Photo Credit: Jerry Monkman

Bear-Paw Regional Greenways: The Little Land Trust with the Big Footprint

Bear Paw Resilient Lands Map, Catalyst Grant

Resilient variables map from Bear Paw

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March 2016 — It’s not necessary to be a large organization to use and benefit from factoring climate change into land protection work—or to influence the wider conservation field.  Bear-Paw Regional Greenways, based in southeastern New Hampshire, is ahead of the curve on doing just that. With a staff of one (plus an 11-member board) covering its 404-square mile, 11-town service area anchored in and around Bear Brook and Pawtuckaway state parks, Bear-Paw used a 2013 OSI Catalyst grant to integrate The Nature Conservancy’s climate resilience datasets into the natural resource inventory maps that had guided their land conservation plan for a decade.

Its results verified their strategy, increasing their confidence that these natural areas would remain important as the climate changes. Now Bear-Paw is implementing what they learned, building a network of resilient lands to protect wildlife habitat, water, forests and farmland in a region not far from downtown Manchester, one of the state’s most densely populated areas.

To date, they have completed a two-phase project funded by OSI Resilient Landscapes Initiative capital grants that builds directly on historic acquisitions (properties secured through OSI’s Saving New England’s Wildlife program). The project permanently protects nearly 800 acres of land that ranks very high for ecological resilience and above average for landform complexity and local connectedness, traits that are likely to allow plants and animals to persist at a site as the climate changes. 

The most recent land acquisition project, known as Hinman Pond II, is a partnership with the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department to set aside a 190-acre parcel adjacent to 10,000+-acre Bear Brook State Park. Located in the rapidly developing town of Hooksett, the land provides open space for wildlife (including some of the most threatened in the state) and for human recreation.

Dan Kern, Bear Paw Greenway, CCP News

OSI Senior Research and Communications Associate Miranda Spencer interviewed Bear-Paw Executive Director Daniel Kern about how mapping climate resilience continues to influence the group’s work going forward. Following are edited highlights of their conversation.


 

 

 

 Benefits of Adding a “Resilience Screen

MS: Has your resilience mapping project changed your view of the area in which you work?

DK: The Natural Resource Inventory maps that resulted from incorporating the TNC resilience science were an affirmation of the work we had already started, which was focused primarily on protecting large forest blocks. We learned that the diversity of the landscape, which is really dry and rocky and hilly, and some of the largest wetlands in the region -- also make these areas more resilient.

MS: So having the climate lens adds an extra level of confidence in identifying the best places to protect?

DK: Yes. We’d previously been working on conservation projects more from a hunch --trying to identify areas that we think are important in the region, without a lot of science behind it. So this confirms that hunch.

It’s also helped us to explain our reasoning to our funders. We can show them scientific evidence that supports conservation projects in this area, and that permanent protection of this land can provide valuable habitat into the future, regardless of what happens to the climate. It assures people that their investments are sound.

Spreading the Message

MS: How did you communicate with your board about what the climate resilience analysis showed? How did they respond?

DK:  The board was interested in the science and happy to include it in our Natural Resources Inventory to help us identify focus areas. The challenge was in explaining how we’ve interpreted it. As I say, our study affirmed a lot of what we were doing already, so we didn’t have to do much convincing. When we place our conservation focus areas map on top of the raw data from the study, there’s a lot of overlap, anchored by the same areas, Bear Brook State Park and Pawtuckaway State Park.

MS: You’ve done a significant amount of outreach to the towns about your conservation plan. Do you also talk to them about climate change?

DK:  We have to ‘sell’ our projects to the towns, which we rely on to support us, so we use our data to show them the importance of the area. Conservation commissions, understandably, tend to be driven by local concerns, and are not necessarily scientifically oriented. So we explain it on a summary level, going over the theory behind local connectedness and landscape diversity and pointing out those characteristics in areas where we’re already working, as well as where we hope to work.

MS: Since you completed the resilience mapping study, have any landowners or towns increased their interest in land protection in order to be part of the response to climate change?

DK: Yes, we’ve been working on a project in Pittsfield, New Hampshire where an owner was motivated to donate a conservation easement of about 300 acres after learning that our study showed that his property was highly resilient –that is, capable of providing refuge for plants and animals.

From Concept to Action

MS: How did your resilience mapping study inform your recent Hinman Pond II project in the town of Hooksett?

DK:  The plan showed that Hooksett’s “northeast quadrant,” is highly resilient. Protection of this area was already a goal of the town’s open space plan and the resilience analysis emphasized we should keep working there. 

MS: Did the climate resilience part of the deal influence the owner’s decision to sell?

A: Not in this case. The land was purchased from a local company, Manchester Sand and Gravel, who were attracted by the financial side of the deal and willing to work with Bear-Paw and the Fish and Game Department, which had identified some sensitive habitat on their property.

MS: Has raising the topic of resilience lead to additional climate-responsive work by your partners, or beyond?

DK:  Yes! We were one of the first land trusts to try to integrate this climate lens into a natural resource inventory. When we were developing our plan, the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department watched us closely to see how they might use this new climate resilience data. In the end, they made it a recommendation of their State Wildlife Action Plan to integrate the same data into their own plan. We are glad that they did since it shows the continued importance of the region where we’re working!


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