Resources and Strategies for Partner Biologists to Implement Wildlife Conservation Practices on Private Lands (hosted by TWS)

Privately-owned working lands provide a source of income to landowners through farming, ranching, forest management, and other agricultural and recreational uses. When managed properly, working lands can provide critical habitat for a variety of wildlife, including many at-risk species, while maintaining, and often enhancing, the land’s productivity and value. With more than 60% of land in the United States under private ownership, it is essential that conservation organizations and initiatives integrate private lands management into strategies to meet wildlife conservation objectives. The Farm Bill is America’s largest source of funding for habitat conservation on private lands, leveraging nearly $1 billion a year on conservation projects. Despite increases in funding for programs focused on wildlife, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), which administers many Farm Bill conservation programs, continues to face capacity issues in implementing wildlife habitat programs. Recently, non-government organizations and other partners (notably Migratory Bird Joint Ventures) have helped fund and staff private lands biologist positions. Often housed in NRCS field offices, they work with a diversity of partners to provide a wildlife perspective on the conservation planning process and program implementation. With their knowledge of wildlife habitat requirements and ability to monitor ecological responses to practice implementation, they bring a valuable skill set and feedback loop to many field offices and partners lacking biological and monitoring capacity. In this session we will share lessons learned, resources, and tools to help organizations effectively employ and retain partner biologists to maximize their wildlife conservation efforts on private lands.

8:00AM Building Partnerships to Facilitate Conservation of Forest Birds on Private Lands in the Great Lakes
  Shawn Graff
Building Partnerships to Facilitate Conservation of Forest Birds on Private Lands in the Great Lakes. The American Bird Conservancy (ABC) has six foresters working in the Great Lakes region to engage private landowners and assist them with management strategies to improve wildlife habitat on their properties. In connection with our public lands program, ABC has managed or enhanced over 9,000 acres of high quality young forest habitat projects for the Golden-winged Warbler and American Woodcock in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan. The success of our efforts is due, in great part, to the partnership networks that ABC helped to establish. This session will provide an overview of the partnership programs that have been established in each state and how these partnerships have helped leverage additional support and increase capacity.
8:20AM Partner Biologists: A Value-Added Proposition for NRCS in California
  Wendell Gilgert, Geoffrey Geupel, Breanna Owens, Tiffany Russell, Alicia Herrera, Alan Forkey, Mace Vaughn
The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has augmented conservation technical support for the wildlife discipline with Partner Biologists (PB’s). Nationally, those positions are in partnership with state agencies (e.g. Colorado Division of Wildlife, Missouri Department of Conservation) and Non-Government Organizations (NGO’s) (e.g. Xerces Society, Ducks Unlimited). Those organizations provide technical assistance of habitat assessments, wildlife conservation practice recommendations, as well as wildlife support for planning and implementation for NRCS Field Office Conservationists’ conservation plans. In 2011, PRBO Conservation Science, now Point Blue Conservation Science initiated a working lands program known as the Rangeland Watershed Initiative (RWI). Our first conservation partnership was with the NRCS to provide value-added PB’s in selected California Field Offices where rangelands are a dominant land use. Our partnership engages ranchers to apply climate –smart conservation grazing to improve forage, improve water infiltration and soil water storage, improve wildlife habitat, and sequester carbon while maintaining or improving economic viability. From the beginning, the value-added components of Point Blue Conservation Science PB’s have included: • Obtaining NRCS Conservation Planner certification to assure that wildlife concerns are fully integrated into the conservation planning process • Monitoring conservation performance of a subset of conservation plans using birds, vegetation, and soil dynamic properties as part of the ninth step – evaluate the plan – of the NRCS Conservation Planning Process • Cultivating Leopoldian Land Stewards, where producers are encouraged to apply the same care and passion to land care as they do with livestock and crop husbandry • Embedding PB’s in communities where they work to function as community assets and catalysts among land trusts, producer groups, conservation groups, and farmers and ranchers. Point Blue’s Partner Biologists embody the value-added quality of the partnership by providing technical and programmatic support in NRCS field offices while advancing multi-benefit conservation actions on working lands.
