Goals & Progress
At the Partnership’s November 2013 annual meeting, participants focused on how to best organize moving the Partnership forward. The group called for creating a small but representative “stewardship” or leadership team to help coordinate the evolution of the partnership. Creating this team was viewed as key to tackling several overarching organizational priorities, including: drafting a mission and vision; developing a brand for all members to consider; creating a strategy for working on policy tasks; and, fostering operations of workgroups and excellent communications amongst the partnership.
Members of the newly formed team convened for the first time on an introductory conference call in March 2014 and met in-person in April 2014. The focus of the team’s initial meeting included: considering best practices for advancing the partnership; setting the agenda of strategic priorities based on guidance from the November meeting; ensuring good communications within the partnership; and logistical matters for moving forward.
The Steering Committee also led development of a new brand for the Partnership in advance of the National Workshop on Large Landscape Conservation in Washington, D.C. ( October 23-24, 2014), when the Partnership’s mission, vision, and brand were officially shared before a national audience.
Chesapeake Conservation Partnership e-newsletter recipients were surveyed in spring 2014 to understand news and information-sharing needs. The survey results have informed how the newsletter and a forthcoming website can better support the Partnership’s work.
PUBLIC ACCESS ACTION TEAM
The Public Access Action Team completed two major efforts, both with significant results that advance implementation of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Public Access Plan.
1) Documenting New Public Access Sites
During November 2013, over 300 new entries were received from the public for new potential public access sites. In December 2013, members of the Public Access Action Team convened in Annapolis to outline a plan for reviewing these publicly suggested sites and to continue to advance actions called for in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Public Access Plan. At the meeting, Action Team members learned about a paddle-in camping pilot study conducted by the Chesapeake Conservancy and discussed shared priorities such as universal accessibility and issues of railroad crossings for access. The team addressed concerns about identifying river and/or shoreline stretches where there are substantial gaps in access by agreeing to: 1) incorporate a tool allowing the demarcation of stretches needing access into the state review of potential new public access sites, and 2) guiding principles for when stretches should be used instead of site-specific public access locations.
The Team documented the number of new public access sites opened for public use in 2013 that count towards the goal of 300 new sites by 2025. The finding is impressive: 36 new public access sites were opened for public use in 2013. This is double the number opened in 2012, and well above the 20 site per year average needed to meet the current goal. The total number of new sites opened since 2010 is now 69. This represents 23 percent of the way towards the 300 site goal. The 36 new sites include locations from New York in the upper part of the watershed to Virginia where the Bay meets the Atlantic Ocean.
2) Updated List of Potential New Sites
The Team updated the list of potential new public access sites that could help direct funding to key areas needing public access in the watershed. This update of the list of new potential sites involved two steps: (1) Action Team members provided information on new potential sites that had been identified through their respective planning processes over the past two years; and (2) the public access “interactive online tool” was opened for the month of November 2013 to gain public input on potential new sites. As a result of these two steps nearly 200 new potential public access sites were identified and added to the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Public Access Plan, bringing the total number of potential sites for new access identified in the plan to over 500. These potential sites will help to direct funding to areas of high public access need in the Bay watershed.
The Public Access Team continues to monitor progress on implementing the Public Access Plan. 2014 looks to be a banner year for new site development throughout the watershed. Tentative topics for the team’s fall (October/November) meeting include: process for updating new sites added in 2014; development of a public access outcome management strategy relative to the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement; review of this year’s public update process for new potential sites; determination of partner update process for 2015; discussion of partner participation in developing potential projects for future grant funding; and review of developing river segments of need when no new potential sites have been identified.
LANDSCOPE CHESAPEAKE & LAND CONSERVATION PROGRESS WORKING GROUP
In 2013, LandScope Chesapeake launched a user-friendly reporting tool to track the status of land protection in different jurisdictions in the watershed. This tool allows users to select the entire Chesapeake Bay watershed, states or counties and can generate reports showing protected versus unprotected lands, protected lands by ownership, or protected lands by land cover type. It uses a data layer compiled in 2011-2012 by US Geological Survey (USGS) staff at the Chesapeake Bay Program.
In late 2013, the project management team from NatureServe, the NPS, and USGS discussed shared priorities for the continued development of LandScope Chesapeake in 2014. Discussion topics included expanding the capabilities of the reporting tool, planning outreach opportunities, and acquiring more comprehensive data layers.
A major website infrastructure update to LandScope Chesapeake went live on October 1, 2014. The main feature is a completely new map interface that is more intuitive, easier to update with new data layers, and viewable on iOS mobile devices. In addition to the more than 170 existing data layers, the site will now bring in data layers directly from sources published to the web. The team will quickly switch attention to bringing in more datasets and conducting outreach and user sessions to increase awareness of and new applications for this free service. LandScope Chesapeake also debuts the latest protected lands data layer for the Chesapeake watershed. This data set, compiled by Renee Thompson of the US Geological Survey working with state data managers, represents land protection through the end of 2013.
These improvements greatly increase the capacity of LandScope Chesapeake and LandScope America in multiple ways. Support for helping NatureServe make these infrastructure updates has been received from the National Park Service, the US Environmental Protection Agency, and Exxon Mobil Corporation.
