Conservation Area Planning

Conservation areas are important natural environments that are integrated with human recreation uses. They are important components of worldwide conservation planning. When planning for conservation areas, a variety of methods and tools to identify lands critical for ecosystem protection are used. Fundamental to this is an understanding of the ecological processes and functions that maintain the viability of living systems, including human societies.

Planning for conservation areas requires an approach to ecosystem protection and management that integrates the concept of sustainable use with human needs and uses into ecosystem management so that the needs and aspirations of future generations are not compromised by those of the present. Conservation areas represent the leading edge of an opportunity to manage protected lands in a way that educates and inspires us while maintaining capacity for future generations. Conservation planning requires going beyond geopolitical boundaries.

For example, the overlap of potential uses for a freshwater lake (water supply), fishing, habitat protection, recreation, tourism and travel triggers the involvement of multiple regulatory agencies with differing and often conflicting agendas. Acceleration of ecosystem degradation due to climate change, incursion of invasive species, unsustainable consumption and inappropriate development will require a reassessment of our lifestyle practices, as well as assessment of the adequacy of our protected areas. Conservation planning requires active, adaptive management to identify new threats and flexible strategies for action.

Global Conservation Planning

In developed countries such as Australia, United Kingdom and Canada, specifically named conservation parks are implemented at both “state” and federal levels. Most nations, under the leadership of the International Union for the Protection of Nature (IUCN)/World Conservation Union, have implemented a system of national parks, biological reserves, wildlife refuges and conservation areas that incorporate permitted recreation types within the main objective of ecosystem conservation.

IUCN notes that current management structures for parks are not necessarily able to adapt to the pressures of significant and rapid environmental change. New networks, learning institutions and flexible approaches to open space management are necessary for increasing our capacity for conservation planning. The multidimensional approach that is being adopted for conservation parks worldwide focuses on several goals and are listed below.

  • Address gaps in national protected area systems.
  • Promote connectivity at landscape and seascape levels.
  • Enhance public support for conservation parks and protected open space.
  • Recognize the importance of a range of governance types as a means to strengthen management and expand the world’s protected areas.
  • Strengthen the relationship between people and the land, freshwater and the sea.

Components of Conservation Planning

Based upon a sound understanding of ecological systems, conservation requirements and community needs, planning for conservation parks and open space should do the following.

1. Reconcile public use with environmental concerns

Identify and plan for the compatible and sustainable human use of an area within the goals of conservation. Conservation parks often suffer from the same abuse as traditional parks with off-trail hiking, illegal hunting, damage from wheeled vehicles and speedboats, vandalism and dumping.

2. Provide for public education and awareness

Conservation planning requires public participation, education, and high levels of communication with the community. Conservation parks provide important opportunities for research and education programs at many levels: local schools and universities, training classes and workshops for young professionals, practitioners and public officials and visitors to use these lands for long term investigations.

3. Identify partners for collaboration

Environmental issues, such as flood control, water quality, coastal erosion prevention and biodiversity conservation are not confined to property boundaries and are most effectively addressed through collaboration.

Identifying and Evaluating Lands for Conservation

Conservation and restoration are interrelated. To identify and evaluate lands for conservation parks, a planner must consider land acquisition, the ability to increase habitat and create new habitat from urban land, restore linear connections and protect riparian and migratory corridors. In addition to natural lands, industrial lands, derelict lands and brownfields can be regarded as good candidates for conservation parks for their capability to contribute to the elimination of sources of disturbance and pollution. Consider the identification and evaluation of lands in order of priority, highest to lowest.

  • Protect undeveloped properties with significant natural values within a region.
  • Conserve properties that could serve to join together existing conserved properties.
  • Protect land alongside riparian corridors to develop and maintain a contiguous corridor.
  • Preserve or restore riparian communities and preclude development in floodplains.
  • Manage croplands and recreation areas as buffer lands for conservation parks.
  • Maintain opportunities to create trail links.
  • Assess underutilized or abandoned properties for conservation potential.

Inventory and Analysis Studies

The planning process for conservation parks includes studies that identify and evaluate lands along the lines of the natural patterns of the landscape, natural drainage ways and flood retention areas, surface water and groundwater quality, historic and rural landscapes and vegetation and wildlife diversity. Technological advances are now available to planners and design professionals that include geographic information systems (GIS) and advanced modelling tools to map and analyse vast quantities of data. Geographic data, which are important for analysis and mapping are available from cities and counties, water districts and utility providers in digital format. At a minimum, an inventory and analysis dataset for a conservation park includes the following.

1) Environmental Value

  • Forested areas
  • Stream channel
  • Wetlands
  • Floodplain areas
  • Steep slopes: greater than 12%
  • Moderate slopes
  • Hydrologic soils: D (saturated floodplain soils)
  • Stream channel buffer: 30 to 90 feet
  • Key species habitats

2) Hydrology

  • Physiography
  • Watershed sub basins and floodplains
  • Tributaries and stream orders
  • Land cover: pervious/impervious surfaces

3) Vegetation

  • Vegetation cover types, such as forest, open woodland, prairie, old field, turf
  • Existing natural plant communities

Conservation Plan

A conservation plan uses the inventory maps as an analytical tool to establish degree of protection, permitted uses and the relationships between resource areas. Composite overlay maps are created as the next planning step in order to outline priorities for further acquisition, park management and guidelines for permitted uses.

Conservation Strategies Maps

1. High Priority Conservation/Acquisition Areas

  • Important watersheds associated with protection of water quality and water supply
  • Habitats or potential habitats of endangered or declining species
  • Riparian and coastal areas associated with wildlife, water conservation and shoreline protection
  • Wetlands associated with flooding protection, wildlife and water conservation
  • Geologic features or soil types that contain rare minerals or potential for unique habitat

2. Medium-Priority Conservation/Acquisition Areas

  • Areas of less significant habitat or natural features that can be managed for limited public access for environmental education, tourism and low impact recreational uses
  • Areas that can be used to test management prescriptions for higher quality areas

3. Lower-Priority Conservation/Acquisition Areas

  • Areas that can be managed for sustainable use to serve as buffer areas between developed areas and conservation parks. Examples of activities that might be permitted include controlled hunting, organic agriculture and pasturing and sustainable harvesting.

Restoration Strategies Maps

  • Potential high quality habitat areas for restoration
  • Areas of medium or low disturbance for restoration
  • Areas for potential large scale restoration strategies
  • Riparian corridors that can be reforested
  • Forest gaps that can be filled to create continuous forest canopy and forest interior
  • Woodland edges of mixed plant species

Management and Monitoring

Conservation areas require both a land management and a monitoring plan/program. The character and quality of the landscape depends directly on how it is managed over time. Land management for conservation parks involves several approaches.

  • Control, manage and preferably, eliminate invasive, non-native species.
  • Maintain the population density of fauna that threaten the natural regeneration of native plant species.
  • Replant with species native to the region.
  • Reintroduce extirpated native species.
  • Maintain habitat diversity, especially high priority ecosystems, such as interior forest, expansive grasslands and riparian woodlands.

Controlling invasive species is the most difficult environmental degradation to reverse in a conservation park. Continuous scientific monitoring of interventions in the landscape is crucial to the success of future landscapes and to cost effective actions. Monitoring provides the information to judge the effectiveness of actions and revise poor management decisions which ensuring that chronic problems are resolved, not exacerbated.



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