Project Prospectus

This is (approximately) the proposal that Kevin Brice and Jeff Masten (Triangle Land Conservancy) submitted to the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, with George Hess (NC State University) as a partner. Z. Smith Reynolds funded in part the project.



Is our land meeting the conservation goals for which it was protected?

Kevin Brice
Executive Director
Triangle Land Conservancy
George Hess
Associate Professor
NC State University
Department of Forestry & Environmental Resources
Jeff Masten
Director of Conservation Strategies
Triangle Land Conservancy


2007 January 10

Introduction

In 2006, Triangle Land Conservancy (TLC) created a strategic framework for the next three years. Triangle Land Conservancy’s mission is not unlike that of many other land trusts: to protect “… important open space – stream corridors, forests, wildlife habitat, farmland and natural areas – to help keep our region a healthy and vibrant place to live and work.”

TLC adheres to land protection criteria that assign conservation values and develops management plans for the long-term protection of these conservation values. Yet, TLC and other land trusts usually measure their successes in terms of acres protected and funds raised – numbers that appear in almost all annual reports and publicity documents. While valid measures, they do not address the fundamental question, “Is our land meeting the conservation goals for which it was protected?” TLC cannot assess progress toward its core mission unless it can answer this question.


Purpose

Triangle Land Conservancy would like to close this gap by assessing protected lands against the conservation goals for which they were protected. These are the goals that, if achieved, will help keep the Triangle a healthy and vibrant place to live and work:
  • clean water for drinking and leisure
  • clean air
  • habitat to support diverse wildlife
  • productive farms and forests
  • scenic landscapes
  • space for outdoor recreation


Products

We propose to conduct applied research to establish a set of measures that Triangle Land Conservancy and other land trusts can use to answer the question, “Is our land meeting the conservation goals for which it was protected?” We expect that different measures will be needed for each conservation goal. They must be measurable with a reasonable expenditure of resources by the organization or by volunteer monitoring teams. Ideally, the assessment methodology could also be used as an evaluative tool for prospective land projects. Our products are likely to be broadly applicable, because other land trusts are also beginning to recognize the importance of evaluating their land protection efforts.

An important byproduct of our proposal will be the heightened awareness of participating undergraduate and graduate students for the work of local trusts and their grassroots missions to conserve North Carolina communities’ important natural resources. These students represent the next generation of land trust staff and volunteers.


Approach

Overview

Hess, Brice, and Masten will work with graduate students in a course at NC State University during the Fall 2007 semester to …
  • learn how other organizations evaluate their land protection efforts
  • establish a conceptual framework for evaluating land protection with respect to protection goals
  • identify measures of the degree to which protected land attains stated conservation goals

This course will follow the collaborative research model that Hess has been using at NC State since 2001 (Hess & Drew 2004; http://www4.ncsu.edu/~grhess/teaching/). In these courses, an interdisciplinary team of 5-10 graduate students works with faculty guidance to determine the answer to an original research question. These courses have resulted in a variety of products, including peer-reviewed journal articles, presentation posters, and informational pamphlets (e.g., Hess et al. 2006a, 2006b; Favreau et al. 2006).

Undergraduate students in Hess’ Natural Resources Measurements course will test the measures during the Spring 2008 semester. Hess has been using a service-learning approach in this course since 2005, working with Wake County’s Environmental Services Department (Beam, Judkins, & others 2005; Hess & others 2006c). Service-learning is a teaching method that enriches academic learning by involving students in hands-on projects in the community.

Learn What Other Organizations Do

We will use land protection criteria, surveys, interviews, and other material to examine the procedures other land trusts use to assess land protection locally, as well as selectively from across the Southeastern US. We will also look to larger organizations, such as The Nature Conservancy and Trust for Public Lands, which have more resources for carrying out such evaluations.

Our goal is to identify how conservation organizations:
  1. articulate the goals for a tract when they are considering protecting it,
  2. specify measures of whether a tract is likely to attain those goals,
  3. evaluate the likelihood that a tract can meet those goals before protecting it,
  4. monitor and measure the performance of protected lands with respect to the articulated goals, once it has been protected.

Establish a Conceptual Framework

Before developing measures for evaluating land against stated goals, we need to understand how we would recognize that a goal has been attained. This includes knowing the ecological, social, and economic relationships that affect the item of interest. Conceptually, some goals are easier to describe than others. If a parcel is protected to maintain habitat for particular species, for example, the measures are fairly straightforward – is the habitat persisting; is the species present and is it reproducing more quickly than it is dying? (Although conceptually straightforward, these might be difficult to measure.) On the other hand, how do we know that we have productive farms and forests? How do we determine whether a landscape is scenic?

Identify Measures

When we understand the goals and relationships, we can start to identify measurable factors about those goals and relationships that indicate success, or probability of success. There is significant literature about environmental monitoring and indicators from which we can draw. One of our greatest challenges will be to develop measures that can be collected at reasonable expense.

Test the Measures of Success

Once we have identified a suite of measures, we will develop and test protocols to implement them.


Investigators

Brice is currently Executive Director of Triangle Land Conservancy, prior to which he was Director of Land Trust Alliance’s Southeastern US office. Brice has intimate knowledge of conservation activities in the Triangle, as well as established connections with other land trusts throughout the Southeast and the nation. In his current position as Executive Director at TLC, he believes that being able to demonstrate that protected lands meet conservation goals is a key element to ensuring the organization’s success in the long term.

Hess is an Associate Professor in NC State University’s Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources. His research focuses on open space planning and understanding the characteristics of greenways that make them good habitat for native wildlife. He has been teaching courses built around collaborative research and service projects since 2001 at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. Hess served on TLC’s Board of Directors for six years (1996-2002), helped lead development of the Triangle’s GreenPrint, and serves on the Town of Knightdale’s Land Use Review Board.

Masten is Director of Conservation Strategies at Triangle Land Conservancy. He manages TLC’s conservation planning, land acquisition and stewardship agendas. He concentrates on conserving special natural and cultural resources and influencing other stakeholders to fund and implement the protection of these resources in the Triangle. Masten has been employed by TLC for six years. He holds a Master of Regional Planning degree from the Department of City and Regional planning at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill.