What is Resilience?

A New Approach – Identifying Resilient Places

New research and a new approach referred to as terrestrial resilience, or Conserving Natures Stage, can help land managers identify the places (the stage) to protect today that will likely support a variety of plants and animals (actors) tomorrow. This approach to resilience, studied for more than a decade by scientists at The Nature Conservancy, has found that to protect diversity we must focus on three elements: the complexity of land forms, the connectivity of natural systems, and a variety of geology types. In other words, we must preserve lands that are diverse both above and below ground and connected to other protected lands. These complex and connected landscapes offer a wide range of micro-climates which can help facilitate plants and animals to adapt to changes.

Because we are expecting a great many environmental changes as the world warms, the resilience of an ecosystem is highly relevant as land trusts consider which places to protect.

Through the development of this approach, the Nature Conservancy mapped the locations of climate-resilient sites.  To date, four geographic regions are mapped and the remainder should be completed over the next few years.

The Resilient Land Mapping Tool allows you to view results from the Eastern United States and the Great Lakes Region Reports. The Pacific Northwest reports and data can be viewed on data basin.

Land Trusts Are Conservation Leaders

Land trusts already are taking actions to build resilience by:

  • identifying and protecting places identified as resilient, so that they may continue to support biological diversity even under climate change;
    • ensuring that a diversity of resilient ecosystems are maintained, to provide “safe haven” reserves for every kind of system;
    • common sense planning to address areas of extreme vulnerability; and
    • mapping connectivity in a way that allows systems and populations—especially vulnerable ones—to shift their range.

What Else are Land Trusts Doing to Promote Resilience in Landscapes?

By bringing climate science into strategic conservation planning efforts land trusts can intentionally protect resilient sites and build more resilience into the landscape.  For example, groups with missions that include protecting habitat for keystone species have often identified migration corridors and transitional ecosystems that support many life-cycle stages for species such as salmon, bears, and migratory birds. Such conservation work can be done at large or small scales – for example, in Vermont, the Vermont Land Trust targeted a small parcel connecting the Green Mountains and the Taconic ranges to support safe black bear migration, a small step that can make a big difference for this large migratory mammal. The North Florida Land Trust has used 26 natural resource criteria to map and prioritize strategic conservation objectives in a seven-county region. The resulting North Florida Conservation Priorities map offers a quantitative guide of conservation values, informing acquisition and management priorities in this area. In Louisiana the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation‘s watershed-wide management plan focuses on restoring critical habitats that can offer increased resilience to ecosystems and human communities that depend on these coastal areas for the natural resources and storm protection benefits they provide.

Enhancing Resilience in the Built Environment

To achieve enhanced resilience in the built environment, land trusts and conservation partners are working to ensure healthy and intact natural areas. When these areas coexist with the built environment, they are often known as “green infrastructure.” These areas can protect communities and the environments they depend on from climate impacts such as storm surge and flooding – benefits which are often referred to as “ecosystem services.”

How resilience is achieved varies, but in general, incorporating principles of “Smart Growth” and Strategic Conservation Planning into land management planning can support resilience objectives. To sustain and amplify storm and sea level rise protection benefits in coastal areas, land managers are working to identify and protect healthy natural ecosystems, as well as restore and enhance impacted systems to increase their resilience to change. Increasingly, green infrastructure protection, restoration, and enhancement strategies are being emphasized as land management tools to support resiliency in the built environment by leveraging natural ecosystem services.

Communities are also working to incorporate conservation of natural areas and other green infrastructure-related strategies into management and adaptation plans. For example, the Trust for Public Land has partnered with cities across the country to identify and deploy restoration projects that “connect,” “cool,” “absorb,” and “protect” surrounding environments – goals that provide numerous benefits to people and ecosystems.

In practice, resilience planning can reduce vulnerabilities in order to allow ecological systems and the communities that depend on and live in these systems to persist despite change and impacts such as increased sea level rise, more extensive flooding, and storms.

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