Conservation on Southeast Private Lands, a SEAFWA Symposium
The following summary provides highlights from a very successful private lands symposium held October 30th in Louisville KY at the SEAFWA Conference. The session wrapped up with a panel discussion, described FIRST below. The panel was preceded by a series of presentations intended to build a thought process and message. The panel consisted of ranchers and forest landowners, as well as people who have extensive experience working with private landowners. They discussed ideas on how to make conservation valued and accessible to "working lands" in the Southeastern US. The following is a summary of that symposium:
Panel Discussion: Landowner Perspectives on Conservation Partnerships to Sustain Working Landscapes for People and Nature - Avenues for Conservation Success.
- Trust is essential. To build trust, you have to understand partner objectives: What are the objectives of landowners, of partners, and how can agencies help them meet their needs? It’s a slow process to build trust, to sit at the kitchen table and listen to what the landowner has to say. When they invite you in, you’ve made headway. Show them there are good people who are biologists! Money is okay but true wealth is in the land.
- For some landowners, it is as important to SHOW them about healthy lands as to pay them for conservation practices. While there are “commodity-based conservationists,” i.e. pay me well to do the practice, there are also landowners who view the land as a conservation community with economics, wildlife, and soil health.
- Ethic of land not as a commodity but as a community speaks to the crux of the question “what’s in it for me”? We need to do better to find ways to highlight social benefits, such as recognition for creating “backyard habitat, reducing risks from flooding, and non-market wildlife benefits. How do we promote non-economic benefits?
- Ranchers are motivated but can’t afford conservation practices without funding. Ranchers are capitalists by nature, enjoy making money, but all of us must be challenged not to look too much on the incentive side.Rather, “show me a better way of doing things and let me voluntarily move that way to make money. Use a little money to open that conversation with ranchers.”
- Landowners may feel a disconnect between the large landscape process and implementation on the ground for them individually. People will support what they help create. “The best plans (developed in a vacuum) won’t survive first contact with the enemy.” How can we incorporate individual perspectives? Ask the individual whether there is a real problem. Conservation, it appears, is the only market where we build solutions to problems in complete isolation from the consumer. Engage private landowners in the deal before you pull the trigger.
Technical assistance is important. Human dimensions positions will help agencies to be more effective in delivering programs that private landowners want. When landowners recommend to the legislature, that carries more weight than when an agency does.
- Talking landscape-scale for instance, how will we initiate developing specific conservation targets that are meaningful to landowners? How would conserving 70% of land from development resonate with landowners?
- In Florida, interacting with key stakeholders (Florida Forestry, Cattle associations) via a broad coalition that to advise us. They have broad understanding that we will have to work together on conservation to maintain working lands in Florida. Easements will be a key component. Projected growth out to 2050 is daunting with millions of people moving to Florida. Will require partnerships and significant investment.
- Broad goals are difficult for many landowners to comprehend. They ask “How can I fit in? How can I contribute? How does that address the issues on my land?” Our aging landowner population wants to give land to their children to manage into the future.
- When conservationists ask landowners what are their goals and objectives, the response may not have anything to do with their conservation goals. However, it’s likely to be something that must be addressed, such as transfer of land between generations, before conservation can happen. Work with landowners along that path and provide opportunity for quality input and encouragement.
- With large landowners, generally they are grateful for consensus-built legitimate targets.
- How do large commercial owners fit in?
- Don’t see a lot of foreign investment yet in Florida. Have large landowners in ranching and timber sector but they account for only 10% of wildlife. Most is small farmer or woodland owner with 30% public, 10% corporate, 60% private non-industrial. Average farm in florida is less than 200 acres, tree farmer less than 150 acres. That’s where the bulk of the land is. Some foreign investment in large ranches. Florida is still the country’s 3rd largest cattle producer.
- Florida has foreign investors who are way more progressive than our domestic investors. Some evidence of multi-national corporations buying large tracts as compensation for their manufacturing impacts or to provide sourcing of products. Findpressure points they are experiencing to provide a direct reason for them to be engaged, for example European requirements for carbon offsets to balance oil and gas investments.
- Shared vision, common strategy has to be in place early on. People need to be engaged in their development. With larger landscape issues—200,000 acres long leaf or Flint Hills or JVs—how do you engage communities? We have strategic plans that we lay on the table, wondering why they aren’t accepted, great Farm Bill programs that no one signs up for. How do we get communities involved in strategic planning? We struggle with confidentiality issues with data developed in house, but that is the role of The Conservation Fund or program leaders to aggregate that information and create a space for strategic planning that will work on the ground. The National Alliance of Forest Owners is working with FWS on an At-Risk Species Initiative in Region 4, piloted on the Gopher Tortoise. NAFO can have conversations that we can’t have. We can bring our concerns to them to address, aggregating multiple large landowners to the landscape scale.
The motivation of investors is NOT to be exposed to regulatory risk, such as Red-cockaded Woodpecker, which will affect our forestry. The key question is how can practices work for working lands and for species?
