Conservation Matters April 2016

The Texas Land, Water and Wildlife Connection

8 reasons why networked, large landscape conservation strategies work

By Leslie Lee

8 reasons why networked, large landscape conservation strategies work Black bear in a forest. Photo by Nathan McMillan.

The Crown of the Continent is a vast, unique region, with its 18 million acres stretching from Montana to across the Canadian border and holding one of the largest untouched landscapes in North America. It includes Glacier National Park, many different ecosystems and huge swaths of public lands. More than 100 organizations, government agencies and partnerships, amidst two countries and seven tribal nations, manage the land. 

To bring together these numerous stakeholders and help keep the region intact, The Roundtable on the Crown of the Continent was formed in 2009.

The group’s use of two conservation strategies — large landscape conservation and network governance — has enabled it to help successfully and collaboratively manage the crown’s land, water and wildlife resources, said Dr. Patrick Bixler, Texas A&M Institute for Renewable Natural Resources (IRNR) research scientist. The roundtable uses these strategies at its annual three-day gathering of landowners, agency personal, tribal leaders and organizations attending various discussions and workshops to work together on regional conservation issues.

longleaf pine forest A longleaf pine forest in morning light. Photo credit: America’s Longleaf Pine Initiative.

Bixler recently helped coordinate a special issue of Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, published by The Ecological Society of America on these topics. Titled “Network governance and large landscape conservation,” it includes one editorial and two articles co-authored by Bixler.

He shared with Conservation Matters eight reasons why network governance and large landscape conservation help stakeholders make enormous conservation projects work. 

  1. Many different stakeholders and many different landscapes are brought together into one cooperative whole. “Network governance is an approach to multistakeholder engagement for natural resources management,” Bixler said. “Thinking in terms of a network helps us think about how all of those different stakeholders are connected to each other and related, and then thinking about the governance aspect is how do we collectively make decisions and manage for those resources?”

  2. Wildlife and natural resources don’t obey borders. Whether it’s a grizzly bear in a forest or groundwater in an aquifer, natural resources do not pay attention to park, state or country borders on a map. Accordingly, stakeholders from many regions and groups must come together if a large-scale conservation project is going to work, he said. “In the Crown of the Continent in the mid-2000s, all the different land agencies realized they were not communicating as best as possible,” said Bixler, whose dissertation researched the crown roundtable. “And they had these landscape-scale issues, such as grizzly bears, which move freely among the national forest and park lands and private lands, and so there was this notion that people needed to be coordinating more about what was happening across this broad landscape.”

  3. Holistically managing resources is essential to huge conservation projects, and stakeholder networks can do that. In conservation efforts that cross borders and affect many places, people and resources, a network of people who care about the land and its resources enable more effective work, he said. Such networks don’t just try to take care of one resource — such as an endangered species — but instead use integrated resource management. “We’re thinking in terms of water, wildlife, forests and all of the resources that would be found in a particular landscape,” Bixler said. “So, there’s a lot of complexity because we’re thinking about lots of stakeholders and lots of resources and making sense out of that complexity.”

  4. Providing a “table” for stakeholders to gather around fosters relationships. “The table metaphor is really important,” Bixler said. “Without providing a space for these different stakeholders to come and talk, they’re not going to talk. Someone has to provide that table for them to gather around and find their common interests.”

  5. Building trust is essential to working with diverse stakeholders with various interests. Landowners, organizations and government agencies can all find common ground and build upon it by “recognizing that in the end we all have a strong desire and love for the land,” he said. “We all have a deep desire for the next generation to enjoy the land and enjoy the resources. So, despite any possible previous mistrust, we do have this common ground that we can build on as a foundation moving forward. From my perspective, it comes down to building relationships and building trust, and the only way you build trust is to follow through on your word. You start with small projects and show achievement and success, and it takes a lot of time to build trust. But that’s what’s necessary.”

  6. Any network of stakeholders in any location can use this approach, because it’s not a one-size-fits-all style. “Places are different, people are different, and resource challenges need responses that are suited for the problem at hand,” Bixler said. “Large landscape conservation provides a way of thinking about issues and a toolbox for finding solutions so that each initiative can match the processes of governance to the specific communities and issues involved, because there is no single way to approach conservation.”

  7. These strategies have been proven in many different locations. The large landscape conservation and network governance strategies that Crown of the Continent stakeholders have used to keep the land intact and protected are also being used all over the country to manage massive, complicated conservation work. The journal articles included many examples of other such projects, including in the Lake Tahoe region, Chicago Wilderness and Colorado River Basin.

  8. It works in Texas, too. IRNR helps coordinate the America’s Longleaf Pine Initiative, which conserves longleaf pine forests all the way from East Texas to North Carolina. The initiative is a prime example of large landscape conservation, Bixler said. “The initiative crosses multiple state boundaries, and within those states people have many different values about how those forest resources should be used, and the end goal they’re all working toward is better management of the resource.” Other IRNR-involved projects such as the Southeast Regional Partnership for Planning and Sustainability (SERPPAS) and the Sentinel Landscapes Partnership also achieve regional conservation work through network governance and large landscape conservation, he said.

For more information on the special journal issue, read this news release and this editorial. Visit The Roundtable on the Crown of the Continent or watch this introductory video to learn more about the roundtable’s work. 

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