCP) and Gulf Coastal Plains and Ozarks (GCPO) Landscape Conservation Cooperatives (LCC) came together in Baton Rouge June 14 and 15 to review what has been done collectively in the Gulf of Mexico and to discuss how to best collaborate on future conservation efforts. Members of both LCCs’ Steering Committees gathered at the joint meeting, along with other leaders and staff, for a morning session focused on strategic planning for the Gulf that integrates ecological, economic, and social considerations, and an afternoon session that highlighted the changing hydrology of bottomland hardwoods.
“The past few years have seen a flurry of work across the Gulf of Mexico,” said Matt Wagner Deputy Director of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s Wildlife Division, serving as the Gulf Coast Prairie LCC Steering Committee Chair. “This meeting was a chance to reflect on the accomplishments to date by both our LCCs and others, identify what the current conservation needs are, and think strategically about where and how our LCCs can make the biggest conservation impact in the next few years.”
“The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) has more than one-half million acres of bottomland hardwoods under management,” said Kenny Ribbeck, Chief of LDWF’s Wildlife Division serving as chair of the Gulf Coastal Plains & Ozarks LCC. “We have seen a tremendous amount of change in forest composition and health since the 1960s, which has implications for restoration management on private lands as well as Gulf of Mexico water quality. This joint session has begun the process of thinking broadly yet strategically in our efforts to understand and manage these resources.”
LCCs are self-directed partnerships between federal agencies, states, tribes, non-profits, regional organizations, universities, and others dedicated to achieving a landscape capable of sustaining natural and cultural resources for current and future generations. The GCP and GCPO are 2 of 22 cooperatives within the LCC Network collaboratively working to define science needs and jointly address broad-scale conservation issues, such as climate change and urban growth.
The joint meeting between the two LCCs overlapped with the Gulf of Mexico Alliance (GOMA) All-Hands Meeting held in Baton Rouge, giving the LCCs a unique opportunity to strengthen their relationship with GOMA and consider ways to support the Alliance. The two LCCs were also briefed on progress made over the past year in developing a Southeast Conservation Adaptation Strategy (SECAS), which includes the assessment of priority wildlife habitats across the region, as well as conservation design efforts being coordinated across 6 LCCs.
“The Gulf of Mexico Alliance has made it possible for the LCCs to connect with a diverse set of conservation actors and organizations in the Gulf region,” said Bill Bartush, GCP LCC Coordinator. Greg Wathen, GCPO LCC Coordinator, added, “We are thankful for Laura Bowie’s leadership in this respect, and we have high expectations for expanded LCC-GOMA collaboration in the future.”
A highlight from the joint meeting was a presentation by special guest Virginia Burkett, Associate Director, Climate and Land Use Change at the U.S. Geological Survey. Burkett praised the “transformational” science that the LCCs and its partners have undertaken in the past five years, such as the Gulf Coast Vulnerability Assessment. She highlighted in particular the use of scenarios for future forecasting, structured decision-making, and the integration of land use change with climate change, noting how these are all important elements of the Southeast Conservation Adaptation Strategy.
In the bottomland hardwood session, several scientists indicated that current alterations for flood control and navigation are affecting the species composition in bottomland hardwood forests. Furthermore, projected demands for groundwater in the future and groundwater linkages to surface water in many river systems suggest that conservationists will face significant challenges in balancing water needs and wildlife habitat. These challenges will also extend to estuarine systems as well because estuarine production is affected by both the timing and volume of freshwater inflows.
The two LCCs also held separate Steering Committee meetings where they heard updates on landscape conservation design and current research projects, worked on setting new goals and objectives, and identified new projects to support.
The groups adjourned from their meetings with a shared commitment to continue the cross-LCC dialogue. Both Steering Committees recognized the many benefits and potential to accomplish more through a shared vision, collaboration, and networking.