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Ecoregional Planning

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Map of Cuatro Cienegas, MexicoThe Nature Conservancy’s (TNC) ecoregional planning methodology is a systematic, science-based approach to conservation, analyzing current levels of biodiversity in major terrestrial, freshwater, coastal and marine environments. An ecoregional plan, resulting from an ecoregional assessment (ERA) involving biodiversity experts and important conservation partners, produces an ecoregional plan, which is a “blueprint” for conservation to identify and guide investment in the most important conservation sites.  Many of the standard methods and techniques used in ecoregional assessments were originally developed, applied and tested by the Conservancy and partner organizations in the United States. In an international situation, where the Conservancy depends almost entirely on capable, focused partner organizations for implementation of conservation strategies, the ecoregional planning process helps forge agreements among national and international conservation institutions.  Agreement among all conservation actors – on the most important locations to include in protected area systems, and on priority strategies for those areas – makes conservation investment more efficient. Parks in Peril has funded or is currently funding ecoregional assessments in a number of places – the Caribbean Basin, Central America, Mexico, and South America – and the Conservancy is involved in ERAs in many more locations. Because multiple, independent ecoregional assessments are currently being conducted throughout the Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) region, PIP also promotes sharing of knowledge, lessons and best practices as a key component for long-term success of ecoregional assessment to make future work more efficient and effective. Under TNC’s Conservation by Design, ecoregional planning is defined by 5 steps:

  • Identifying Conservation Targets
    Ecoregional planning teams made up of Conservancy and partner staff identify the species, natural communities and ecosystems in a given ecoregion.
  • Gathering Information
    The teams gather data about the conservation targets, such as location and health, from a variety of sources, including the Natural Heritage programs, satellite images and rapid ecological assessments.
  • Setting Goals
    Ecoregional planning teams set goals for each of the conservation targets. Setting conservation goals involves determining how much of a particular target—a population or ecosystem, for instance—is needed to ensure its long-term survival. A conservation goal also includes how the target needs to be distributed across the landscape.
  • Assessing Viability
    The team also assesses the health of each occurrence of each conservation target to ensure long-term survival by choosing the best and most healthy examples of each target.
  • Assembling Portfolios
    All this information is analyzed by the teams and expert partners and often through computer modeling to design an efficient network of conservation areas (or portfolio) that, if protected in its entirety, will ensure the preservation of biodiversity in the ecoregion.

Photo:  Map of Cuatro Cienegas, Mexico © Mark Godfrey/TNC