8:40AM Leaving a Legacy of Land; Establishing Conservation Easements and Delivering Landscape-Scale Conservation in the Intermountain West
  Eduardo Contreras
Conservation easements are often considered the capstone of private lands conservation. Conservation easements can take many forms, but for agricultural producers who wish to protect habitat and maintain a viable farm or ranch, a working land conservation easement can be a valuable tool. A working land conservation easement restricts land uses like surface mining and development that are incompatible with wildlife habitat and certain natural resource values but permit existing agricultural practices to continue. Furthermore, working land conservation easements can be an integral part of a family’s estate plan and ensure that private lands continue to be available for the next generation of farmers and ranchers. Because of the involved and lengthy nature of these transactions, easements require a strong relationship and a high level of trust between landowners and conservation partners. Field delivery conservation professionals are key to fostering good land stewardship and walking landowners through complex conservation funding programs. For the Intermountain West Joint Venture (IWJV), building capacity and putting the right people in the right place is the preferred approach to delivering conservation. The IWJV successfully led partner biologist coordination for five years via the Sage Grouse Initiative and is now assisting partners with field delivery capacity to conserve habitat on private agricultural lands and public lands through the SONEC Working Wet Meadows Initiative, Water 4 Initiative and Partnering to Conserve Sagebrush Rangelands.
9:00AM Using Partnerships to Expand the Conservation Footprint in Missouri
  Tim Kavan
Aldo Leopold and J. Ding Darling were instrumental in the formation of the Missouri Department of Conservation, urging Missourians to seek an independent Commission, free of politics. After the legislation forming the Commission passed in 1936, it is believed that Leopold and Darling had an influence on the appointments to the first Commission and the selection of a new Director. Leopold, the first Commission Chair and the new Director all openly promoted private land as being the crucial cornerstone for the Department and conservation to be successful in Missouri. In fact, Leopold stated in a radio address that “farmers are the team in conservation” and the first Conservation Commission set up “cooperation with landowners’’ as one of five key tenets to guide the new Department stating that “over 90% of Missouri is in private hands”. The Department’s private land direction has varied greatly over 80 years and today it is the only state fish and wildlife agency with a full division devoted exclusively to private lands. With today’s challenges we must continue to change, building on the efforts of those, like Leopold, who came before us. Having a full division devoted to private lands allows a focused leadership team to seek and develop new opportunities to help reach additional landowners in new ways. The Department understands that it cannot do it alone. The Department actively seeks to build cooperative partnerships with several conservation and agricultural NGOs to provide better customer service to Missouri landowners, reach new landowner audiences and expand the conservation footprint on the landscape. Today, the Department has agreements with eight organizations to provide over 20 additional private land staff. The Department’s share of funding comes from a dedicated 1/8% sales tax and is matched for many of these positions by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.
9:20AM Private Lands Stewardship in the Rockies, Great Plains, and Mexico
  Angela Dwyer
Bird Conservancy of the Rockies (Bird Conservancy) has been working to conserve birds and their habitats for nearly 30 years through an integrative model of science, education and private lands stewardship. For the past decade we have been monitoring bird populations in Colorado and 12 other western states, and Mexico. We have also created a Private Lands Wildlife Biologist (PLWB) program to connect this monitoring data to conservation delivery on private lands. Private land stewardship is vital to bird conservation, as more than 70% of land in the U.S. is privately owned. We currently have 14 private lands biologists in the Intermountain West and northern Mexico that work directly with farmers and ranchers to deliver voluntary, incentive-based conservation programs. Our PLWBs work in USDA-Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) offices and provide technical and financial assistance to producers through the USDA Farm Bill programs. They have working and lasting relationships with landowners built on trust and communication. Further, we work collaboratively with local, state, private and federal partners to develop shared objectives that allow our biologists to work beyond achieving acres on the ground to engage in conservation effectiveness monitoring, human dimensions research, and collaborative working groups. Our 14 positions work in areas of high significance for bird and habitat conservation, such as large, intact grasslands. Our goal is to create an integrated approach to land stewardship through community-based conservation, and provide an opportunity for achieving ecologically and economically viable farms and ranches.
09:40AM Break
10:10AM Panel Discussion: Championing Successful Partner Biologist Programs: Tips on Funding, Recruiting, Hiring, and Retaining
10:30AM The Conservation Atlas: Sharing Spatial Data to Accomplish Priority Objectives
  Kelly VanBeek
The Conservation Atlas for Midwest Grasslands is an online mapping and data-sharing platform, hosted by Data Basin, which organizes spatial information about bird populations, ecosystem services, and conservation opportunities. It also synthesizes strategic guidance generated by regional and international initiatives and provides a platform for collaborative grassland project development. Nearly 150 different spatial datasets are cataloged in the Atlas, providing opportunities to explore conservation opportunities through simple overlays, filtered viewing of data attributes deemed important by the data user, and other built in exploration tools within the Data Basin enterprise. The Atlas can be used to generate planning ideas or make conservation decisions at appropriate venues and levels within conservation organizations. Several examples of how organizations can share their spatial data to contribute to the scope and scale of the Atlas and how the Atlas can be used as a platform to strengthen collaboration and build stronger partnerships for collective impact will be illustrated, including recent mapping efforts undertaken by USFWS Migratory Birds and their partners. Partner Biologists in both the public and private sectors should find these tools useful in promoting the wildlife, water-quality, and agricultural benefits of grassy landscapes.
