Kestrel Land Trust acquires 161 acres of “core area” in Pelham, Mass.

The Kestrel Land Trust and the Town of Pelham Conservation Commission have acquired a 161-acre parcel of land in Pelham, Mass., that will serve as a valuable natural asset for both people and wildlife. The Buffam Brook Community Forest, which lies within a high priority terrestrial “core area” in the Connect the Connecticut landscape conservation design, will be a publicly owned forest managed for the educational, recreational, and economic benefit of the community, thanks to collaboration with several private woodland owners.

While the project has been in the works since before the launch of Connect the Connecticut, Kestrel and partners applied the same data that underlies the landscape conservation design to make the case for acquiring the parcel. Kestrel’s Executive Director Kristin DeBoer explained that her organization used the Conservation Analysis Priority System (CAPS) developed by the Designing Sustainable Landscapes project at the University of Massachusetts Amherst to demonstrate the ecological value of the land.

CAPS offers an ecosystem-based approach for assessing the ecological integrity of lands and waters, and identifying and prioritizing land in terms of conservation value, that was central to the development of Connect the Connecticut. The CAPS process results in an Index of Ecological Integrity (IEI) for each point in the landscape based on models constructed separately for each ecological community.Connect the Connecticut applied IEI rescaled to each ecosystem type in the watershed to select the most resilient and intact systems to be included in the network of priority areas.

As such, the land in Pelham represents an area that is capable of supporting biodiversity over time because it is a resilient example of high quality habitat. As only the second public forest of its kind in Massachusetts, it also represents a unique resource for the community.

Read more about this project on the Kestrel Land Trust website.

Connect the Connecticut provides guidances for sound investments to protect Long Island Sound

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Information from the landscape conservation design for the Connecticut River watershed is being used to identify candidate projects for a grant program focused on reducing runoff into Long Island Sound by protecting private forestlands threatened by development.

Habitat maps for a six bird species, including wood thrush, that were developed as part of the Connect the Connecticut project were used to determine eligibility for the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service Healthy Forest Reserve Program.

“This is the first time this program is being used for easements in New England or New York, so we are pioneers in helping to make sure it functions well here,” said Bill Labich, who chairs the Long Island Sound Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) on behalf of the Highstead Foundation.

Read the full story on the North Atlantic LCC website.

FWS Director presents award to Connect the Connecticut leadership team

At the annual Northeast region employee appreciation ceremony, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe presentedDan-Ashe_Gottschalk-Award the John S. Gottschalk Partnership Award to the group of Fish and Wildlife Service staff who were instrumental in leading the Connect the Connecticut landscape conservation design project. The award is presented to a group of employees who have demonstrated creativity and ingenuity in helping to implement a partnership initiative.

Read the full story on the North Atlantic LCC website.

Charting a course for the Connecticut River

DSC03054Whether planning a canoe trip or a conservation project along the Connecticut River, it helps to look at the big picture. North Atlantic LCC Communications Coordinator Bridget Macdonald reflects on the importance of efforts that bring partners together to share responsibility for taking care of the things they value collectively, like Connect the Connecticut, in a feature on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s “Connecting the Nature of the Northeast” blog.

Read the blog post on Charting a course for the Connecticut River.

Mass Live calls Connect the Connecticut a “major conservation vision”

NH-parks-&-recConnect the Connecticut is gaining attention for bringing large datasets and diverse partners together to achieve a shared vision. In a June 2016 news story, the No. 1 news source for Western Massachusetts called Connect the Connecticut a “major conservation vision” that will help partners across the four-state Connecticut River watershed “prioritize and coordinate land acquisition efforts” in the face of future change.

Read the story Big data informs big conservation vision in ‘Connect the Connecticut’ mapping project on MassLive.

Hampshire Gazette goes behind the scenes of Connect the Connecticut

The Northampton, Mass., -based daily newspaper serving Hampshire and Franklin counties, featured the Connect the Connecticut project in a two-page spread for its April 2016 Environment section.

Reporter Fran Ryan spoke with several members of the project’s Core Team for the story, including Bill Labich of Highstead Foundation,  Patrick Comins of Connecticut Audubon, and Kim Lutz of The Nature Conservancy and Friends of the Silvio O. Conte National Wildlife Refuge.

