Scientists study conservation easements in the Appalachians

November 18, 2015 by Jim Melvin, Clemson University
Clemson associate professor Rob Baldwin spent three months with his family in 2013 exploring the Appalachian Mountains. Credit: Image Credit: Shawn Fraver

Clemson scientists Rob Baldwin and Paul Leonard have recently published a research article that examines the existing distribution of conservation easements in the Appalachian Mountains.

The article titled "Interacting Social and Environmental Predictors for the Spatial Distribution of Conservation Lands" appeared Oct. 14 in PLOS ONE.

The Appalachians, an ancient series of mountains that extends from Alabama to northeastern Canada before plunging into the Atlantic Ocean and resurfacing in parts of Europe and even Africa, has a long and complex history of human development and land use. Though relatively large regions of the mountains and surrounding valleys are owned by the government and therefore publicly protected, the majority of the land is privately owned, especially in the lower elevations.

Because of this, conservation easements are extremely important. These legally binding restrictions—placed on pieces of private property to protect the lands for future generations—are either voluntarily donated or sold by landowners.

As joint senior authors, Baldwin and Leonard tested the "relative influence of interacting social and environmental variables on the of conservation easements by ownership category and conservation status."

"Is the distribution of these easements driven by social factors? Or is it driven by environmental factors?" Baldwin said. "In our article, we concluded that it is more driven by . We think people protect land that they know and love."

Clemson scientist Paul Leonard is investigating how private lands contribute to the existing conservation network. Credit: Paul Leonard / Clemson University

Baldwin, associate professor for Conservation Biology and Geographical Information Systems, has spent much of his career studying the fragmentation of wildlife habitats in North America. Because of this splintering—caused largely by such as cities, roads and farms—many animals have lost their freedom to roam within and between their natural ranges. This disturbing lack of mobility and resulting inability to intermingle has had a devastating effect on a plethora of species.

Baldwin and Leonard, a postdoctoral scholar at Clemson, have been redesigning and enhancing state-of-the-art habitat connectivity maps that can be paired with satellite imagery to display the potential corridors used by animal populations to move between both large and small areas. These maps provide public and private decision-makers with highly detailed information about what areas are more valuable than others when it comes to re-establishing and fortifying these essential passageways.

Both scientists have worked in collaboration with the Clemson Computing and Information Technology division.

"Since it is unlikely that publicly protected lands alone are sufficient to conserve habitat for many species, we are investigating how private lands contribute to the existing conservation network," Leonard said. "Perhaps more importantly, these protected networks can't fully function without making the matrix that exists between conservation lands more permeable to animal movement."

Parts of the article were inspired by a 2013 sabbatical taken by Baldwin and his family, who spent months travelling virtually the entire length of the Appalachians, starting in Canada and then working their way down to the southernmost portions. Along the way, they camped in a tent, explored as much of the land as time allowed and met with local conservationists.

"I just wanted to get on the ground," said Baldwin, who chose the Appalachians because he views them as the unifying element for conservation in the eastern United States. "I sit here in my office and map the stuff at 30,000 feet, and I wanted to get out there and see the people who are interested in these maps and talk to the decision-makers who are using them."

Explore further: Study proposes first nationwide wildlife conservation network

More information: Robert F. Baldwin et al. Interacting Social and Environmental Predictors for the Spatial Distribution of Conservation Lands, PLOS ONE (2015). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0140540

Related Stories

Study proposes first nationwide wildlife conservation network

October 6, 2015

Wolves, elk and grizzly bears - some of the largest wild animals in America - are literally dying for more room to roam. But Alexander Fremier, associate professor in the School of the Environment at Washington State University, ...

Scientist proposes new approach for conserving species

August 3, 2015

While worldwide, land managers and conservationists are evaluating methods for preserving species, Paul Beier, a Regents' professor who researches wildlife ecology and conservation biology at NAU, believes one approach has ...

Ag secretary promises more sage grouse spending across West

August 27, 2015

The federal government plans to spend more than $200 million over the next three years on programs to protect greater sage grouse in Western states—regardless of whether the bird receives federal protections, U.S. Agriculture ...

Recommended for you

Archaeologists discover Incan tomb in Peru

February 16, 2019

Peruvian archaeologists discovered an Incan tomb in the north of the country where an elite member of the pre-Columbian empire was buried, one of the investigators announced Friday.

Where is the universe hiding its missing mass?

February 15, 2019

Astronomers have spent decades looking for something that sounds like it would be hard to miss: about a third of the "normal" matter in the Universe. New results from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory may have helped them ...

What rising seas mean for local economies

February 15, 2019

Impacts from climate change are not always easy to see. But for many local businesses in coastal communities across the United States, the evidence is right outside their doors—or in their parking lots.

The friendly extortioner takes it all

February 15, 2019

Cooperating with other people makes many things easier. However, competition is also a characteristic aspect of our society. In their struggle for contracts and positions, people have to be more successful than their competitors ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.