10:50AM Engaging Ranchers in Communities of Practice and the Partner Biologist Handbook
  Tiffany Russell
Point Blue Partner Biologists are seated in Natural Resources Conservation Service Field Offices, where they provide value-added and biological expertise while working with NRCS teams, ranchers, farmers, and other conservation professionals. Some examples activities include the identification of additional wildlife practices to recommend to producers including riparian buffers, pollinator habitat, and small-scale stream restoration, connection of larger habitat corridors through working with public land agencies and adjacent private land holders, and informing NRCS local staff about larger scale wildlife initiatives and conservation science priorities . Partner Biologists also are able to both utilize and connect working lands owners and managers to a wide variety of conservation tools and resources, including but not limited to, collaborative efforts with USFWS Partners Program, local Resource Conservation Districts, land grant university research projects and findings, and state funding programs such as California’s Department of Conservation Sustainable Agricultural Lands Conservation Program and California Department of Food and Agriculture’s Healthy Soils Program. Partner Biologists over time serve as both catalysts and organizers for locally-based and regional conservation projects and activities. Through these relationships they are able to connect like-minded landowners and land managers who can build upon their collective knowledge to find locally-based solutions to conservation issues and encourage one another to reach those goals. Federal and state grazing leases often are essential parts of private ranch operations and partner biologists work to increase communication and cooperation on conservation projects across these multi-ownership landscapes. Many of these approaches used by Point Blue partner biologists are described in the handbook that is intended for anyone that is interested in advancing multi-benefit conservation on working lands. The partnership descriptions are intended as a starting point for conversations about program vision, structure, strategies, collaborations, and activities that can advance conservation science and outcomes on working farms and ranches.
11:10AM Turning Landowner Contacts into Management Contracts: Lessons Learned from Outreach Efforts to Engage Private Landowners in an NRCS Forestry Program
  Amanda Duren, Todd Fearer
In January 2015, the Appalachian Mountains Joint Venture (AMJV) was awarded funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) to enhance Cerulean Warbler (Setophaga cerulea) habitat on private lands. The Cerulean Warbler Appalachian Forestland Enhancement project offered financial assistance for private landowners through contracts with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to conduct sustainable forest management activities on their land. A variety of outreach methods were employed by AMJV staff and partners targeting private landowners to communicate the importance of sustainable forest management and to encourage landowners to submit applications for financial assistance from NRCS. We utilized direct mailings to 989 landowners and made presentations at forest landowner meetings and conferences, leading to 77 landowner contacts. Referrals from local NRCS staff generated the greatest number of landowner contacts (n=169). Of the landowners that discussed the Cerulean Warbler RCPP program with AMJV staff, more than 60% submitted an application to NRCS to be considered for financial assistance through the program (61.7%, n = 210), and nearly one third ultimately entered into an NRCS contract (32.5%, n = 117). Referrals from NRCS staff generated more applications (n = 103) and led to more contracts (n = 48) than any other source. This finding underscores the importance of the existing relationships of NRCS staff with landowners in their counties. The highest percentage of applications that led to contracts came from referrals from other landowners and consultants. Future programs should include efforts to engage program participants in reaching out to their neighbors, potentially generating landowner contacts likely to be eligible for the program and interested in participating in an NRCS program. Additionally, outreach mailings or presentations specifically targeting consultants would likely be an efficient use of staff time, considering the high conversion rate of consultant referrals into NRCS contracts observed.
