Conservation Planning in Wisconsin’s Driftless Area

Welcome to my summer final project placement blog! My name is Lindsey and I am a M.S. candidate in the Environmental Conservation professional program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies. Throughout the summer, I will use this blog to detail my work with Foundations of Success, an organization that provides conservation practitioners the skills and tools needed to be more effective in their efforts to conserve natural places.

Working in Denali National Park is what brought me back home to the Midwest to study Environmental Conservation at UW-Madison.

A lifetime and love of traveling has introduced me to protected lands all over the country and world. These experiences are ultimately what led me to Madison, where I could learn more about how to protect and manage these large landscapes that I so loved to explore.

When I started this program, I didn’t know anything about “conservation planning”, and my fall course showed me it was the focus of conservation that I’d been trying to find. Conservation planning is an iterative, adaptive management process that helps conservationists assess a situation, create a plan for change, implement that plan, monitor and evaluate whether or not the plan is working, and adapt as needed. The final step is to share what you’ve learned with the greater conservation community.

The Conservation Standards are a set of principles and practices that bring together common approaches and terminology for these steps. It was developed by the Conservation Measures Partnership and Foundations of Success to make communication across conservation communities easier, so the lessons learned from projects around the world could be shared more easily.

For my summer placement, I will be working with Foundations of Success (FOS) to co-facilitate a conservation planning effort that is happening in my own backyard: the Driftless Area of Wisconsin.

The Conservation Standards is a five-step adaptive management process. It’s intended to be iterative over time.

Where in the world are we?

The Driftless Area is a 24,000 square mile region in southwestern Wisconsin and parts of Minnesota, Iowa, and Illinois. The region lacks glacial deposits, also known as glacial drift, which is where it gets its name. Instead, the limestone bedrock has been weathered and eroded by streams. It is one of the most biodiverse places in Wisconsin, providing habitat from many rare communities, though increasing development, habitat loss and fragmentation, invasive species and climate change threaten the plants and animals that live in this region.

In 2020, the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin (NRF) was awarded a grant by the Eddie Schwartz Conservation Fund to use the Conservation Standards process to create a conservation plan for the Driftless Area in Wisconsin. The project will focus on conserving the area’s biodiversity and will include conservation planning, implementation, and assessment of oak savannas, prairie systems, and rare and threatened birds and pollinators through a lens of climate resiliency.

My role in the project

Through my final placement, I was hoping to gain experience with conservation planning, stakeholder engagement, climate change resiliency, and large landscape conservation. The Driftless Plan is a perfect fit.

While I am with Foundations of Success (FOS) this summer, I will be developing presentations and tools for virtual meetings, coordinating with project partners and stakeholders, and co-facilitating the conservation planning workshops with the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin, six of which will be happening between June and August. I started working with FOS part-time in February and we have already successfully held the Driftless Conservation Plan Stakeholder Kickoff Meeting at the beginning of May, where we had more than 30 people in attendance representing organizations from across the landscape. By the end of the summer, we will have a completed draft situation analysis to share with our larger stakeholder groups for feedback before continuing the strategy planning process in the fall.

Here are some examples of deliverables I will be able to complete for Foundations of Success (as time allows):

Driftless Conservation Plan

  • Conceptual model detailing the conservation targets and threats in the region
  • Email and Zoom coordination with the planning team
  • Interactive presentations used in workshops throughout the planning process
  • Virtual engagement tools such as virtual whiteboards, shared spreadsheets, and workspaces
  • Detailed facilitator’s meeting agenda for each workshop
  • A Google Site for the working group to organize meeting agendas, zoom links, resources, and interactive tools

Other projects

  • Data analysis and evaluation of survey results to learn more about how the Conservation Standards are used in the conservation community

Defining Success and Looking Forward

By the end of my placement, I hope to be a more successful facilitator and project coordinator. I want to better understand how to use conservation planning to engage stakeholders and communities, conserve large landscapes, and strategize to incorporate climate change adaptation in conservation.

I have also been working for the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin as a work study Grants Assistant since September. I feel incredibly fortunate that I will be transitioning into a permanent role as their new Conservation Programs Coordinator after I graduate in August. This means that I will be able to continue helping the Driftless conservation plan beyond my summer placement with FOS, and I am extremely grateful to be a part of such a major planning effort for years to come.

Read more in my second post of the summer.

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