The U.S. tradition of conserving fish, wildlife, habitats, and cultural resources dates to the mid-19th century. States have long sought to manage fish and wildlife species within their borders, whereas many early federal conservation efforts focused on setting aside specific places as parks, sanctuaries, or reserves. Starting in the 1960s, several federal laws were passed to provide additional protection for individual species and particular natural resources. Most states have similarly expressed a commitment to conservation in their constitutions and statutes, and over time, federal and state legislation has created a complex tapestry of legal frameworks for cultural and natural resource conservation. Conservation of habitats, species, ecosystem services, and cultural resources in the face of multiple stressors requires governance structures that can bridge the geographic and jurisdictional boundaries of the complex socio-ecological systems in which landscape-level conservation occurs (Jacobson and Robertson, 2012; Bodin et al., 2014).
Furthermore, in recent decades, conservation practitioners and scientists gained greater appreciation of broader ecosystem dynamics that extend beyond geographic or political boundaries, as well as the increasing stress on ecosystems due to human activities. Human activity has altered the surface of the Earth more substantially during the past half-century than at any time in history, and nearly half of Earth’s land surface is used to grow crops and pasture animals (Foley et al., 2005; NRC, 2010). These changes in land use are threatening biological diversity, such that approximately 10–20 percent of species in well-known taxonomic groups are currently threatened with extinction (Pimm et al., 2014; IUCN Red List1).
With advances in landscape ecology over the past quarter-century, conservation planners, scientists, and practitioners began to stress the importance of conservation efforts at the scale of landscapes and seascapes (see Box 1.1 for a definition of landscapes and the landscape scale). These larger areas were thought to harbor relatively large numbers of species that are likely to maintain population viability and sustain ecological processes (e.g., migration) and natural disturbance regimes—often considered critical factors in conserving biodiversity (Schwartz, 1999; Soulé and Terborgh, 1999; Groves et al., 2002; Noss, 2002; Groves, 2003). Further, loss of biodiversity can have widespread consequences, including regional or global socioeconomic impacts or alterations to biophysical processes. By focusing conservation efforts at the level of whole ecosystems and landscape, practitioners can better attempt to conserve the vast majority of species in a particular ecosystem. Still, some species will not be well protected by a broad, ecosystem-level approach and will require species-level strategies (Noss, 1987; Hunter et al., 1988).
Because the loss of species and degradation of landscapes can reduce the availability of ecological goods and services on which humans depend, a balance between economic development and conservation of ecological integrity is needed (e.g., NRC, 2004). For example, pollinators are critically important to agricultural production, and the decline of honey bees in North America is a concern (NRC, 2007). The landscape approach to conservation aims to balance all human uses of a particular landscape (e.g., agriculture, ranching, energy development, hunting, recreation, etc.) with the need to conserve natural and cultural resources for future generations.
Successfully addressing the large-scale, interlinked problems associated with landscape degradation will necessitate a planning process that bridges different scientific disciplines and crosses sectors, as well as an understanding of complexity, uncertainty, and the local context of conservation work (Reyers et al., 2010; Curtin, 2015). The landscape approach to conservation aims to develop shared conservation priorities across jurisdictions and across many resources to create a single, collaborative conservation effort that can meet stakeholder needs.
Conservation scientists conclude that working at landscape scales is likely to be more effective for addressing current threats to biodiversity, such as widespread conversion
of native landscapes for human use (e.g., agriculture, energy development, and urbanization), human population growth, and climate change (Franklin, 1993; Groves et al., 2002; Scherr and McNeely, 2008). This focus on landscapes and seascapes in conservation of natural and cultural resources is prevalent throughout the world today, including within federal agencies (FWS, 2013a), nongovernmental organizations (NGOs; e.g., Pressey and Bottrill, 2009; McKinney et al., 2010), and local land-use planning agencies (Marsh, 2010), and in the movements toward ecological networks such as the Natura 2000 network in Europe (Kati et al., 2015).
