Case Studies

Jefferson Land Trust’s Conservation Plan and Forward-Facing Forestry

Motivated by an active board and engaged staff, long-term planning was often discussed at the Jefferson Land Trust (JLT).  In 2005, JLT joined Cascade Land Conservancy (now Forterra), North Olympic Land Trust (NOLT), and many residents from all corners of the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State to begin generating a 100-year vision for the region.  Drawing on planning experiences from Forterra’s Cascade Agenda – a 100-year vision for King, Kittitas, Pierce, and Snohomish counties) – JLT, NOLT, and Forterra outlined regional goals to increase economic vitality and create sustainable rural communities with a high quality of life as part of something they started to call the “Olympic Agenda.”  The JLT Conservation Plan is an outgrowth of this early conservation planning teamwork, and exemplifies how land trusts can occupy a central leadership position in fulfilling a community vision to preserve natural resources and cultural heritage.  This project summary highlights climate change adaptive conservation actions identified in the Sustainable Forestry and Long-term Habitat Conservation elements of JLT’s Conservation Plan.

Value of the land and habitat

Jefferson County is bordered by waters of the Pacific Ocean, Strait of Juan de Fuca, Admiralty Inlet and Hood Canal. It crosses the heart of the Olympic Peninsula, and comprises an impressive diversity of ecosystems. The rugged Pacific seacoast gives way to a rolling landscape carpeted with dense temperate rainforests up to the western slopes of the Olympic Mountains. The western river valleys receive the greatest annual precipitation in the contiguous United States and rise to the windswept heights of the Olympic Mountains. Roughly 40 miles of rocky alpine landscapes separate the West from the East side of the county. Descending into the Puget Trough, the comparatively drier Douglas fir-dominated forests are threaded with streams and rivers that cut through to the valley floors and flow into the marine waters of Hood Canal, Strait of Juan de Fuca, and Admiralty Inlet.

Conservation concerns

Like other iconic landscapes in North America, the Peninsula is experiencing increased levels of impact and permanent loss of open space, working lands and habitat. Recent population growth has put pressure on its traditional natural and rural land base. Particularly during the last four decades, Jefferson County’s average annual population growth outpaced Washington State and national averages. Since 1990, the population of Jefferson County has grown 50%, from an estimated 20,000 to 30,000.  In the next twenty years, the area expects to see an additional 50% growth.  JLT analysis indicates that at these rates most of the legal building sites on vacant land could be converted to commercial, industrial or residential uses as soon as 2075 – bringing the Land Trust’s mission into sharp focus. This growth is happening for a number of reasons, among them being the majestic beauty of the Olympic Peninsula, the quality of life, the healthy communities, the abundant natural resources and wildlife, the opportunities for outdoor recreation, the proximity to metropolitan areas, and vast open space – all drawing people to settle and share the experiences this region offers.

Approach to Conservation Planning

With such a diverse geography, the planning teams decided to consider input and strategies as they relate to three distinct regions: West, Southeast, and Northeast Jefferson County.  Each region has unique needs, threats, characteristics, and opportunities that demand different conservation approaches.  Four conservation themes surfaced from early input: Habitat, Forestry, Agriculture, and Recreation. Climate change was identified by a community inventory of threats and opportunities as a “driving force” impacting management planning across conservation themes and sub-regions.

Each of the four conservation themes – Habitat, Forestry, Agriculture, and Recreation and Tourism – considers climate change impacts and suggests the following strategic responses:

Habitat Develop and implement critical wildlife corridor conservation campaigns throughout the county
Forestry Develop and implement landscape-scale forest land conservation program
Agriculture Support creative solutions to water resource scarcity and quality for habitat and agricultural uses
Recreation Expand trail corridor network to increase connectivity between towns and recreation areas

These conservation themes are central to JTL’s stewardship efforts that recognize interconnections between species and habitats are the strands in the web of life that sustains all communities.

Current status and management plan

Jefferson Land Trust occupies a central leadership position in fulfilling a community vision to preserve the region’s natural and cultural heritage. Long-standing partnerships, community support, and over twenty years of experience in Jefferson County have all laid the foundation for the long-term visioning and planning effort as well as for the recommendations of the JLT Conservation Plan. This planning process began with, and aims to support, broad partnerships and community interests. Strategic conservation planning is widely recognized as important for increased levels of success. Research conducted by the Land Trust Alliance has found that land trusts that focus on strategic conservation priorities fulfill their missions more efficiently than those who do not. Recognizing this, JLT reviewed several different models for conservation planning, and designed a process that weighed heavily on community input. A series of 10 meetings through 2008 and 2009 provided the bulk of direct community contribution. Ideas, strategic recommendations, and priorities expressed by individuals who attended these meetings were compiled, reviewed, and considered in formulating this conservation plan. After five years of planning, including over a dozen stakeholder meetings across the county, Jefferson Land Trust has adopted the 100-year Conservation Plan. Learn more about examples of JLT’s work and ongoing efforts to support forestland conservation.