- How do we streamline paperwork and re-prioritize among agencies to make relationship building important? Does that become a required element for their jobs?
- If you have a problem with staff at an agency, look for other partners.
- How do landowners build trust to sit down and talk to people?
- For the types who like trees more than people, provide them a little training for more confidence to host landowner tours. Incentivize landowner-to-landowner interactions. Model through America’s Long Leaf. You have to spend time. A lot of efforts have agencies getting together to build partnerships, but how do voluntary landowners get engaged? You can’t money-whip or data-whip them to get into the kitchen table. How to teach relationships building and supervision so that it is seen as real work not just goofing off at the coffee shop.
Presentations on working with private landowners
The Coastal Headwaters Longleaf Forest: Restoration and Conservation in a Working Longleaf Pine Forest - “The Right Acres in the Right Place at the Right Time” Victoria Lockhart of RMS provided the keynote address highlighting benefits of the Coastal headwaters partnership :
- Brings awareness of environmental and social issues, e.g.water quality, timber harvesting and its many economic benefits; will include carbon measurements for European clients and US investors with a focus on avoiding forestland conversion.
- Benchmarking metrics with state and federal wildlife agencieswill be key to adaptive management and adjustment.
- Institutional investors can’t make use of tax credits, but Timber Companies can, so they donate and sell; easements are crafted for flexibility in order to allow participation in programs such as NRCS Healthy Forest Reserve Program.
- Easements are held by NRCS with options for others like TNC to access additional benefits like carbon.
Joint Venture Partnerships developed through Science and Conservation Delivery to Willing Landowners: Keys to Long-Term Success
- Our initial efforts were opportunistic, we recognize the need to target based on priorities and social issues but don’t have the expertise yet.
- JV partners are doing a lot: assessing performance, habitat objectives for shorebirds, wading birds, and other species. All documentation is on the JV website.
- We have experience in working on Farm Bill projects with landowners, our model allows a simplified version of delivery with a streamlined process.
- Monitoring is a developing element which, like targeting priorities, requires a consistent protocol to improve subsequent restoration funding.
Preparing Communities for Environmental Change: Human Dimensions Research for the Lower Wabash River Landscape Conservation Design.
- To design conservation messaging, go deeper than attitudes toward value orientations to understand what drives attitudes.
- How to educate the biologists or foresters who have no training in social science?
- Get them involved as collaborators on research. Social scientists need to work with them. Build those networks to work together.
- At NCTC, we offer a Foundations in Human Dimensions course as a 101 course for biologists on how social sciences apply to conservation. Similar courses are offered at universities.
SECAS Engagement Strategy: Successful models:
SECAS represents a creative conservation strategy in several ways:
- Our problems are enduring, but often our solutions are short-term. For instance, rapid growth has been happening in this region for 60 years, but we rarely talk about solutions for the next 60 years of anticipated growth.
- SECAS attempts to develop a long-term approach to enduring problems – and one that is proactive – anticipating change before it happens
- Our problems occur at large scales. Population growth is taking place across the region, and being driven by demographic and economic factors at national level
- SECAS attempts to respond to challenges at the same large-scales at which they are happening. This means working at local scales to inform state and regional scale efforts, and vice versa
- Our problems are cross-boundary. Population growth is occurring across city, county, and state lines and no one agency can address these problems on their own.
- SECAS is about working across agencies and with private landowners to address problems that ignore our physical and jurisdictional boundaries.
- One of the next major steps for SECAS is thinking about how to meaningfully engage with other actors helping to shape the region
- Right now SECAS involves primarily federal and state agencies
- We’ve been examining best practices from social science on engagement. One of the key questions is who are you trying to engage with and for what purpose?
- To help answer that question, we did an informal survey of landscape scale conservation efforts from across the country and identified three different reasons that those efforts engage with outside partners:
- First – to identify and reach a specific conservation target, e.g. Woodlands and Wildlands network in New England trying to conserve 70% of the land as forest by 2050.
Strengths and weaknesses:
- Specific conservation goals are compelling.
- A goal gives you a clear target and ability to measure success.
- Challenge: can be difficult to identify a common goal
- Second – to provide information, research, and tools, e.g. WAFWA’s CHAT. This is about providing critical information from agency perspectives to outside decision makers.
Strengths and weaknesses:
- Avoids the politics of a specific goal
- Plays to strengths of agency expertise
- Passive approach to promoting conservation outcomes.
- Third – to create a Network of Networks, e.g. Roundtable on the Crown of the Continent in the Northern Rockies in MT, AB & BC; about just getting people into the same room.
Strengths and weaknesses:
- Build bridges between agencies, NGO’s, businesses, and private landowners that would result in better collaboration on a number of issues.
- Easy entry point for ‘non-traditional conservation partners.’
- Does not directly translate into conservation outcomes.
- These models are informing our discussion about how to do engagement with SECAS.
Broader lesson: How you do engagement depends on how you want to do conservation – important to be clear about what you’re trying to accomplish.