On February 8, Academics for Land Protection in New England (ALPINE) and the Regional Conservation Partnership (RCP) Network organized their second RCP-ALPINE Regional Conservation Forum. Hosted by Wellesley College, the day-long event brought the Massachusetts RCP and academic communities together to look at past successes and explore future possibilities for collaboration.
Morning presentations highlighted how RCPs, colleges, and universities were already working together. Two RCPs and a regional land trust provided multiple examples of how conservation research has broadened their understanding of the communities they serve and informed their approaches to conservation and outreach. They also described how they’ve worked with academic partners to leverage university resources (details provided below).
Of note, presenter Simon Rucker from the High Peaks Initiative described how a simple exchange with Philip Nyhus, Director of the Colby College’s Environmental Studies program, at the 2017 Maine RCP-ALPINE Regional Conservation Forum led to a new collaboration, multiple new research projects, and greater opportunities for student engagement.
Not only can land trusts provide students the opportunity to work on projects that have real-world applications, they help researchers share their findings with local communities who can then, in turn, use those findings to inform decision making.
“The collaborations and partnerships I’ve established with RCPs have really amplified my impact over the landscape,” said Paul Catanzaro, an Extension Associate Professor at UMASS Amherst and a member of the ALPINE steering committee.
Bill Labich, Coordinator of the RCP Network and Senior Conservationist at Highstead, noted that strategic partnerships could provide the opportunity to engage new audiences. For example, an RCP-like collaboration between a college, an urban high school, youth development organization, and a regional land trust can engage younger and more diverse groups in land conservation.
In small groups, forum participants then discussed possible collaborative activities, challenges to collaboration, and ways to overcome those challenges.
Building on the success of the Maine and Massachusetts forums, ALPINE and the RCP Network plan to organize a forum for the entire region in spring of 2020.
David Foster, Harvard Forest
Foster discussed how Harvard University, Harvard Forest, and Harvard College students have benefited from working with land trusts and RCPs.
Highlights: Harvard University has worked with land trusts to protect 50% of Harvard Forest’s 4,000-acre outdoor classroom and research station (more information is available in the Harvard Forest case study). Harvard Forest is working with Kestrel and other conservation partners to develop a regional vision for the Pioneer Valley. Harvard College Conservation Society, a student-led group, is working with the Northern Appalachian Trail Landscape Partnership (a collaborative of 14 RCPs and other partners).
“There are research opportunities in almost all of what we do with land trusts. And working with land trusts, working with RCPs, increases the base of our research funding. We can show our research has a direct benefit back to society, which helps when writing a grant and they ask what the greater impact to society is.”
Paul Catanzaro, UMASS Amherst
Catanzaro shared his experience collaborating with various RCPs in his teaching, research, and outreach efforts.
Highlights: Catanzaro invites speakers from the land trust community to share their experiences with students in a new course he is developing. He also brings forestry students to and established long-term research plots on land owned by land trusts. He and colleagues from Harvard Forest have also supported Keystone – a project that trains community opinion leaders
“I can’t tell you the value of having diverse partnerships on proposals. People very much like the fact that we are working with stakeholders to co-create projects that will be helpful to their communities.”
Sarah Wells, Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust
Wells discussed how Mount Grace had utilized Paul Catanzaro’s research to change its approach to landowner outreach.
Highlights: Mount Grace developed its Women in the Woods workshop in response to a landowner survey showing women’s lack of confidence around land management and future landownership. Mount Grace can also help address administrative challenges involved with partnering on projects.
“Incremental steps like these translate to real, tangible acres that are conserved. This type of partnership – it works. And I’m very thankful to be a part of it.”
Simon Rucker, High Peaks Initiative
Rucker shared the many ways in which High Peaks Initiative and Colby College have benefited from their continued partnership.
Highlights: High Peaks Initiative and Colby College are working on a project to assess recreational access points in the High Peaks region. They developed a survey to gauge the impact of recreational tourism, and Colby students were sent into the field to ask these questions and collect data about people recreating in one of the remotest parts of Maine.
“I approached a Colby professor during a break at the Maine ALPINE/RCP Forum. And he said, ‘Yeah, sounds great. Give me a call.’ It all starts, I think, with people being willing to do these things.”
Keri Blood, Kestrel Land Trust
Blood described how Kestrel encourages institutions to conserve lands they have, engages students and faculty in active stewardship, and supports events that connect people to their lands and their communities.
Highlights: Kestrel worked with Smith College to conserve 190 acres of a field station on a satellite campus in Whatley, Massachusetts. Kestrel encouraged Hampshire College to conserve land as part of a 1,000-acre conservation project along the Holyoke Range. UMASS sustainability students help with trail work, trash cleanups, and American kestrel nest box repairs. Kestrel sponsors public talks and other events connecting arts and the land.
“We’re hoping to develop the next generation of conservation leaders and supporters through personal connections. People who go to school and teach in our valley love the land here and often put down roots in this area.”