In response to the aforementioned large-scale challenges facing conservation planners and resource managers, the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) launched the Landscape Conservation Cooperatives (LCC) Network to enhance the landscape-level approach to conservation. Secretary Ken Salazar established the LCC Network on September 14, 2009, by DOI Secretarial Order No. 3289. Section 3(c) of the order reads as follows:2
3(c) Landscape Conservation Cooperatives. Given the broad impacts of climate change, management responses to such impacts must be coordinated on a landscape-level basis. For example, wildlife migration and related needs for new wildlife corridors, the spread of invasive species and wildfire risks, typically will extend beyond the borders of National Wildlife Refuges, Bureau of Land Management lands, or National Parks. Additionally, some bureau responsibilities (e.g., Fish and Wildlife Service migratory bird and threatened and endangered species responsibilities) extend nationally and globally. Because of the unprecedented scope of affected landscapes, Interior bureaus and agencies must work together, and with other federal, state, tribal and local governments, and private landowner partners, to develop landscape-level strategies for understanding and responding to climate change impacts. Interior bureaus and agencies, guided by the Energy and Climate Change Council, will work to stimulate the development of a network of collaborative “Landscape Conservation Cooperatives.” These cooperatives, which already have been formed in some regions, will work interactively with the relevant DOI Climate Science Center(s) and help coordinate adaptation efforts in the region.
Thus, the LCC Network was initiated to complement and add value to the many ongoing federal, state, tribal, and nongovernmental efforts to address a problem that this committee calls “the conservation challenge.” This challenge is conserving species, habitats, ecosystem services, and cultural resources across jurisdictions, landscapes, and even national borders in the face of large-scale and long-term threats, including climate change.
The intent of the Secretarial Order was to design a cooperative effort that can bridge jurisdictional boundaries across agencies within DOI as well as across other federal, state, and tribal agencies, and private lands. To implement this Secretarial Order, DOI charged the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and other DOI bureaus with establishing the LCCs, and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) with establishing the Climate Science Centers (DOI, 2011).
Because of the FWS’s experience with the Migratory Bird Joint Ventures program (Joint Ventures), the FWS used the Joint Ventures as a model to define the structure and function of the LCC Network. The Joint Ventures are collaborative partnerships organized to support conservation of migratory birds (for additional information on the Joint Ventures, see Chapters 5 and 6). The geographic boundaries for the individual LCCs were based on the National Geographic Framework for landscape-scale conservation that
2 Material in bold italics reflects amendments made to this order on February 22, 2010.
was developed in partnership between FWS and USGS staff (Millard et al., 2012). Consequently, the network consists of 22 individual LCCs, which together cover all of the United States, including U.S. island territories and nations in the Pacific and Caribbean, as well as parts of Canada and Mexico (see Figure 1.1).
Once the geographic boundaries were determined, nine LCCs were established in 2010 and the remaining 13 were established in 2011 and 2012. Seven LCCs include Canadian membership and land, while three extend into Mexico. Each LCC has its own governance structure, including a steering committee (described further below).
The administration and staff for each LCC is currently supported financially by a federal or state agency. The FWS receives allocations within its budget for administrative and science support for the LCCs. For fiscal year 2014 (FY 2014), the FWS budget provided $14.4 million in funds for managing the LCCs and $10.8 million for science support. The FY 2014 budget also allocated 71 full-time employees for the LCCs. The FY 2015 allocations were roughly the same ($14 million for LCCs and $10 million for science support). In FY 2015, funding for individual LCCs was between $400,000 and $800,000 for each LCC including its science support. Some of the science support is pooled to fund multi-LCC efforts. For 17 LCCs, the FWS provides full-time equivalent funding for the LCC coordinator and the science coordinator. The other five LCCs also receive staff support from other federal agencies, namely the Bureau of Land Management, the Bureau of Reclamation, the National Park Service, and the U.S. Forest Service. State fish and wildlife agencies also directly contribute to the support of five LCCs.
