Large landscape conservation in a mixed ownership region: Opportunities and barriers for putting the pieces together
The spatial overlap between large landscape conservation designs and existing land protections is not always clear, especially in regions where private ownerships and small parcel sizes are typical. In this case study, we used geospatial analyses to compare a new state-level conservation design, Vermont Conservation Design, with formally protected lands in Vermont, USA. We found that roughly one third of the design's highest priority landscape-level targets have already been met through formal land protections. Public agencies are the primary interest holders for a majority of protected highest priority interior forest block and connectivity block targets. Conversely, private nonprofits play an important role as the dominant interest holders in protected riparian connectivity and highest priority surface water and riparian area targets, which are also the most underrepresented among protected landscape-level targets in the state. There was notable variation in highest priority design targets met via formal land protections at the county level. Some counties containing large public or former corporate timberland tracts also display relatively high percentages of design targets protected, whereas those dominated by family forest owners generally have lower percentages of protected targets. Our study suggests that achievement of large landscape conservation designs will occur more readily in landscapes containing large blocks of public or former timber industry forestlands. Our results also highlight strategies that could focus efforts to fulfill large landscape conservation initiatives in places where mixed private and public land ownership is the norm. Such strategies include continued support for collaboration between public and private partners in conservation; planning for the capacity to respond quickly to large, one-time land sales that are important design targets; increased support for nonprofits in acquiring protections for underrepresented surface waters and riparian connectivity targets; and an increased focus on the protection of low elevation targets in large landscape conservation designs.