Read the story, Using data to coordinate Connecticut River conservation, on the Daily Hampshire Gazette’s website.

Connect the Connecticut recognized by FWS as model for strategic habitat conservation

FWS-News-winter-2016-coverConnect the Connecticut is gaining national attention as an exemplar of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s vision for addressing increasingly complex conservation challenges in the face of climate change. The Service’s approach, called Strategic Habitat Conservation, involves strategic, accountable, and adaptive actions grounded in science, and greater collaboration with diverse partners across larger spatial and temporal scales.

In the Winter 2016 issue of the Service’s quarterly newsletter Fish & Wildlife Service News, Connect the Connecticut was one of six efforts featured as representatives of “the next generation of wildlife conservation” for embodying the principles of Strategic Habitat Conservation.

The Service also highlighted Connect the Connecticut in a January feature on its Open Spaces blog that shared the story behind the the project.

This national recognition affirms the relevance of Connect the Connecticut beyond the watershed as a model for addressing conservation needs on a landscape scale in order to sustain human and wildlife communities into the future.

Connecting the Connecticut: Partners team up to develop a roadmap for conserving the Connecticut River watershed

Encompassing New England’s largest river system, the Connecticut River watershed provides important habitat for a diversity of fish, wildlife and plants from such well-known species as bald eagle and black bear to threatened and endangered species such as piping plover and dwarf wedgemussel.

The watershed is also a source of clean water, recreation, food, jobs and more for millions of people living in Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Connecticut.

The best long-term strategy for sustaining natural resources across this kind of large landscape is to keep vital parts of it intact and connected. Connect the Connecticut is a collaborative effort to identify the best places to start—the areas within the watershed that partners agree should be priorities to ensure that important species, habitats and natural processes will be sustained into the future, even in the face of climate and land use change.

“This is truly a groundbreaking effort, building on a long history of collaborative conservation in the watershed,” says Ken Elowe, a former state wildlife agency director in Maine who now heads the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s science applications program in the Northeast Region.

“For the first time, we have the science capability to pinpoint habitat needs — what kind, how much and where — to sustain fish and wildlife species at desired population levels across a large area like the Connecticut River watershed,” Elowe says. “And we will know how the watershed contributes to broader species and habitat goals for the entire Northeast.”

Using the best available science and information from the North Atlantic Landscape Conservation Cooperative (LCC), a team of more than 20 partners representing different state and federal agencies, academic institutions, and private organizations spent more than a year creating a conservation “design” for the watershed. Outlining a network of core areas, or intact, connected and resilient places within the watershed, the design serves as a roadmap for conservation.

The effort also featured an innovative modeling approach developed by the Designing Sustainable Landscapes Project at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

One of the keys to developing the Connect the Connecticut design was selecting 15 species as representatives for others that rely on similar habitats within the major types of natural systems in the watershed.

For example, the blackburnian warbler was selected to represent hardwood forests. By ensuring that high-quality habitat for these representative species was included in the design, the partners were able to address the needs of a range of fish and wildlife.

More than just a map, the conservation design includes a variety of datasets and tools that people from all sectors can access to make more informed decisions about managing lands and waters that provide habitat for wildlife, and support local economies and the overall health and well-being of communities.

“These products are useful because we know there is a tremendous amount of data that has been analyzed and collected in one place, and that it is oriented toward shared priorities,” says Andrew Fisk, Executive Director of the Connecticut River Watershed Council. “There are so many wells to dip into for information, so the fact that this is comprehensive and comprehensible to those who are not power users of data is really important.”

Connect the Connecticut is intended to help resource managers, planners, and others prioritize effective conservation actions, and adjust course as needed to achieve meaningful and measurable conservation results. The tools and information complement local knowledge by offering broader state, regional, and national context to help sustain important natural resources across large regions in an era of accelerated change.

“If you are working locally, you should know what’s going on regionally – where there is going to be energy for conservation,” says Bill Labich, regional conservationist with Highstead Foundation.

Labich, Fisk and other partners are now testing the design and exploring potential applications with their agencies and organizations. Information and lessons learned from the landscape conservation design process will be used to refine the products over time, and can be applied in other geographies throughout the Northeast.