The Forestry element acknowledges that climate change impacts such as higher temperatures and altered precipitation patterns are expected to affect the forest management sector.  Additionally, forest conversion and fragmentation are exacerbated by changing economic realities and industry trends. To address these vulnerabilities, the plan emphasizes the importance of protecting the forested landscape from conversion and supporting sustainably managed forests to ensure native plants and animal species have a foundation of undeveloped land for adapting to climate change and other challenges.  To overcome these hurdles, the land trust is implementing key conservation actions to support the Forestry program element include:

  • developing campaigns focused on the establishment of permanent community forests located near residential areas to address growth and forest conversion pressures,
  • supporting expansion of the certified forest products industry locally and utilizing other market incentives to protect forest lands from conversion and respond to changing markets and policy forces, and
  • developing and implementing a landscape-scale forest land conservation program to enhance ecological resilience in response to climate change.

The JLT’s efforts to support sustainable forestry are demonstrated on the Bulis Forest Preserve, where about 25 acres of managed, Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-Certified lands provide financial support to steward the Preserve. Nearly a 100 acres of this preserve are maintained in their “natural state.” Bordering Fort Townsend State Park, the preserve is part of over 800 acres of contiguous green space, exemplifying yet another management focus of the conservation plan.

Because habitat fragmentation is a common result of increased human population growth and associated development, stakeholders in the conservation planning process suggested focusing efforts on landscape level protection efforts that encourage connectivity between a diversity of habitats. The latest research on conservation planning and climate change also suggests working at a landscape level to afford the greatest level of species movements and adaptability in a changing climate. Specifically, research suggests that habitat conservation planning should focus on protecting adequate and appropriate space and corridors for wildlife, limiting non-climate stressors like habitat fragmentation and invasive species, and using active adaptive management.  The Habitat Conservation element aims to addresses these challenges by encouraging the development and implementation of critical wildlife corridor conservation campaigns throughout the county. JLT’s work demonstrates how strategic planning can effectively align complementary management objectives such as working lands, habitat conservation, and recreation, while enhancing overall resilience and health of ecosystems.

Engaging Stakeholders

Jefferson Land Trust’s Conservation Plan was developed in conjunction with scoping for the Olympic Agenda, and is based on extensive stakeholder involvement.  The process included a series of structured meetings designed to generate input from conservation partners, community stakeholders, and the public. Following the community meetings, JLT staff and volunteers began processing the information collected into an organized plan. Conducting a long-term regional planning effort that is reflective of conservation and development values of diverse communities is labor intensive. While more input is always valuable, funding and time limitations made it necessary to have a limited number of meetings – in the end, about a dozen – in order to gather as much information as possible within a relatively limited planning window.

Lessons learned

  • Working with regional partners increases capacity to pursue shared objectives. Numerous partners were involved in the scoping and planning process for both the Olympic Agenda and the JLT Conservation Plan, and JLT was able to use input generated by this partnership-based process and hone it to expeditiously produce a county-wide plan.
  • Use what is available. JLT knew early on they wanted to focus resources on articulating a community-based vision.  While localized expert and community input was used extensively in area prioritization discussions, much valuable ecological, spatial, and land use data were collected from other agencies and institutions – when there is good information available, there is no reason not to use what is already available!
  • Use technology to maximize planning efforts. The planning process was greatly enhanced by use of GIS software to discuss and analyze priority conservation areas, as well as several laptops and polling software that allowed meeting participants to anonymously answer scoping and prioritization questions.
  • Focus on issues, not positions. The anonymous polling was particularly helpful in the planning process, as it allowed stakeholders to share their feelings without becoming entrenched in personal or political positions.  By avoiding attaching different personalities to the specific input stakeholders were able to maintain focus on key conservation issues.
  • Focus on the long-term. Asking participants to think about the landscape in 100-years, and consider what they would like to see, is a powerful way for the community to reach common-ground on land use questions.  Taking the needs and self-focused demands of the current generation out of the equation, allows everyone to consider the needs of future generations in a much more profound way.