Each LCC has a volunteer steering committee whose membership typically includes representatives from federal and state agencies, tribes, universities, the private sector, and NGOs. Each steering committee has a chair and a vice chair (or co-chairs), more than two-thirds of whom have been state members. The size of the steering committees varies, but most often ranges between 22 and 26 members; the proportion of federal membership in each steering committee varies from slightly under one-third to one-half of the total members. Steering committee members and staff formulate shared priorities and objectives, and most have developed
strategic priorities in regard to conservation plans, studies, monitoring programs, infrastructure, tools, and expertise. LCCs aim to leverage resources, and partners typically contribute staff and financial resources or potentially contribute by developing and taking joint actions. Although the 22 self-directed LCCs need to be responsive to their own conservation issues, the program is intended to function as a network to respond to conservation challenges at broad multi-LCC scales too. Thus, while each LCC has unique characteristics and challenges specific to its geography, the individual LCCs also have the opportunity to scale up efforts and work with neighboring LCCs or other partnerships.
In 2010, the Udall Foundation’s U.S. Institute for Environmental Conflict Resolution created an interagency LCC strategy team comprising federal, state, tribal, and NGO representatives to evaluate whether a higher-level policy body was needed to help move the LCC Network forward. There was consensus among the participants who then worked to develop a charter and select members for this new volunteer group, called the LCC Council, which met for the first time in 2014. To help provide a common vision for the LCCs, representatives from all 22 LCCs and network-level staff developed a network-wide strategic plan in 2014 building on the common themes across LCCs. The LCC Network Strategic Plan (LCC, 2014) lays out four main goal areas for the LCCs to address: conservation strategy, collaborative conservation, science, and communication. LCCs aim to provide decision support and conservation assessments, develop conservation priorities across jurisdictional boundaries, coordinate among agencies at different levels, and collaboratively develop monitoring needs. LCCs also provide funding for research in support of management and data integration. Finally, LCC partners can identify and contribute through actual conservation efforts and resource management actions within their authorities and jurisdictions.
This review of the LCC Network was congressionally mandated in 2014. Accompanying the amendments made by the U.S. House of Representatives to the U.S. Senate’s amendments of H.R. 3547, the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2014 was a report in the Congressional Record.3 The report included the following language related to the appropriations for DOI:
From within the funds provided for LCC activities, the [Fish and Wildlife] Service is directed to contract with the National Academy of Sciences to evaluate: (1) the purpose, goals, and scientific merit of the program within the context of other similar programs; and (2) whether there have been measurable improvements in the health of fish, wildlife, and their habitats as a result of the program.
3 160 Cong. Rec. H973 (2014).
Following receipt of this congressional directive, the FWS worked with the National Academies to develop a statement of task that would address the congressional request and respond to their needs for a comprehensive review of the LCC Network (see Box 1.2).
The committee provides its comprehensive evaluation on the scientific underpinnings of the program, including relevant findings from the science of conservation and social science of resource management, in Chapter 2 (Statement of Task [SOT] Item 1). Given the focus of the congressional request on “improvements in the health of fish, wildlife, and their habitats,” the committee’s report focuses on LCCs’ role in natural resource management, while still recognizing the need to include cultural resource management as part of the LCC portfolio as intended by the Secretarial Order. Chapter 3 reviews in greater detail the merit of the programmatic goals of the LCC Network Strategic Plan (SOT Item 1) and briefly discusses how the LCC Network structure and function can contribute to achieving such goals. To ensure effective programmatic evaluations in the future, the committee reviews the FWS’s process for evaluation and provides guidance for setting effective metrics for the LCCs and the LCC Network in Chapter 4 (SOT Item 4). A review of related programs and the coordination among these programs is provided in Chapter 5 (SOT Items 2 and 3). Chapter 6 discusses some early achievements of the LCCs and likely long-term impacts and outcomes of landscape-scale conservation (SOT Item 5). The committee’s main conclusions and recommendations are summarized at the ends of Chapters 2–5, while Chapter 6 includes conclusions in the main body as well as at the end. The committee provides two case studies in Appendixes A and B and provides guidance for developing Landscape Conservation Designs in Appendix C.