The Gulf Coast Prairie Landscape Conservation Cooperative (GCP LCC) is piloting an effort to strengthen the link between biological planning and conservation delivery through the application of landscape conservation design in Texas (Figure 1). Conservation delivery is the implementation of on-the-ground conservation actions such as habitat restoration. This effort will result in the development of tools and strategies to guide where and how to achieve conservation objectives for species and habitats in the pilot region.
Members of the GCP LCC Steering Committee and Science Team along with biologists from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service met on November 9, 2016 at Attwater Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge in Eagle Lake, TX, to discuss and frame this effort. Rivers, grasslands, and coastal wetlands were selected as the habitat systems where the group will focus their first design efforts.
Figure 1. Focus area for the Landscape Conservation Design pilot effort in the Gulf Coast Prairie region. This an approximate boundary, which is defined as the watersheds of the San Antonio, Guadalupe, and Lower Colorado Rivers and may change based on the interest of parties engaged through this effort.
Focal species and broadly defined habitats focus efforts
The GCP LCC identified focal species and associated broadly-defined habitats to help focus partnership efforts. The rationale is that ensuring the health of these species and systems is most likely to result in healthy ecosystems that can support self-sustaining populations of a much broader array of wildlife. Partners in this effort wish to integrate landscape conservation designs into State Wildlife Action Plans and thereby benefit both species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN) defined by the states as well as LCC focal species. To achieve this ambitious objective, we require a process and specific products that will ensure a transparent and reproducible framework for future conservation delivery and application.
Landscape conservation design (LCD) is a partner-driven approach to achieve a sustainable, resilient socio-ecological landscape. It is an iterative, collaborative, and holistic process resulting in strategic and spatial products that provide information, analytical tools, maps, and strategies to achieve landscape goals collectively held among partners.
The GCP LCC is in the process of identifying collaborators with expertise in facilitation and landscape ecology to work hand-in-hand with members of the GCP staff, the Steering Committee, and the Science Team to develop a scientific LCD process. This will include procedures that ensure collaborative and iterative planning and modeling of LCC focal species and associated habitats in the pilot region.
Laying the Groundwork at the Kick-off Meeting
The meeting began with participants receiving an overview of context for the effort (the GCP Science Strategy) and background data on composition and recent changes in land cover, the levels of conservation estate (public and NGO ownership and management), and indicators of socio-economic conditions within the pilot area. Key planning, models, tools, and conservation delivery programs were highlighted, including:
Most importantly, participants began building a package of information that will enable the GCP LCC to more formally initiate the creation of the pilot landscape conservation design. They identified biological and conservation plans; conservation delivery programs; threats, opportunities, objectives and desired conditions for habitats; and information useful for targeting and engaging private landowners in key conservation delivery programs within the pilot geography. Combined, this information will enable the GCP LCC to formally launch the LCD effort in early 2017.
Meeting participants recommended the LCC begin the pilot effort by focusing on grasslands, rivers, and coastal wetlands -- three major habitat systems for which there is a large amount of planning, models and tools, and conservation delivery programs. Going forward, the group felt that the three habitat systems could be tackled separately and woven together after an initial analytical modeling attempt and broader facilitated discussions. The group also agreed to continue building the package of background information on the pilot geography that will frame and enhance broader facilitated discussions on the effort in early 2017.
A team comprised of members from the GCP Steering Committee and Science Team and staff (the “LCD Crew”) are in the process of identifying collaborators to assist the GCP in the pilot effort. They will complete this work by the end of 2016. Collaborators will be invited to participate in the LCD session at the GCP LCC’s Steering Committee meeting in Kingsville, TX, in early 2017. The Crew will work closely with their collaborators to prepare for broader facilitated discussions in conjunction with the TX Chapter of the American Fisheries Society (AFS) meeting in Corpus Christi in late January and the TX Chapter of The Wildlife Society (TWS) meeting in San Antonio in mid-February. Broader facilitated discussions for the two aquatic systems (rivers and coastal wetlands) will be targeted towards the AFS meeting and the grasslands systems will be targeted to the TWS meeting.