As you heard if you tuned into last month’s web forum on using the Blueprint to strengthen your proposals, Rua and I have been working on an online guide to using the Blueprint. Think of it as a compilation of different examples to inspire you and provide new ideas about how to connect to this larger strategy. We’ve been supporting Blueprint users for several years now, and have learned a lot about the types of approaches, wording, and maps that are most helpful in different situations. The guide will showcase detailed case studies, grouped into a few themes that summarize the primary ways people have used the Blueprint.

Here’s a sneak peek from one of the examples we shared on the April web forum. Many state Departments of Natural Resources (DNRs) have used the Blueprint is to support proposals for National Coastal Wetlands Grant Program funding. In fact, the Blueprint has helped support and inform 7 successful coastal wetlands grants so far, which have brought in $7 million for land acquisition! Let’s dive into one particular case from 2016, back in the days of Blueprint 2.0. While many partners contributed to the proposal, we worked directly with Georgia DNR. They were looking to acquire an 800-acre parcel called the Altamaha Connector, as part of a larger collaborative effort to conserve the Lower Altamaha River system. The watershed is totally undammed and supports a diverse mix of ecosystems that provide, among many other things, important nursery habitat for estuarine-dependent fish.

For some geographic context, here’s where the parcel is located in coastal Georgia.

We started off by including some text about partnerships and collaboration in a section called “Interagency cooperation,” emphasizing how diverse participation in the cooperative helped make the Blueprint a truly shared plan.

“GA DNR, FWS, TNC and the FS are all partners in the South Atlantic Landscape Conservation Cooperative (LCC) and members of the South Atlantic LCC Steering Committee. The vision of the South Atlantic LCC is to foster landscape scale conservation to sustain natural and cultural resources for future generations within the South Atlantic geography, which encompasses portions of six states, including Georgia. In order to accomplish that vision, the South Atlantic LCC partners have created a Conservation Blueprint for terrestrial, freshwater, and marine ecosystems (http://www.southatlanticlcc.org/).

More than 400 people from more than 100 different organizations have been actively involved in developing this shared plan for action in the face of urban growth, climate change, and other future stressors. Acquisition and conservation of the site, which is part of the Conservation Blueprint Version 2.0, will be an important contribution to this shared approach to conservation throughout the South Atlantic region.”

Blueprint 2.0 priorities within the parcel.

Then we overlaid Blueprint 2.0 with the parcel to see how it scored. 96% of the parcel is prioritized in Blueprint 2.0, with 65% in the highest and high categories. Sometimes we’ll put in the proposal the exact percentages of Blueprint priority, or a number of acres in each category. What we ultimately write depends on the word limits and what we’re being asked for. Here, we kept the language fairly simple and included the following text in section entitled “How will this project help achieve the goals of specific management plans and efforts?”

“The tract is located with a priority area for conservation action within the South Atlantic LCC Conservation Blueprint. Acquisition of the tract as proposed will further the mission of the South Atlantic LCC and contribute significantly to conservation delivery.”

Areas predicted to transition due to urban growth by 2050, as well as Blueprint priorities, within the parcel.

Next, we looked at threats, starting with urban growth. We use the SLEUTH urban growth model, which is based on extrapolating increases in road infrastructure from 2000-2009. If a parcel is predicted to urbanize, we’ll often include language like “the urban footprint is predicted to increase x% by the year 2050” or “by 2050, x% of the tract is predicted to be urban” to communicate the urgency of the proposed conservation action. We typically use projections out to the year 2050 or 2060. The map above summarizes all the different probabilities of urban growth into one simplified layer–the same layer used at our Blueprint 2.0 workshops. Another option is to depict the full layer, showing each distinct probability class. Here, the parcel is not predicted to urbanize by 2050, so we didn’t comment on that threat in the proposal.

Areas predicted to transition due to SLR by 2050, as well as Blueprint priorities, within the parcel.

We also looked at how sea-level rise was projected to impact the parcel. The map above displays another summarized threat layer from the Blueprint 2.0 workshops. It shows pixels predicted to transition due to sea-level rise by the year 2050, using a 0.9 m by 2100 scenario scaled down to 2050. Just like urban growth, if a particular site is predicted to change due to sea-level rise, we’ll report out on either the percent change or total percent area that will transition by a given decade. But here, the parcel was not predicted to change.

