My blog post from last month gave an overview of a project Rua and I are working on: an online guide to using the Blueprint. As a little preview of what to expect, it showcased a Blueprint use case that will go into that guide, walking through how you can use the Blueprint to strengthen your proposals for conservation funding.

This month, I’m walking through a another example—this time, I’ll show how you can use the Blueprint to tell the unique story of why your area is important. We’ve been working with the U.S. Forest Service in South Carolina for several years, from the revision of the Francis Marion National Forest Plan, to the update of the Land Ownership Adjustment Strategy for South Carolina, to Land Water Conservation Fund proposals. About a month ago, Sumter National Forest reached out again. Sumter is hosting a field trip for members of the Forest Service directorate and wants to take the opportunity to build awareness of the importance of the Piedmont region of the state. It’s a great opportunity to promote the value of their conservation efforts in the Piedmont, demonstrate the forest’s significance, and make a case for continued investment in the region. After batting around a few different names, we settled on calling this analysis “the promise of the Piedmont.” All credit to the folks at Sumter for that idea.

The promise of the Piedmont had five parts:

  1. Hubs and corridors: Connectivity from the South Atlantic and Appalachian Blueprints
  2. Urban growth: SLEUTH projections
  3. A plan for shared action: The South Atlantic Conservation Blueprint
  4. Importance of forests for surface drinking water quality: Forests to Faucets
  5. Critical areas for climate resilience in need of protection: Under-represented settings

Forest Service ranger districts as part of a larger network of hubs and corridors in the South Carolina Piedmont. Input data on hubs and corridors from the South Atlantic and Appalachian Blueprints, protected lands from The Nature Conservancy’s Secured Lands, and national forest ranger district boundaries from the U.S. Forest Service.

In this connectivity map, we showed how the USFS ranger districts and Sumter National Forest itself serve as critical hubs in the ecologically connected network of the SC Piedmont, anchoring the corridors called for in the Blueprint. Soon, it’s going to get a lot easier to pull connectivity out of the Southeast Conservation Adaptation Strategy without splicing together different datasets across LCC boundaries. That’s one of the improvements we’re working for the Southeast Blueprint, which you may have heard Rua mention on the May web forum.

Urban growth projections for 2050 in the SC Piedmont. Input data on urban growth from SLEUTH, protected lands from The Nature Conservancy’s Secured Lands, and national forest ranger district boundaries from the U.S. Forest Service.

In this next section on urban growth, we displayed what the urban footprint of the SC Piedmont might look like in the year 2050. This map uses the full suite of urbanization probabilities from the SLEUTH model, where darker red reflects a higher probability of urbanization. That footprint is predicted to more than double by 2050, increasing by 133%! This helps illustrate the urgency of taking conservation action in the SC Piedmont in the face of urban growth.

Priorities for shared conservation action in the SC Piedmont. Input data on conservation priorities from the South Atlantic and Appalachian Blueprints, protected lands from The Nature Conservancy’s Secured Lands, and national forest ranger district boundaries from the U.S. Forest Service.

In part 3, we included a map of the Blueprint to highlight opportunities for shared conservation action in the SC Piedmont. This demonstrates that a plan for shared action is available to help inform the conservation actions of many partners working in the Piedmont.

Forest importance for surface drinking water in the SC Piedmont, summarized by HUC 12 subwatershed. Input data on drinking water from Forests to Faucets and national forest ranger district boundaries from the U.S. Forest Service.

In part 4, we branched out beyond the Blueprint and threat layers into some complementary landscape-scale data on water quality. This map shows a dataset called Forests to Faucets, which measures the importance of forests for surface drinking water (learn more here, download data here). It’s summarized by HUC 12 subwatershed. This illustrates that the SC Piedmont, relative to the rest of the nation, is of above-average importance for surface drinking water.

Average importance of forests for surface drinking water quality in the SC Coastal Plain, Enoree Ranger District, SC Piedmont, and Long Cane Ranger District.

I wanted to play with this dataset a little more, and Rua had a good idea to make some infographics, so we also included this image in the promise of the Piedmont. It reinforces how critical the forests of the Piedmont are for water quality, especially relative to the other major subregion of South Carolina, the Coastal Plain. This helps justify the importance of the Piedmont and the ranger districts for protecting downstream water quality, and make a case for focusing additional conservation effort in the region.

Underrepresented geophysical settings in the SC Piedmont. Input data for underrepresented settings from the Open Space Institute and TNC’s Southeastern Terrestrial Resilience (now called Resilient Lands), and national forest ranger district boundaries from the U.S. Forest Service.

In the last component of the analysis, we introduced the concept of underrepresented geophysical settings. Geophysical settings are distinct combinations of soil type and elevation that support different ecological communities and species. They are a core component of The Nature Conservancy’s Southeastern Terrestrial Resilience project (now called Resilient Lands – access the data here). This is the same dataset used for the resilient biodiversity hotspots indicator in the Blueprint, so this is an example of how we sometimes look “under the hood” of an indicator to get different insights. TNC’s resilience resilience analysis identifies mostly natural, high-diversity areas that are likely to continue to support biodiversity in the face of climate change. These underrepresented settings were identified by the Open Space Institute in 2015 as disproportionately underrepresented in protected lands. Protecting land with different soil types and at different elevations is critical for climate resilience, so these specific settings may deserve additional consideration for conservation actions.

83% of the SC Piedmont is comprised of underrepresented settings, compared to just 13% of the Coastal Plain. This suggests that conservation in the SC Piedmont will advance this critical component of climate resilience.

That’s it for this example of how the Blueprint helped the U.S. Forest Service promote the value of the SC Piedmont! Just like my blog from last month, 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 dive into the latest data, I recommend you start in the Blueprint 2.2 Data Gallery on the South Atlantic Conservation Planning Atlas (CPA). There you’ll find the final Blueprint, underlying indicators, connectivity analysis, and intermediate outputs all organized together. It’s easy to download the data straight from the data gallery. If you’d rather get some help from Blueprint support staff, we’re here to help! Just email or call me at hilary_morris@fws.gov or 919-707-0252.

Stay tuned for more case studies in future blogs and the online guide to using the Blueprint! If you found this helpful, or would like to share your thoughts on how we might improve examples, I’d appreciate your suggestions.