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Conservation of Biological Diversity in the Great Lakes Basin Ecosystem:  Issues and Opportunities

Appendix 4
Working Locally for Strategic Value-An Illustration of Project Targeting

Biodiversity conservation projects at the local level can have strategic value for the basin if they collectively 1) protect key biodiversity elements of the Great Lakes ecosystem, 2) address threats of basinwide significance, and 3) succeed in a variety of cultural/social settings within the basin.

In the following table, these criteria have been used to assess in an illustrative fashion the strategic value of six landscape-scale areas within the basin which might support local conservation projects. The areas have been selected for illustration only, although they currently support varying levels of conservation activity.

This analysis illustrates that each area has certain fundamental characteristics:

All have high biodiversity value, i.e., they support biodiversity elements of high global significance whose conservation depends on their health within the Great Lakes basin.

All represent large, landscape-scale areas with high quality natural communities and relatively intact ecological functions. This is important for long-term ecological sustainability, a pre-requisite for economic sustainability.

The systems addressed by this suite of areas are principally those shown by heritage data to support the greatest amount of biodiversity unique to the Great Lakes ecosystem. Five of the six focus on coastal marsh, coastal shore, and/or lakeplain systems. Systems such as inland terrestrial, inland wetlands, tributaries, and the open lake are included in the conservation designs for these areas where they deliver "good and services" essential to the health of the biodiversity elements within the target systems. For instance, protection of coastal marsh features at Long Point requires control of erosion from its watershed, which was once forested and is now highly agricultural. Strategies for marsh protection therefore may include working in the watershed to implement best management practices on agricultural lands and establish a reforestation program.

Among the areas illustrated, the only one which directly targets a tributary system does so in a stream with high inherent biodiversity value--numerous species of globally imperiled mollusks and fish. Even in this case, considerable effort must be directed to the watershed, where agricultural practices result in erosion that damages the aquatic system through siltation.

Projects will achieve the greatest strategic benefit for biodiversity conservation by targeting systems and areas of the highest biodiversity significance, and, through good ecological design, working to protect key ecological processes which sustain that biodiversity.

These areas also illustrate how problem-solving can be concentrated on those threats which our analysis indicates have the greatest impact on the basin's special biodiversity. Successful work in several of these areas would yield sustainable solutions to problems posed by development, water level management, and agriculture--the three highest priority threats. Medium-priority threats posed by recreation, exotics, and resources management must also be addressed in several of these areas.

These threats would be addressed in a variety of social/cultural settings, enhancing the range and applicability of solutions that would be developed. For instance, of the three landscape areas focusing on the biodiversity of lakeplain systems, Saginaw Bay lies within a combination rural/agricultural and urban/industrial area, the St. Clair Delta spans the international border and includes a major Indian Reserve, and the Northern Lake Huron area lies in a rural northern setting and also potentially spans the U.S.-Canadian border. Developing successful conservation projects for biodiversity of lakeplain systems in such areas will yield different approaches that will have broader applicability across the basin than a single project attempting to model lakeplain protection.

Regional institutions can use this process to make deliberate decisions about where to encourage and invest in local conservation initiatives for strategic benefit to the larger Great Lakes ecosystem. The Nature Conservancy is continuing to conduct this kind of analysis with data from the Heritage Programs in the basin.

Considerations for Project Targeting-An Illustration (see Table 6)

Areas Supporting Biodiversity Map (see Figure 8)

Map showing elements occurrences of biodiversity in the Great Lakes Basin
Figure 8. (To view larger image, click on map)

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