South Atlantic Conservation Blueprint 2020.

Overview of the Blueprint

The South Atlantic Conservation Blueprint is a living spatial plan to conserve natural and cultural resources for future generations. It identifies shared conservation priorities across the South Atlantic region.

Blueprint 2020, released in August 2020, is a totally data-driven plan based on terrestrial, freshwater, marine, and cross-ecosystem indicators. It uses the current condition of those indicators to prioritize the most important areas for natural and cultural resources across the South Atlantic geography. Through a connectivity analysis, the Blueprint also identifies corridors that link coastal and inland areas and span climate gradients. The Blueprint reflects extensive feedback from the broader cooperative community, with more than 700 people from over 200 different organizations actively participating in its development so far.

The need for a blueprint

The lands and waters of the South Atlantic are changing rapidly. Climate change, urban growth, and increasing human demands on resources are reshaping the landscape. While these forces cut across political and jurisdictional boundaries, the conservation community does not have a consistent cross-boundary, cross-organization plan for how to respond. The South Atlantic Conservation Blueprint is that plan.

While spatial conservation planning is not a new concept, the Blueprint is unique in a few ways:

  1. The Blueprint was developed by the cooperative, for the cooperative–not for any one organization.
  2. The Blueprint operates at a bigger scope and scale, stitching together natural and cultural resources as well as multiple states, ecosystems, and species.
  3. The Blueprint serves as an adaptation strategy by incorporating sea-level rise and urbanization projections.

Through the Southeast Conservation Adaptation Strategy (SECAS), the South Atlantic Blueprint integrates with the priorities of neighboring spatial plans to create a Southeast-wide Blueprint. The Southeast Blueprint provides seamless coverage across entire states. To learn more about this regional strategy, visit http://secassoutheast.org/.

Implementing the Blueprint

So far, at least 180 people from over 80 different organizations have used, or are in the process of using, the South Atlantic Blueprint! The Blueprint has helped bring in more than $28 million of conservation investment to protect and restore almost 60,000 acres. It has helped members of your cooperative attract national fire resilience funding to the region, compete for coastal wetlands protection grants, plan for major disasters, provide landscape-scale context for public lands planning, and prioritize fish passage efforts. The South Atlantic LCC intends the Blueprint to eventually become a “gold standard” for guiding large landscape conservation.

If you’d like help using the Blueprint, staff are here to support you for free! We really mean it. It’s what we do! Contact Hilary Morris by calling 919-707-0252 or emailing hilary_morris@fws.gov.

Exploring the Blueprint

You can explore the Blueprint in three ways:

The Simple Viewer provides an easy way to explore summarized Blueprint and indicator information. The CPA provides detailed metadata and offers more advanced functions like overlaying multiple layers and exporting maps. You can also download the Blueprint to import directly into your desktop GIS software.

Known Issues

Here are the known issues identified with the latest version of the Blueprint:

Terrestrial

  • Some Piedmont prairie areas are under-prioritized (e.g., Prairie Ridge in Raleigh, Difficult Creek in Virginia). A new indicator that includes some piedmont prairie plants is in development and will hopefully be ready for the next Blueprint update.
  • Urban open space is poorly captured in Georgia and South Carolina. The TNC Secured Lands database used in this indicator is missing many urban protected areas in these states. An update in the near future will fill in many of these missing urban protected areas.
  • Important Carolina Bays are often included in large patches of medium priority but the bays and nearby areas should be higher priority. Some important bays (e.g., Woods Bay State Park) are not even medium priority. Different methods for resolving this issue are under investigation.
  • Some patches of longleaf pine with good local conditions are under-prioritized (e.g., parts of South Quay Sandhills Natural Area Preserve in Virginia, parts of Econfina Water Management Area in Florida, Green Swamp in North Carolina, Carolina Sandhills National Wildlife Refuge and Sandhills State Forest in North Carolina). Ongoing efforts to improve fire tracking Blueprint could improve this issue in future updates.
  • Some patches of forested wetland with good local conditions are under-prioritized (e.g., Audubon’s Francis Biedler Forest in South Carolina, the Lumber River on the border between North and South Carolina).
  • Within large patches of working lands in the Big Bend of Florida, some upland areas in pine plantation are under-prioritized while embedded patches of forested wetlands are over-prioritized. For the Big Bend of Florida, using the Southeast Conservation Blueprint, which combines the South Atlantic and Florida Blueprints, captures more of these under-prioritized uplands.
  • Some areas important for inland migration of ecosystems in response to sea-level rise are under-prioritized. Examples in Florida include a break in a high priority corridor north of St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge and a break in a priority corridor between Wakulla Springs State Park and the coast. Improvements to the resilient coastal sites indicator, currently under investigation, should improve this issue in the future.
  • Developed areas in military bases are over-prioritized. This is due to an issue with the urban open space indicator incorrectly treating them as protected areas.
  • Some low-urban historic areas are under-prioritized because they are not yet part of the National Register of Historic Places (e.g., Lost Island Farm on Roanoke Island, the likely landing site for the Lost Colony at the mouth of the Chowan River, Native American sites on the Dan River near the North Carolina/Virginia border), their location isn’t publicly shared (e.g., sensitive archeological sites), or their GIS depiction of spatial boundaries have significant errors (e.g., sites in Georgia and Alabama).
  • Corridors across river basins, when compared to corridors within river basins, seem to be under-represented in parts of the Central and South Coastal Plain subregions.
  • Some coastal pixels are either over- or under-prioritized due to the coarse nature of the 200 m pixel boundary between terrestrial and marine areas on the coast. This results in some areas that should be prioritized based on terrestrial and freshwater indicators being prioritized based on marine indicators and vice versa. A finer resolution boundary is in development.
  • There is no corridor connecting Pocosin Lakes and Lake Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuges across Highway 9. The current corridor methods avoid crossing major roads. More nuanced methods for when corridors should or shouldn’t cross major roads are in development.
  • The salt marshes on the west side of Swanquarter National Wildlife Refuge seem to be under-prioritized.

Freshwater

  • Some aquatic areas, particularly smaller rivers and streams, are over-prioritized. The imperiled aquatic species indicator is at a subwatershed (HUC12) scale while the species hotspots it seeks to depict are often only a part of that subwatershed.
  • Some areas with imperiled aquatic species are under-prioritized (e.g., habitat for Saluda/Newberry burrowing crayfish near Newberry, habitat for Broadtail Madtom and other endemics along the mainstem Lumber River and Shoe Heel creek). These areas have known locations of imperiled aquatic species, but the often more recent data were not included in the imperiled aquatic species indicator. A more recently updated indicator is in development.
  • Some aquatic areas important for migratory fish are being under-prioritized in areas far upstream due to issues in the migratory fish connectivity indicator.

Marine

  • Mouths of many priority rivers are under-prioritized where they transition into the estuarine ecosystem. These open water estuaries tend to have poorer water quality and thus low scores on the coastal condition index. Additional indicators for open water estuaries are under development and should resolve this issue.
  • The priorities for open water estuaries are based only on the coastal condition index and do not include a number of other important natural and cultural components of that ecosystem. Additional indicators for open water estuaries are under development.
  • Some deepwater coral areas that haven’t been surveyed/mapped or were only mapped recently are under-prioritized. Investigation into an approach that combines known areas with suitability models is ongoing.
  • Some marine areas in the far eastern part of the LCC, particularly beyond the Blake Plateau, may be under-prioritized due a lack of survey data for marine birds and mammals in that region.