WORKING LANDS WORKING GROUP
In December 2013, US Department of Agriculture (USDA) released a draft Chesapeake Working Lands Conservation Strategy for public review. The draft strategy focuses primarily on programs and partnerships that use easements and related tools for permanent land protection. The strategy highlights some of the federal easement programs which can be leveraged with state and local programs to conserve more acreage. In addition to easements, the strategy highlights complementary programs and initiatives to support the stewardship and viability of working lands.
This report is intended to help inform the broader land conservation community by highlighting specific issues and opportunities for working lands. USDA is helping lead a working lands working group as part of the Chesapeake Conservation Partnership to support ongoing collaboration on the strategy recommendations.
The report is also being shared with the larger conservation community. American Farmland Trust and U.S. Forest Service presented the draft Working Lands Conservation Strategy at annual land trust conferences in 2014 in Maryland and Virginia.
HABITAT CONSERVATION STRATEGIES WORKING GROUP
Since the November 2013 meeting, members of the Habitat Conservation Strategies Working Group have explored strategies for how best to advance collaboration on habitat conservation across large landscapes. These formative meetings have provided clarity on how members of the Partnership can collaborate on identifying, prioritizing and conserving important ecological areas. They have confirmed the interest of key experts in defining a strategy for doing this, centered on a network of priority conservation opportunities for ecologically important habitat. Such an effort would need to network with other familiar partnerships addressing habitat conservation, such as the Chesapeake Bay Program, Northeast Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, and Eastern Brook Trout and Black Duck Joint Venture.
Throughout 2014, the Working Group has held meetings with executives of the Chesapeake states’ fish and wildlife agencies to initiate a system-wide habitat conservation vision, framework and implementation plan for the Chesapeake watershed. In April 2014, members of the Working Group engaged leaders of relevant agencies at the Annual Northeast Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (NEAFWA) Conference in Portland, ME. A follow-up joint meeting of the Northeast Wildlife Administrators and Northeast Fisheries Administrators convened state agencies, FWS, federal partners, and key NGO representatives to support an organized effort around scalable conservation design across the Chesapeake landscape.
The group plans to engage state and federal agencies and private organizations working at various scales in the Chesapeake region and aims to facilitate both watershed-wide and smaller-scale collaborative conservation designs. The resulting conservation blueprint will allow multiple habitat conservation and management partners to strategically align efforts to achieve shared goals for species and habitats.
Group members received strong and enthusiastic support for this approach at the recent Appalachian Landscape Conservation Cooperative Steering Committee meeting. Similar meetings with Delaware, Maryland and Pennsylvania officials were scheduled for late September and October. Partners from all Chesapeake states attended a meeting on October 22, 2014 in Harrisburg, PA to discuss strategies for addressing mutual habitat conservation priorities.
INDIGENOUS CULTURAL LANDSCAPES WORKING GROUP
Indigenous cultural landscapes comprise the cultural and natural resources that would have supported the historic lifestyles and settlement patterns of an Indian group in their totality. In late November 2013, 40 people representing federal agencies, tribes, universities, and conservation organizations participated in an Indigenous Cultural Landscape (ICL) update webinar. Discussion topics and presentations included: ongoing research and pilot mapping in the Susquehanna (PA) and Nanticoke (MD and DE) river valleys, ICL application in NOAA’s Marine Protected Areas, and an overview of the ongoing NPS National Register cultural landscape initiative. Because of the broad interest in ICLs, the webinar drew participants from across the Chesapeake Bay watershed and the nation.
The National Park Service Chesapeake Bay Office released two indigenous cultural landscape reports in summer 2014. The first contains a methodology and recommendations summary on identifying indigenous cultural landscapes; and a second provides a complete methodology prototype study on ICL identification within the Nanticoke River watershed. In July 2014, a panel of NPS Chesapeake Bay staff and advisors presented a session on the Indigenous Cultural Landscape concept in the Chesapeake to an audience of about 100 practitioners at the joint annual conference of the National Alliance of Preservation Commissions and Preservation Pennsylvania. A similar panel session at the National Workshop on Large Landscape Conservation will highlight the two reports, their applications, and next steps.
The NPS Chesapeake Bay Office and the Chesapeake Conservancy will work this fall with local archeologists and subject matter experts to adapt the Nanticoke methodology along the Lower Susquehanna and Middle Potomac Rivers.
LAND AND WATER CONSERVATION FUND LANDSCAPE COLLABORATIVE (RIVERS OF THE CHESAPEAKE)
The Rivers of the Chesapeake pre-proposal for FY16 Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) Collaborative funding was selected in May 2014 to submit a full proposal for competitive consideration. The Rivers of the Chesapeake LWCF Collaborative requests $63 million to support conservation of over 13,000 acres in FY16. The request has garnered support from the governors of four states (DE, MD, PA and VA), nine US senators, 17 members of the US House of Representatives and over 30 nonprofit and American Indian organizations. Many have been vigilant in their advocacy for including the Rivers of the Chesapeake in the president’s budget for fiscal year 2016. An interdisciplinary partnership team continues to work closely on the collaborative. News won’t be available for some time on whether the Chesapeake will be included in the 2016 budget.
Many thanks to all who participated in the proposal process and continue to support this effort.