Geospatial data and analysis is more available than ever before and conservationists use it. But do we have and use the data and analysis we need for addressing issues around public health, equity and conservation? Here’s just one example, mapping population by race and Hispanic origin. (Image: American Community Survey data)

Once again, in today’s Lightning Update we tackle two things at once — reporting on last week’s rural focused working session on public health and conservation, and previewing this week’s session on geospatial data and analysis for the same!


Public Health & Conservation in RURAL AREAS


Geospatial Analysis for Driving Health & Equity

The third session of our Annual Meeting series, took on how to advance rural public health through conservation. This followed our October 14 work sesssion focused on urban areas. (You can find a short report out on that here.)

We haven’t yet had time to fully process all the generated, but in live-time we identified a series of themes coming from responses to the questions we posed. Here’s a quick download:

The Question: When you think of the rural areas throughout the watershed, how can the public health goal, with a particular focus on equity, be achieved through our collective work?

Key themes of participants’ ideas:

Multi-disciplinary approach:

  • Programmatic silo-ation is causing problems (also came up in urban!). 
  • Put jobs and education at forefront.
  • For schools, engaging with the outdoors needs to be the rule rather than the exception. Incorporate health care community.
  • Work with community needs assessment and greening departments at health care facilities to identify connections for access to nature. Connect grounds to trails.
  • Target parks around community centers — hospitals, churches and schools.
  • Look at current environmental education curriculum and see where public health impacts could be added.
  • Land trusts can act as conveners, coordinators of community partnerships, fostering relationships with land owners.
Work at ground/community level:
  • No “savior” complexes.
  • Don’t do projects based on assumptions on what we believe underserved communities need, but actually engage with from ground up so communities express specifically that they feel they would benefit from/want/need.
  • Always incorporate the health standard “do no harm” in our work.
  • Collaborate more, and compromise more — be willing to be changed by partners’ priorities.
  • Listen and understand limitations by having the right conversations
  • Acknowledge and address the history that got us here and how science can help us in the future.
Agriculture and Food: 
  • Have to improve local agricultural economies to incentivize land conservation.
  • Need a “food sovereignty czar”: a collaborative, sustained, community-based effort to address our fragile food system.
  • Connect the food data to the efforts on the ground.
  • Support for regionalized food systems that address localized, unique barriers (e.g., animal protein in the Piedmont)
  • Fund and incentivize local school meal programs, using local foods. Builds relationships between community, businesses and schools.
  • Walking is the only free method of transportation. All residents in the watershed should live within walking distance of a park or protected land. Need connectivity between community centers and parks – sidewalks, trails, etc.
Adapt the focus:
  • The equity focus will require an adaptation of our current scaled practices to sometimes target smaller, more recreationally focused conservation measures.
  • The opportunity is there and multiple partners will need to collaborate and accept compromise.
  • Greater emphasis on access, addressing park deserts and not just large scale landscape benefits. Covid is exacerbating the issue. Need to inform and convince officials.
Land use and development policy:
  • Tie restoration investments with economic development with equity lens to avoid issues of gentrification. Offer economic opportunities as part of encouraging rural and green access.
  • Push for adequate public facilities ordinances. Require developers to incorporate open space as part of any contract.
  • Encourage economic development opportunities – require buy in and coordination to acquire and transfer lands to communities (and thereby more stake and ownership).
  • Integrate open space planning with housing and development policies to ensure access and prevent gentrification. Capture increase in land values in a public trust.
  • New policies to maintain forests and incentivize renewable development on already impacted lands
  • Recognize that the ROI (if measured per capita) will be different in rural vs. urban areas — and standards may need to be different between the two.
Private lands:
  • Consider higher payments for public access for easements on private lands.
  • Build both incentives and positive pressure through education and landowner networks to open private lands to public use, especially on the waterfront. Landowners can support each other in the choice and process to open their lands.
  • Expand liability protections.
  • Re-prioritization is going to have to happen, though it’s key to expand the pot of money, not fight over it.
  • Add equity/inclusion to Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plans (SCORP) which influence LWCF.
  • Include funding for micro-pocket parks to ease demand on large systems
  • Leverage private equity through conservation banking



Session 4 of the
2020 Annual Meeting:
Data and Analysis for Driving Equity in Public Health and Conservation
Thursday October 29
10:00 AM to Noon

This interactive session will focus on recent developments in use of geospatial analysis related to public health and conservation. Participants will generate issues, needs, and ideas for analyses to advance goals related to public health, equity, and access to parks and green space in the Chesapeake watershed.

We particularly encourage organizations and individuals using or developing geospatial analyses to join this working session. We need your thoughts and ideas.

Space is limited.

The Importance of Using Data

Here’s a relevant policy recommendation we shared recently from the Prevention Institute:

Park agencies, elected officials, non-profit park developers, and advocates should utilize data-informed maps and tools to identify priority neighborhoods and engage local residents and organizations to plan new parks or improve existing parks. Prioritizing project development in high-need areas identified through GIS mapping is a best practice in equitable park development.

The new draft public health goal goes beyond siting and improving parks, and this policy recommendation should apply to other factors as well.

So what are some examples of geospatial data relevant to health equity and conservation? We’ll tee up just a few examples here to prime the pump for Thursday.

Chesapeake Bay Environmental Justice and Equity Dashboard (DRAFT)

The Chesapeake Bay Program’s draft Environmental Justice and Equity Dashboard provides a series of different geospatial analyses and maps of demographic data related to environmental justice (including the ACS data shown in the lead image for this Lightning Update). The intent is to highlight factors to consider when evaluating co-benefits of conservation and restoration actions.

Richmond Climate Equity Index

As part of its comprehensive planning process, the City of Richmond assessed the vulnerability of residents, built assets, and natural assets to the climate impacts of extreme heat, extreme precipitation, and future sea level rise. This Climate Equity Index will be used to identify and engage Richmond’s frontline communities.

Virginia Health Opportunity Index

The Virginia Department of Health depicts the “health opportunity landscape” in a series of dashboardsThe map shows where communities ranks across four health opportunity profiles.

Maryland Park Equity Mapper

This interactive map is a tool to identify areas across Maryland in need of public park space. The analysis was developed to provide an initial quantitative tool to help expand public access to nature for underserved communities, and to provide a tool that employs national, statewide and local data in a consistent and strategic manner for the state and its local partners.

The Trust for Public Land’s ParkServe

TPL’s ParkServe data shows where existing parks are located, who does and does not live within a 10-minute walk of a park, and urban heat islands.

These are just a few of the geospatial applications for understanding data related to public health, equity, and conservation.
Help us learn more and identify what additional analyses are needed to address the public health goal. Join us on Thursday!

All of this and more — including what comes from sessions this week and next — will feed into work at the Partnership’s November 17 Annual Meeting on operationalizing a public health goal in relation to conservation.

The Partnership’s 2020 Annual Meeting is cosponsored by:

Land Trust Alliance

Don’t forget to send us your 2020 land conservation success stories as they develop. They’ll land in the new and growing collection at, a tool we can all use to show collective impact. See the checklist below for easy-to-follow, simple guidelines.