A lesson that I have learned and repeatedly experienced over my forty year career in land and biodiversity conservation in North Carolina and the southern United States confirms that most successes in conservation of land, water, and environmental resources are the results of committed leadership combined with collaborative partnerships among private organizations and public agencies that recognize shared goals and mutual benefits. Seldom have I witnessed a major success in environmental resource conservation that was not achieved by the advocacy or championship from a few dedicated individual leaders, in combination with support and consensus by coalitions and partnerships among private and public agencies sharing a sense of common purpose and accomplishment of mutually-held goals. Most successful individual leaders recognize the power of collaboration and partnership.
In my personal career, I witnessed many such examples, like the informal coalition of public and private land and wildlife conservation organizations in North Carolina in the 1980s that formulated and implemented strategies resulting in protection of many dozens of natural areas, wildlife refuges, and parks. Another statewide North Carolina coalition and network of private land trusts in the 1990s coordinated and orchestrated efforts to protect (and secured public funding sources for protecting) many more of the state’s most treasured and important natural places and ecological assets. Largely in the first decade of the 2000s, similar coalitions of private land conservancies and allied public agencies formed across the southeastern United States, from Virginia to Florida and from Kentucky to the Gulf of Mexico.
But whereas there have been numerous examples of collaborative partnerships among land and wildlife conservation organizations, coalitions of shared interests have been slower to cross the artificial dividing lines between land/wildlife and water resources conservation. We too often work in isolation in self-segregated and uncoordinated efforts to conserve natural lands and wildlife habitats, protect rivers and estuaries, and establish public parks and nature reserves. Failure to coordinate efforts in cooperative alliances diminishes our abilities to be more effective in our aims to protect and conserve more of our land and water resources. With limited financial and human resources, and seemingly overwhelming forces threatening our environmental assets, it is necessary for those of us concerned with saving and defending the best, most critical, most fragile, most endangered of our natural resources to work more closely together in partnerships, collaboration, and coalition so as to increase our odds of success.
I believe we too often miss opportunities in land conservation and water resource protection by failing to work in stronger collaboration, communication, and alliance among private and public efforts to conserve and protect land, wildlife, and water resources. There has been no “umbrella” or coordinating entity serving the function of networking together the various land, wildlife and water conservation groups working across the state or larger region. And the national associations of land or wildlife or river protection groups seldom work cooperatively and almost never attempt to integrate their program efforts, let alone to coordinate activities among their local member organizations.
I am heartened in now seeing more broadened efforts towards collaboration-building displayed among the current generation of land-water-wildlife conservation practitioners. A few current examples are the partnerships formed around protecting water quality and water-dependent ecological resources in the Chesapeake Bay Basin, the ACE River Basin of coastal South Carolina, and the upper Neuse River and lower Cape Fear River Basins of North Carolina. I invite you to offer stories and accounts of successful partnerships for inclusion on the South Atlantic LCC and ConservationSouth websites.
Expanded coalition building may be one of the principal benefits and most important outcomes derived from the Landscape Conservation Cooperatives within the LCC Network, and the Southeast Conservation Adaptation Strategy (SECAS).