11:30AM Combining Legislation and Flagship Species to Increase Prescribed Fire Capacity on Private Lands
  Ben Robinson
The use of prescribed fire as a management tool is often underutilized on private lands. Without proper training and experience, prescribed fire can be intimidating and overlooked by landowners who are interested in improving wildlife habitat. Wildlife managers in Kentucky have sought creative ways to remove barriers for landowners and private consultants. The Kentucky Prescribed Fire Council (KPFC) consists of state and federal agencies, conservation organizations, universities, contractors, and private individuals who promote the safe and beneficial use of prescribed burning as a land management tool. Since its inception in 2008 the KPFC has sought to increase prescribed fire capacity across the state. The recent passage of KY House Bill 208 established the state’s first-ever Certified Burn Boss Program, creating a mechanism for non-governmental entities to conduct burns outside of established fire seasons. In addition to working towards prescribed fire legislation, the KPFC has taken a lead role in leveraging partnerships to get more fire on the landscape. In conjunction with the Kentucky Prescribed Fire Council, the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources has focused efforts on fire-dependent Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN) to increase funding and fire capacity across the state. The combination of improved prescribed fire legislation and a focus on SGCN has resulted in an increase in private lands acreage burned annually in Kentucky.
2:50PM Refreshment Break
3:20PM The Power of Ebird: Using Information on Birds for Planning and Stewardship on Private Lands
  Sara Barker Swarthout, Christopher L. Wood, Matthew Strimas-Mackey, Geoffrey Geupel, Kenneth V. Rosenberg
More than 60% of the land area in the United States is privately owned, and more than 100 bird species have >50% of their U.S. breeding distributions on private lands. Accurate and easily available information for planning and implementation of conservation and management practices, as well as evaluation and monitoring of programs, are critical to the successful conservation of birds on private lands. eBird is an emerging platform for citizen-science bird monitoring that is rapidly growing in its ability to meet these information needs. eBird’s online database of more than 650 million freely available bird observations collected within a simple, scientific framework provides real time data about bird distribution, abundance, habitat use, and trends. Tangible conservation actions using eBird data include research and monitoring, site and habitat protection and management, the prescription and evaluation of conservation practices, species population assessment, and informing law and policy. Examples of how bird information from eBird has been successfully incorporated into private land management include (1) the California Bird Returns program, where eBird predictive models helped The Nature Conservancy prioritize locations where rice farmers were paid to flood fields in late winter to provide wetland habitat for migratory shorebirds; and (2) the Central Colorado Conservancy, who with support from Cornell’s Land Trust Initiative, used eBird data for priority bird species to inform their easement acquisitions and engage the birding community to incorporate birds into their investment and planning decisions. eBird is currently in the process of developing new tools including a flexible platform for structured bird monitoring, status and trends pages for every North American bird, and new statistical methods for integrating eBird data with historical and structured monitoring data. We are committed to assisting the private lands community, and partner biologists in particular, to make the greatest use of this resource.
3:40PM Data for Dollars: How Wildlife Monitoring Data and Partnerships Can Leverage Funding for Landscape-Level Conservation on Private Lands
  Melissa Odell
Sierra Foothill Conservancy (SFC), a non-profit land trust in California, focuses on strategic land conservation through the connection of wildlife corridors. The primary tool utilized by SFC for landscape-level conservation is partnerships with willing landowners to acquire conservation easements (CE) . Over the past 6 years, SFC and Point Blue Conservation Science have developed a successful partnership to better inform management of privately-owned lands in central California. As part of Point Blue’s statewide Rangeland Monitoring Network (RMN), a team of partner biologists work hand-in-hand with Natural Resource Conservation Service conservationists and ranchers to facilitate the implementation of practices that benefit soil, water, air, plants and animals on California’s grazing lands. As a participant, SFC has gained vital knowledge regarding the rangeland health of its preserves (fee-title properties), which has been directly applied to inform adaptive management plans and practices. SFC and Point Blue have found mutual benefit in working collaboratively. The connection has widened our organizational networks, especially with private landowners. Numerous SFC Conservation Easements and prospective CEs are now working with Point Blue and NRCS to enhance their grazing operations and resources. This partnership, has been instrumental to SFC’s ability to secure funding for prospective CE properties and work towards connecting conserved corridors of wildlife habitat in the region. Point Blue data can inform the landowner and SFC of resources that have the potential to attract funders for stewardship, research and acquisition opportunities. In the session, highlights of the landscape-level conservation underway in SFC’s Service Area will be shared, as well as this conservation work’s benefits for the future changing climate.
