Why Landscape Conservation?
Landscape conservation is a 21st-Century approach to conservation thinking, framed by three fundamental shifts – a shift in geography, in perspective, and in process. By establishing a systems-level, integrative, and collaborative framework, the landscape conservation approach is increasingly being adopted by practitioners, communities, and regions to pursue effective responses to a whole host of complex challenges across the country, continent, and globe.
The landscape conservation approach is an essential transformation because:
We are increasingly grappling with large, complex challenges, including escalating habitat loss and fragmentation, climate change, collapsing place-based economies and struggling rural communities, and eroding sense of place. Such challenges transcend political boundaries, are impacted by multiple factors and sectors, and resist ready resolution. The scale of our responses must reflect the scale and the complexity of these challenges. Though no silver bullet exists to address these 21st-Century challenges, “bigger”– holistic, systems-level, and integrative – thinking is undoubtedly required: landscape conservation is a “big” approach to addressing these complex issues in an effective manner.
Given the complexity of the challenges facing us in the 21st Century, bringing together different perspectives and diverse expertise to find creative solutions that align across the spectrum of values will be essential to charting a positive path forward. Our interconnected landscapes represent a tremendous opportunity for bringing people together: individuals and communities develop strong and deep connections to place, and nearly uniformly – regardless of political persuasion – we share a desire to see a positive future for the places we call home. In a hyper-polarized world, the landscape conservation approach leverages literal common ground – our landscapes – to promote dialogue and exchange across perspectives and values to find figurative common ground. In doing so, this approach empowers communities and regions to address complex problems across scales, and, perhaps, also improve the fundamental issue of how we interact as a society, helping to rebuild civility and trust.
By moving beyond a traditional “people versus nature” framing, landscape conservation recognizes nature, community, and culture as fundamentally intertwined. The landscapes that we call home are critical to our well-being and often define our sense-of-place: our landscapes protect our water, clean our air, mitigate climate change, and provide a haven for plants and animals that we depend on. Our landscapes power local and regional economies (i.e. timbering, grazing, farming, tourism and more) and communities; safeguard our cultural legacy; and provide scenic beauty, respite from modern life, and opportunities for healthy outdoor recreation and social gathering. In the long view, our communities will be unable to flourish and survive without healthy natural landscapes. Importantly, human decisions will determine the future of these landscapes; the landscape conservation approach offers a framework for seeking decisions that move society to a place that recognizes that our natural landscapes are irreplaceable, invaluable, and part of the very fabric of our society.
We know now that even our largest national parks and protected areas are not big enough to conserve all species or ecological processes over time, nor are parks necessarily universally accessible to various demographics of the population. Landscape conservation is a new paradigm: adopting a systems-level approach to work across whole landscapes to support intact and functional ecological communities, and underscoring the value of nature in all contexts and across diverse perspectives.
Despite measurable success in both private and public land conservation over the last century, “big” problems like habitat degradation, climate change, collapsing place-based economies and struggling rural economies, and more continue to persist and even grow. Our traditional approaches – which have often been reactive and piecemeal – have been unable to address these challenges. Strategic and integrated efforts at scale that bridge sectors and values are essential for sustaining our indispensable landscapes. And in an era of escalating climate change, connected and resilient landscapes are increasingly important for ensuring that today’s work continues to be relevant and durable over the long term.
Conservation efforts have struggled to change the trajectory of “big” problems (including for instance, habitat degradation, climate change, collapsing place-based economies and struggling rural communities) in part because efforts have been traditionally organized individually and in isolation. The landscape conservation approach represents an opportunity to think (and act) collaboratively and collectively, and presents a framework for aligning resources, effort, and impact to ensure a positive future for the landscapes that are so critically important to us all for home, for livelihood, for recreation, and for inspiration. The approach brings people and organizations together – across political, institutional, and sectorial boundaries – to craft and achieve common goals. Far more gets done together than could ever be achieved alone: landscape conservation harnesses the power of “collective impact” to achieve conservation that is community supported, regionally significant, and enduring for the generations that follow.