In 2013, OSI launched the Resilient Landscapes Initiative to translate groundbreaking climate science and support a new approach to land protection in the face of climate change. The Initiative promoted a shift in conservation outcomes and planning — from a focus on natural communities and species, to the protection of enduring features on the landscape – those places most likely to harbor plants and animals in a warming world. To achieve these goals, OSI provided capital and planning grants, conducted education and training efforts, and developed and distributed guidance materials to land trusts and state agencies.
Capitalized by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, OSI’s Initiative provided $11 million for land protection projects through the Northeast and Southeast Resilience Landscapes Protection Funds. The two Funds spanned seven regions that encompassed parts of 11 eastern states. The areas were chosen because of their resilience, the degree of threat, the capacity of land trusts, and the existence of matching public and private funds.
All told, the Resilient Landscapes Initiative awarded $11 million to support 59 projects that protect 50,000 acres.
Why Resilient Landscapes Funds
It is no longer enough to protect lands where plants and animals live today. Those places are changing, and plants and animals are shifting northward and to higher ground.
How can land conservation efforts maintain species diversity over the long term? More than a decade of research, from The Nature Conservancy and other scientists, is guiding the way.
The places most likely to support wildlife, scientists say, have large networks of interconnected and intact habitats. They also feature a variety of geology types and land formations, such as slopes, cliffs, valleys, and ravines. Such diverse places allow plants and animals to move within and between microclimates, better enabling wildlife to withstand an uncertain climate.
Climate-resilient lands not only protect wildlife but also provide natural defenses against flood, drought and other risks to people.
OSI launched our Resilient Landscapes Initiative in 2013 to work with other land trusts to identify and protect the places where wildlife can thrive in a changing world. OSI’s Resilient Landscapes Initiative is supported by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, Jane’s Trust, the North Atlantic Landscape Cooperative and the New York State Conservation Partnership Program/Land Trust Alliance.
Impact of the Resilient Landscapes Initiative
The Northeast Resilient Landscapes Protection Fund awarded capital grants within four target areas: the Potomac Headwaters in West Virginia and Virginia; the Highlands and Kittatinny Ridge in New Jersey and Pennsylvania; the Middle Connecticut River in Vermont and Massachusetts; and forests in Southern New Hampshire and Maine. Through the Fund’s efforts, OSI awarded $5.5 million in grants to protect over 21,000 acres of resilient lands through 31 projects in seven states.
In 2014, OSI launched the Southeast Resilient Landscapes Protection Fund. OSI awarded capital grants in the Southern Cumberlands of Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee; the Southern Blue Ridge in North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee; and the Greater Pee Dee River in South Carolina and North Carolina. With $5.5 million in grant awards, land trusts in the region completed 28 projects, conserving 29,000 acres of resilient lands.
The Initiative also equipped land trusts with the knowledge and tools to integrate resilience science in their land conservation plans. OSI Catalyst Program awarded $262,000 to 55 projects that helped land trusts across the east understand and apply climate science, often in collaboration with other land trusts and state agencies. Along with the Doris Duke Charitable Fund, Jane’s Trust Foundation, Z. Smith Reynold’s Foundation, Merck Family Fund, the North Atlantic Landscape Cooperative and the New York State Conservation Partnership Program/Land Trust Alliance provided critical support for these efforts.
In 2013, an OSI survey of 15 leading land trusts in the Northeast found that only 28 percent were aware of and incorporating climate change into their planning and communication. Seven years later, of 55 land trusts in the region responding to an OSI survey, 85 percent said they understood their role in climate resilience, and 58 percent reported that their strategic conservation planning had become more focused on climate over the last three years.
Together with partners, OSI developed how-to guides for applying climate science to land protection: Conserving Nature in a Changing Climate: A Guide for Land Trusts in the Northeast and How to Talk about Climate Change.
Read more about the Initiative’s accomplishments in the Resilient Landscapes Initiative Retrospective (2021).