Conservation for a Changing Landscape

Merriam-Webster. Retrieved May 8, 2023. (Link)

As the Conservation Director at North Olympic Land Trust, I’m responsible for guiding the conservation priorities of the organization, based on the directives of our community and board. To do my job well I rely on data, field observations, and stories from people familiar with the land. 

Planning for climate change in our area is an important aspect of my work because it helps me prioritize the conservation of lands that stand to be the most resilient in the face of climate change. What does it mean for land to be climate resilient? Though the answer is highly complex when looking at individual parcels of land with specific conservation goals, the overall answer is best summarized as land that is climate resilient will most likely recover or adjust more easily than other lands to climate change.

To determine which lands are expected to be most resilient, I needed localized data to help me make informed climate-conscious decisions. 

In 2020, with support from the Land Trust Alliance, Sustainable Path Foundation, and generous community donors, Jefferson Land Trust and North Olympic Land Trust conducted a Land Resilience Study. The result is a comprehensive update to our conservation planning, based on more than 90 data sets drawn from 18 public and private sources, with a focus on climate resiliency across virtually all of the Olympic Peninsula.

Your donations make a difference! Please continue to support the Land Trust as we protect resilient lands together. 

An example of how this impacts my work is best exemplified when comparing two different pieces of land, both up for consideration for conservation. With limited funding sources, we know we cannot conserve every piece of land. Placing the conservation goals of the community first, I analyze both conservation projects on a number of criteria which we call “conservation values.” Conservation values depend on the type of land to be conserved–farmland, riparian habitats, prairies, forests, and so on have their own sets of conservation values. Examples of conservation values include: USDA prime soils, habitat for endangered species or “listed” species, community enrichment, corridor connectivity; aquifer recharge, and so forth. At times both pieces of land will rank equally for current conservation values. 

With this new Land Resilience Study, I can better analyze the future conservation values of land. This future analysis can highlight the predicted greater importance of conserving one piece of land. For example, when comparing two land parcels’ predicted climate resiliency, it can become apparent which piece of land stands to preserve conservation values in the face of climate change. 

A few examples of Climate Resilience questions we answer before conserving properties: 

  • Is this habitat most likely to retain its ecological integrity and features that support the existing and migrating biodiversity present and predicted?
  • Is this farmland most likely to retain its robust productivity for food and fiber production and other ecological services?
  • Does this property contain a high carbon sequestration value?
  • Is this an area that is critical for aquifer recharge?

If, for example, a potential farmland up for conservation is predicted to lose its productivity, for example if it’s predicted to be inundated with salt water in the next 50 years, it makes little sense to place a farmland conservation easement on the land. It makes more sense to place a farmland conservation easement on land that will retrain its farmland conservation values–it makes more sense to conserve climate resilient farmland. 

Inundation data from NOAA ‘bathtub’ model in Lower Dungeness.

The Land Resilience Study also helps the Board and me prioritize regions in our county of greatest need for conservation in the face of climate change. This type of landscape analysis on climate resiliency has already highlighted specific climate resilient regions that are ripe for habitat, farmland, and forest conservation. With this information, my team is now focusing our efforts on protecting lands within those regions by reaching out to private landowners, engaging in conversations with local officials, and partnering with other conservation groups to support our community in prioritizing and protecting our most resilient working lands and habitats.

The Land Resilience Study helps me identify and conserve lands and habitats of great importance for conservation. It took time and extensive research, which wouldn’t have been possible without the support of folks like you. Thank you! 

Please donate to the Land Trust today to support important climate-conscious conservation. 

Thank you for Conserving Resilient Lands for a Changing Landscape!

Mike Auger

Conservation Director