Case Studies

Collaboration: Land Trusts Working Together to Strengthen Coastal Resilience in Maine

Salt marshes purify water, protect coastal infrastructure from storm surges, are nurseries for juvenile fish and shellfish, sequester carbon at faster rates than forests, and provide important habitat for rare plants and coastal birds.

Rising sea levels, coastal development, invasive species, climate change, and nutrient-filled runoff are among the many threats to Maine’s salt marshes. It is projected that by the end of the century, global sea levels will rise between three and six feet, potentially destroying as much as two-thirds of Maine’s coastal marsh lands.

The accredited Maine Coast Heritage Trust, with a mission to conserve and steward Maine’s coastal lands and islands for their renowned scenic beauty, ecological value, outdoor recreational opportunities, and contribution to community well-being, has developed a plan to protect and care for the state’s priority marshes, but they will not be able to do it alone.

Maine Coast Heritage Trust has a long track record of providing statewide conservation leadership to land trusts, communities, and other partners. As the backbone and facilitator of the Maine Land Trust Network, Maine Coast Heritage Trust works to strengthen connections and the capacity of the 80+ land trusts working across the state. With a goal of increasing collaboration and capacity to address climate change, Maine Coast Heritage Trust developed and delivered a Coastal Resilience Master Class for land trusts working in Maine’s coastal region. This education and outreach effort, delivered between November 2019 and May 2020, was supported through the Open Space Institute’s (OSI) Resilient Landscapes Initiative Catalyst Program, which is made possible with funding from Jane’s Trust Foundation. The Coastal Resilience Master Class has enabled the development of a state-wide conservation network that brings researchers, land trusts and other land managers together to learn from each other and collaborate on climate actions.

What’s Being Done – Building Knowledge and Collaboration

Purpose: The Coastal Resilience Master Class was designed as a focused training opportunity for land trusts already engaged in coastal resilience work. The goals of the sessions were to (i) advance technical expertise among key land trust professionals in coastal resilience and climate mitigation, (ii) strengthen a community of practice in Maine that can serve as a resource and model on coastal resilience projects in the broader land trust community, and (iii) begin to develop a set of best practices and resources for how land trusts can address sea level rise impacts.

Participants: To build a local cohort of conservation practitioners for the master class, Maine Coast Heritage Trust worked with OSI and the Land Trust Alliance (the Alliance) to identify land trusts who had taken part in prior sea-level rise trainings, planning exercises and workshops, and solicited participants through the Maine Land Trust Network’s newsletter. The service areas of the participating land trusts (not including the statewide Maine Coast Heritage Trust) cover over half of the identified marsh migration areas in Maine. Maine Coast Heritage Trust also invited partners and coastal resilience experts from environmental NGOs, academia, public agencies, and foundations to serve as guest speakers and join in class discussions.

Lessons in Resilience – Master Class Curriculum

Based on feedback from participants, Maine Coast Heritage Trust designed the course to address the coastal resilience issues land trusts in Maine were wrestling with.  This resulted in the creation of four discrete training sessions that included:

  • Session 1: Using Sea Level Rise Data in Conservation Design and Managing Funding Sources. December 2019. Format: Day-long, in-person training session.

This session dug into the science of sea level rise with presentations from experts in the field. This included an in-depth look at Maine-specific data and decision-making tools, and a case study from land trusts integrating the science into conservation planning and restoration efforts. The day’s learning also included presentations and discussions with experts on conservation funding opportunities in Maine to advance this work.

  • Session 2: Working with Municipalities on Coastal Resilience Projects. January 2020. Format: Half-day hybrid session with presentations offered via webinar, followed by in-person small group-discussions in two satellite locations.

To make meaningful progress on coastal resilience, significant funding, community buy in, and multiple partners are often needed. This session explored the opportunities and benefits of land trust collaboration with municipalities, and showcased projects achieved through successful partnerships.

  • Session 3: Understanding the Potential for “Blue Carbon.” March 2020. Format: Half-day hybrid session with presentations offered via webinar, followed by in-person small group-discussions in two satellite locations.

This session took a deep dive into the science and application of research on “blue carbon,” the carbon taken up by salt marshes and eelgrass beds in Maine’s coastal ecosystems. The session explored the potential to mitigate climate change through blue carbon projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions by restoring and conserving tidal salt marshes or eelgrass beds, and demonstrated the climate mitigation benefits achieved through several projects where these actions have been taken. Attendees also received an update on the State’s efforts to meet carbon neutrality goals and learned about the importance of blue carbon in meeting the ambitious targets.

  • Session 4: Climate Change Communication to Connect and Inspire. May 2020. Format: Due to COVID-19, this session was moved from an in-person training to a webinar format delivered in two sequential sessions. Based on broad interest in this topic, enrollment was opened to the broader land trust community, allowing 52 participants to share communications best practices and lessons learned.

The final session highlighted strategies for effective climate communication, including recommendations from How to Talk About Climate Change, a guide for land trusts published by the Alliance and OSI in 2018:

  • Lead with neutral messages about conserving resources people already care about;
  • Find trusted spokespeople to deliver your messages;
  • Focus on local climate change impacts and responses rather than on causes;
  • Avoid technical jargon, instead using language that can be understood by anyone; and
  • Select photos that bring your message to life.

More information on each session, including notes, presentations and case studies is available here.

Lessons Learned

For the richest learning experience, foster conditions for multi-directional learning

Master class participants came away with deeper knowledge of tools and science, but just as critically, with stronger connections with peers and professionals working on coastal resilience issues throughout the state. For each session, Maine Coast Heritage Trust invited content area experts to provide an overview of the subject and then asked one or more participating land trusts to present a recent project as a case study. This format allowed participants to pose questions directly to leading researchers and agency staff and offered a rare forum for dialogue between practitioners, funders, and policymakers. In the spirit of a “master class,” it also provided participants with an opportunity showcase their work and to solicit feedback from their peers.

Vary session design and delivery to sustain engagement and connection across a broad geography

One of the challenges of working to address statewide conservation issues is the ability to convene in-person meetings of practitioners located hours away from each other. To keep participation costs low while still allowing for meaningful engagement, the course was originally conceived as a hybrid series with alternating in-person and virtual sessions and discussion groups offered at multiple satellite locations. The remote format provided opportunities to connect geographically distanced participants and attract speakers that may not have otherwise been able to attend. In-person sessions allowed the cohort to develop deeper relationships with peers and partners. By the time the pandemic forced the master class to go fully remote for the final sessions in Spring of 2020, participants had already developed rapport that fueled active discussion, even in the virtual format.

A Framework for Continued Collaboration

“The format of bringing together land trust staff from across the state for in-depth training and discussion around emerging topics is one that bears repeating,” stated Jeremy Gabrielson, Senior Conservation Planner for Maine Coast Heritage Trust. “The master class provided a valuable opportunity for land trusts working on coastal resilience in Maine to build connections with each other and with other professionals working in the field.” Maine Coast Heritage Trust intends to support ongoing dialogue around state-wide and regional conservation planning for coastal resilience by maintaining and sharing resources developed through this effort and by hosting future training sessions for the Maine land trust community.