Resilient biodiversity hotspots within the parcel.

Sea-level rise isn’t the only component of climate change we explored. We also used a cross-ecosystem indicator, resilient biodiversity hotspots, to examine what levels of biodiversity the site is likely to support in the face of climate change. Back in 2016, this was a binary indicator. We have since binned this indicator into more categories based on standard deviation from average resilience. But, using this version, we found that 87% of the site is a resilient biodiversity hotspot, which is a really strong score.

We combined what we learned about sea-level rise projections and resilient biodiversity hotspots, and included the following text in a section entitled “What other conservation efforts would benefit from this project?”

“As part of the South Atlantic Conservation Blueprint, the Tract is also key part of a shared strategy for responding to climate change and sea-level rise. More than 800,000 acres of protected areas within the Blueprint are predicted to be impacted by sea-level rise by 2050. That means that 25,000 acres of new land protection will be needed further inland each year just to keep pace with the current rate of change.

Furthermore, due to geophysical features of the site and condition of nearby land, the tract is identified as a climate resilient biodiversity hotspot in TNC’s recent Terrestrial Resilience analysis. This means that, even with future range shifts due to climate change, the tract is likely continue to support high levels of biodiversity.”

That’s all we added to this particular proposal! As with most of these that we see in our user support work, it was already really strong. We just found a few ways where the Blueprint, indicators, and complementary landscape-scale datasets could reinforce the importance of the parcel and communicate how it connects to other partners, other plans, and the context of the broader region.

The ecosystems within the parcel.

One thing we often do to support proposals, which we didn’t do in this example, is examine which ecosystem-specific indicators score highly. Let’s continue exploring this parcel and see what that analysis would have looked like. The first step to determining which of those ecosystem-specific indicators are in particularly good condition, and therefore drive the parcel’s Blueprint priorities, is to see which ecosystems occur there. The Altamaha Connector is primarily comprised of forested wetland and pine and prairie, so we’ll take a closer look at those indicators.

Forested wetland birds within the parcel.

By toggling different layers on and off, I scan for spatial patterns and look for which indicators have high scores in the parcel. The site scores very well on forested wetland birds. 83% of forested wetlands in the parcel score in the top two classes of the forested wetland birds indicator, supporting habitat for Prothonotary warbler and Swainson’s warbler. We could have commented on that in the proposal to add context to the Blueprint priorities and expand on the importance of the site.

The Priority Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Area (PARCA) that overlaps the parcel.

Another indicator with remarkably high scores is forested wetland amphibians. That encourages me to dive more deeply into the source data for that indicator and pull up the full Priority Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Areas (PARCA) layer. The entire tract falls within a PARCA, specifically the one named “Altamaha-Ocmulgee-Ohoopee River Corridors.”  The detailed documentation for the PARCAs describes this area as:

“Aeolian sandhills on north and east sides of these rivers and adjacent summer habitat retreats harbor the best remaining populations of Eastern Indigo Snakes in the state, if not in their entire range. Gopher Tortoises, Spotted Turtles, Pine Snakes, and Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnakes also thrive here.”

So, we could have included text about the tract’s value for some of those species of herps.

That concludes this example of how a previous version of the Blueprint helped inform and support a successful coastal wetlands grant proposal! All these maps and analyses were generated by downloading the Blueprint data into ArcGIS and exploring them on my local machine. If you’d like to play with the latest data on your own, the best place to start is the Blueprint 2.2 Data Gallery on the South Atlantic Conservation Planning Atlas (CPA), where the final Blueprint, underlying indicators, connectivity analysis, and intermediate outputs are all organized together. It’s easy to download the data from the data gallery. If this seems a little overwhelming, or you’d like assistance interpreting the data from Blueprint support staff, that’s fine, too! We can put together maps, narratives, letters of support, and whatever else you might need. Just email or call me at hilary_morris@fws.gov or 919-707-0252. I’d love to help.

Stay tuned for more great examples when the online guide to using the Blueprint is released! If you found this helpful, or would like to share your thoughts on how we might improve future case studies, I’d welcome your feedback so we put together the most useful guide possible.