North Florida Land Trust Conservation Priorities
The North Florida Land Trust developed a strategic plan to protect resilient sites from overdevelopment and sea level rise across seven counties in northern Florida. As a result, the land trust created the North Florida Conservation Priorities database, which identifies priority conservation sites and is used to guide activities on the 112,000 acres of land identified as Preservation Priority Areas. Areas that serve as migration zones, wildlife corridors, and other sites that may help build resilience to climate change are now prioritized by the land trust.
The North Florida Land Trust (NFLT), founded in 1999, is a non-profit organization focused on protecting lands of ecological, agricultural, and historical significance across seven counties in the region. In 2012, the NFLT was looking to grow strategically in a way that fit its vision and mission. At this time, there was limited local coastal conservation and local government land-use planning in the region. The NFLT wanted to step in to fill these gaps but the organization had limited capacity to buy more land without a very strong federal and state fundraising program. To address this, the NFLT began a strategic planning process across the seven counties in their service area to craft a plan that fit their business model and mission, including incorporating climate resilience into their activities.
The NFLT’s main goal was to create a plan that could be implemented to protect conservation priorities and resilient landscapes from various threats. Top priorities included addressing water quality and habitat and species conservation; working lands, forestry, and outdoor recreation opportunities were considered as secondary priorities. At the beginning of the planning process in 2012, sea level rise and development pressures were the primary threats considered. As the team conducted additional research, storm surge and wildfire became of greater concern and were subsequently included.
The planning process was conducted using input from the NFLT Board of Directors and staff and external stakeholders, primarily federal and state agencies and conservation organizations. The NFLT Board and staff used dot matrix voting to rank conservation priorities, while external stakeholders prioritized themes and specific datasets to use in the GIS analysis. GIS heat mapping was used to show spatial clustering of conservation or threat components so that patterns of higher-than-average occurrence of these elements, such as habitat for endangered species, were clearly identified. Conservation targets and threats were weighted and ranked, and targets were removed if they were highly susceptible to sea level rise (e.g., if an area was projected to be inundated within a timeframe of interest, it would not be targeted for acquisition or easement, although areas of inland migration for marshes were prioritized).
The plan’s implementation includes two options: (1) acquiring land or easements and (2) facilitating adaptive management on properties to restore habitat or build resilience. The NFLT designs land conservation projects that include adaptive measures (e.g., marsh restoration, aquatic connectivity) based on land ownership and public and private entity interests in the area. The NFLT conducts outreach that is highly individualized depending on the property in question, emphasizing benefits that are most relevant to stakeholders (e.g., biodiversity conservation, climate change adaptation, water quality improvement, recreational opportunities).
A variety of resources, frameworks, and datasets were used to develop the plan, including sea level rise projections, freshwater habitat migration modeling, and population growth and development projections from 1,000 Friends of Florida and the University of Florida GeoPlan Center. Key partners in developing the plan included volunteers and interns that supported GIS work, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the Florida Natural Areas Inventory, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, St. Johns River Water Management District, and the Natural Resources Conservation Service. The total budget for this three-year process, including an ecosystem services analysis conducted by an outside consulting firm, was approximately $50,000.
The NFLT developed the North Florida Conservation Priorities (NFCP) database of natural resources from their seven-county service area as the core of its Strategic Conservation Plan. The database is specific to the goals and mission of NFLT and incorporates 26 conservation attributes, such as landscape connectivity, critical wildlife habitat areas, water quality, and agricultural soil productivity to ascribe natural resource values to lands throughout the NFLT service area. These attributes were used to identify focus areas in northeast Florida with the highest-ranking natural resource values, or Preservation Priority Areas, which are the focus of the NFLT’s Preservation Portfolio. The NFCP is a daily decision-making tool, which supports conservation prioritization, fundraising, outreach campaigns, and landowner education.
Outcomes and Conclusions
The final products from this effort include the NFCP, Preservation Portfolio, Strategic Conservation Plan, and Ecosystem Services Valuation Analysis. The NFLT is concentrating its preservation efforts on the 112,000 acres of land within the Preservation Priority Areas, and monitors conservation progress by quantifying habitat change and species presence on protected lands (e.g., species inventories). Barriers to implementation include coordinating and balancing the interests of conservation, recreation, federal and state land management mandates, and private landowners. It can be challenging to get all parties on the same page concerning land protection and adaptation actions. The next steps include continued active implementation of the plan with a variety of stakeholders and partners throughout their service area. The NFLT service area is expanding to include an additional six counties, making their service area part of the Ocala to Osceola Conservation Corridor, a 1.6-million-acre landscape of public and private lands. Due to this, the NFLT will be updating the strategic plan.
Sims, S.A., Braddock, K.N., and Gregg R.M. (2021). North Florida Land Trust Conservation Priorities [Case study of a project of the North Florida Land Trust]. Product of EcoAdapt's State of Adaptation Program. Retrieved from CAKE: https://www.cakex.org/case-studies/north-florida-land-trust-conservation-priorities (Last updated October 2021)