4:00PM Using Biological Monitoring Data to Drive Precision Conservation on Private Lands
  Jeffery Larkin, Casey Lott, Darin McNeil, Cameron Fiss, Bridgett Costanzo
A fundamental challenge for large-scale conservation efforts is developing and implementing a comprehensive monitoring strategy to evaluate program outcomes and guide adaptive management. Perhaps most importantly, monitoring helps guide placement of new habitat projects in areas with maximum potential for species occupancy. In 2012, NRCS and its partners initiated the Working Lands for Wildlife (WLFW) partnership to restore breeding season habitat for the declining Golden-winged Warbler. The Golden-winged Warbler Breeding Season Conservation Plan provided an initial spatial framework for WLFW by dividing the geographic range of GWWA into two “Conservation Regions” (the Great Lakes and Appalachians) with a total of 34 “Focal Areas”. While Focal Areas provided a useful starting point for delineating areas eligible for enrollment in WLFW, more detail was necessary to better prioritize habitat management in the most focused way possible, and ultimately to maximize conservation results. To date, hundreds of private landowners have enrolled their lands in WLFW to create habitat for the Golden-winged Warbler. From 2015-17, we conducted point counts and vegetation surveys at 457 locations on private lands enrolled in WLFW and nearby public lands in the central Appalachian Mountains. Monitoring results provided: a) improved information about the distribution of GWWA; b) better understanding about the response of GWWA to habitat management; and c) greater insight into ecological criteria associated with GWWA occurrence. We used our species occurrence data (and those from other state agency and NGO partners) to create Priority Areas for Conservation (PACs) for GWWA within the WLFW project area. Our results provide a promising first assessment of how monitoring a species response to habitat restoration can be used to better inform program delivery in an adaptive management framework.
4:20PM Wildlife Monitoring on Private Lands in Washington; A Protocol for Landowners
  Lisa Dowling
Private land management practices influence the quality, quantity, and connectivity of habitat for wildlife. Monitoring wildlife use on private land is a way to gauge the effect of altering land use practices to enhance wildlife habitat. This monitoring protocol for wildlife is designed with two main objectives: to be used by the general public to provide private land wildlife biologists with data to guide the wildlife conservation planning effort, and to help landowners learn how their management decisions influence the landscape in relation to wildlife. It begins with the agricultural producer and conservation planner working together to select key areas within their operation to establish wildlife transects used for surveying. Once key areas are established, they provide a consistent place to conduct repeated surveys for wildlife use, which provides information about how the changed land management is influencing the quality of wildlife habitat over time. Wildlife monitoring data is necessary to fine tune and calibrate the conservation planning process and ensure that the planned habitat improvements will adequately meet the wildlife conservation objectives over time. This ‘adaptive management’ approach provides a flexible framework that agricultural producers and wildlife conservationists can work within to achieve long-term sustainable land use as well as suitable habitat for wildlife.
4:40PM The Rangeland Monitoring Network and Landowner Letters: Resources for Evaluating Farm Bill Practices at Multiple Scales
  Geoffrey Geupel, Kelly Garbach, Elizabeth Porzig, Bonnie Eyestone, Wendell Gilgert
The Farm Bill administered by Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is North America’s largest source of funding for habitat conservation on private lands, leveraging nearly $1 billion a year, typically through implementing on-the ground cost-shared conservation practices with private landowners. The monitoring and evaluation of these practices, while recommended as part of the NRCS’ planning guidelines, is rarely implemented. An integral component of Point Blue Conservation Science’s Working Lands Initiative is to place partner biologists in NRCS offices in key California communities and provide the capacity to evaluate the effectiveness of Farm Bill practices at multiple scales. Working closely with landowners, NRCS technical staff, and using NRCS field assessment tools to determine goals and objectives of producers, partner biologist help prescribe management practices as part of a conservation plan and often implement a monitoring program as part of our Rangeland Monitoring Network. This monitoring network’s objective is to assess ecosystem function on rangeland by collecting data on soil characteristics, vegetation, and bird biodiversity using clear, standardized and well-documented protocols. We provide an advanced and secure on-line data entry and management system. We interpret the data and communicate it back to producers annually in the form of a ‘land-owner letter’ and on-site visits by partner biologist to help guide adaptive management decisions . Furthermore results may be pooled at regional scales to allow comparisons among different management approaches and to facilitate broad scale assessment of Farm Bill impacts on focal bird populations and ecosystem services. We will present examples of how monitoring data is used at multiple scales.

Organizers: Kelly VanBeek, Geoffrey Geupel, Amanda Duren
Supported by: Point Blue Conservation Science, American Bird Conservancy, Appalachian Mountain Joint Venture, US Fish and Wildlife Service

Location: Reno-Sparks CC Date: October 1, 2019 Time: 8:00 am - 5:00 pm