Chief of Environmental Analysis Section, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Norfolk District
In 2016, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, was asked to complete a tall order in a short window: develop a comprehensive and integrated restoration plan that provides a roadmap for habitat restoration and conservation in the 64,000 square-mile Chesapeake Bay Watershed based largely on existing data and input from more than 200 stakeholders in 24 months.
“Because our study area was so broad, we didn’t do site investigations,” explained Alicia Logalbo, Chief of the Norfolk District’s Environmental Analysis Section. “We focused on identifying places where partners could get the most habitat restoration and conservation benefits based on the goals and outcomes outlined in the 2014 Chesapeake Bay Agreement,” which established a shared vision for the restoration of the Bay across political jurisdictions.
The agreement focuses on 10 overarching goals related to biodiversity, clean water, climate resiliency, conservation, and community engagement. Given that those goals can be approached through a multitude of different sites, actions, and initiatives, the fundamental question becomes, where are the best places to start?
“There are many restoration opportunities, but we wanted to get that down to a manageable amount and also identify those opportunities that optimize multiple Bay Agreement goals and outcomes,” said Logalbo. “We wanted to take those broad goals and opportunities and put them on the map.”
No point in reinventing the wheel
Mapping meaningful conservation and restoration opportunities requires synthesizing and analyzing lots of information about what partners want to sustain at what level, and the threats or barriers that could keep that from happening. “We only had two years to develop the plan, so wherever possible, we wanted to existing data to achieve our goals,” said Logalbo.
But there were some data gaps that needed to be filled, and the team was grappling with how to fill them when the Norfolk District branch chiefs and technical staff members were serendipitously briefed on Nature’s Network in a monthly meeting.
“As soon as I saw the presentation, I knew it would be applicable,” said Logalbo. Nature’s Network addressed two of the missing links: imperiled species and connectivity.
It also addressed concerns about sacrificing scientific rigor for the sake of efficiency. “I was excited to see the connectivity analysis because that’s a complicated undertaking,” she said. “I was impressed by the long collaborative process that went into Nature’s Network, and the resulting tools.”
Layers of meaning
Combined with their own data, Nature’s Network helped the Corps narrow in on restoration and enhancement opportunities in the watershed to provide a biodiverse portfolio of benefits.
“We looked at lot of factors for prioritization in the watershed, like development threats and stream restoration potential, but we wanted to be able to optimize for wildlife,” said Logalbo.
The imperiled species layer offered spatially explicit information about the location of the most important habitat for fish and wildlife species, and the connectivity analysis helped them understand how to ensure that habitat could be fully utilized as part of functioning network.
“I think regional information really helps you focus,” she said, “You can fine tune it with local information or field visits, but regional perspective gives you the broad brush to optimize, and then zoom into important areas you can verify.”
Ultimately, the hope is that more than just a shared starting point for conservation, the plan will give different stakeholders a path to move forward at any scale.
“The plan is for everyone to take part in implementation,” said Logalbo. “Once they have a starting place, we want them to be able to make restoration and conservation happen.”