Roadmap for Conservation Site Planning

As in any other endeavor, a Plan, while not a guarantee of success, is necessary. Outlined below are 12 steps that should be part of any plan for successful conservation at a site. All of these steps play some role in every conservation project, although particular projects may emphasize some steps more than others. 

1. Clearly delineate site and its boundaries.  

Make a distinction between the property boundary and the site for conservation action. The latter is an area in which the principle conservation targets and/or threats occur. The boundaries for conservation action will often be the boundaries of the property, especially in small sites. However, there are exceptions. In small sites, threats may approach from outside the property boundary. Affecting or manipulating these threats directly may be impossible, but it is important to at least consider them in the conservation plan. On large properties, the area for conservation action may be smaller than the property and focus on specific areas of concern. The definition of the specific area for conservation action helps to focus resources and effort on the important targets and threats.

2. Identify conservation targets (i.e., resource values).  

Identify the values or entities that require conservation attention. These may be species or communities, but may also be other types of values, such as ecological processes (e.g., watershed function) or social or quasi-ecological values such as open space.

3. Identify threats to these targets.  

Identify specific threats to the Targets. Threats may be species (e.g., exotic species), ecological processes (e.g., encroachment or succession), physical change (e.g., erosion), or other factors. It is important to specifically identify threats because it is at these threats that land management will typically be directed.

4. Understand and describe the context outside the border of the site.

Off-site processes are especially important in small protected areas. Are there threats or opportunities that approach from outside? Understanding them can help you plan and prioritize management projects, and point to off-site partnerships that need to be developed.

5. Articulate Goals for each conservation target.  

A Goal is a statement of a desired state or outcome.  In what state or condition do you want the target to be in the future?  What do you want the land to look like?  In some senses, Goals are related to the vision statements for a particular property.  Goals are important as statements of management purpose (what do we want to achieve?), but also as statements of vision that can be communicated and discussed with other stakeholders.

6. Develop a conceptual model. 

A conceptual model is immensely valuable in clarifying the relationships among targets, threats, and processes (both biological and human). It is valuable both as an organization of current knowledge and as a statement of vision and purpose that can be communicated to other stakeholders. If you cannot create a basic model that explains the socio-ecological system, then perhaps the system is not understood well enough to manage it effectively. Once created, continue to amend the model as new information and understanding becomes available.

7. Craft objectives that operationalize the goals.

An Objective is a more specific expression of the Goal. It is stated in terms that explain what management actions are expected to achieve on the targets, where the actions are to take place, and over what time frame. Note that there may be multiple objectives associated with any conservation target. For example, in the case of conserving a rare plant there may be objectives for maintaining the population size (“maintain at least 500 reproductive individuals) and objectives for minimizing specific threats (“eliminate the exotic species that competes with the rare species”).

8. Prioritize projects. 

Multiple objectives and goals often require prioritization.  It is important to state, in advance and with as much clarity as possible, which values or targets are most important.  This helps direct attention and resources to the targets and threats that most need them.  The conceptual ecological model can be very helpful in this regard.

9. Develop and implement management strategies that address targets and threats. 

Plan the management actions that will support the goals and address the objectives. They should be realistic, in terms of resources required and their potential effects on the targets, as well as timely. It is important to ask if a strategy can be implemented at a scale necessary to have a real impact. Weed management, for example, is often focused on areas that are too small to have a real impact on the threat.

10. Develop measures of success and measure progress relative to the objectives. 

Once goals have been articulated, management actions planned, and management is underway, it is critical to routinely assess whether the management actions are producing success. Success is typically defined in such cases as the approach toward (or arrival at) specific goals. By developing clear plans for monitoring both the conservation targets and the threats to them one can assess whether land management actions are effective in producing the desired results. Monitoring can help identify management actions that are ineffective and need to be modified or scrapped.

11. Evaluate new information and reconsider goals and objectives. 

Adaptive management is a process that adjusts management plans and actions in response to monitoring and the measurement of management success. When management actions are not producing movement toward stated goals, then change is necessary. Adaptive management requires three broad themes: 

  1. Clearly stated goals: how can we know if we have succeeded when we don’t know what success is?
  2. Measures of success that demonstrate whether the goals are being reached, and 
  3. A willingness and ability to modify our actions when we are not successful.

12. Communicate with the stakeholders. 

It is important to keep the various stakeholders informed and involved. An emphasis on communication is never a wasted effort. Keeping interested parties apprised of the project status facilitates the continued dialogue about shared goals, and promotes greater understanding of ecological processes, conservation needs, and human priorities. Keeping stakeholders involved creates new enthusiasm and generates a sense of ownership in the plan thereby fostering partnership.. 

Examples, Resources, and References

Sound Science LLC assists many land management organizations with site conservation planning, goal setting, land management, and measures of success.

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