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NFC: Freshwater initiative

Posted by Konrad Schmidt on February 05, 1999 at 11:09:35:

The Nature Conservancy's Freshwater Initiative Recommended Strategies for
Advancing Freshwater Conservation

The Freshwater Initiative is a Conservancy-wide integrated program,
designed to help TNC and our partners accomplish the goals set in
Conservation by Design.

Freshwater biodiversity is in serious jeopardy in the United States
Freshwater biodiversity is in serious jeopardy in the United States.
Freshwater plants and animals are proportionately more imperiled than
their terrestrial counterparts. Biological inforrmation indicates that
two-thirds of mussels, half of crayfish and one-third of fishes and
amphibians are now imperiled. In most states more than 80 percent of
riparian ecosystems have been lost and more than 50 percent o four
nation's wetlands have disappeared in this century.

Two of the most predominant threats to freshwater biological diversity
within the U.S. arc:

 Altered hydrological regimes from dams, water diversions and watershed
 Agricultural runoff of sediment and other nonpoint source pollutants.

One cannot preserve the life of a place and not protect the waters that
run through it Historically, The Nature Conservancy has targeted
terrestrial species through protection of the habitats which they need to
survive. We have had great success on this front, owning and managing the
world's largest system of private nature preserves. But our thinking and
methods have evolved over time and we recognize the connection between
land and water is elemental: one cannot preserve both the terrestrial and
aquatic life of a place without protecting the waters that run through

But to do so requires new biological data to help set our priorities, new
conservation approaches and cooperation and coordination among
conservationists, communities, land owners and governments. For the first
time in the Conservancy's history, freshwater is the focus of the kind of
integrated, vigorous and sustained conservation we've practiced on the
land. The Freshwater Initiative is a blueprint for this action.

The Initiative
Freshwater biodiversity conservation is ultimately accomplished in local
watersheds by employing scientific knowledge and expertise to drive
community-based conservation approaches. The Conservancy has been working
in more than 200 watersheds and is now uniquely positioned to leverage
such work into more freshwater biodiversity conservation throughout the
nation and in other countries where we work.

Three strategies anchor the Conservancy's Freshwater Initiative:
 Develop better biological information on freshwater biodiversity
 Reduce predominant freshwater threats at selected sites
 Exponentially increase the quality and frequency of information, data
sharing and training among Conservancy personnel and partners.

Strategy One
This strategy entails gathering more and better data on freshwater
biodiversity through state and federal agencies, academia, and natural
heritage programs to serve conservation planning on an ecoregional scale.
Ecoregions, as defined by the Conservancy, are large landscapes
determined by climate and geology which, in turn, affect the kinds of
ecosystems, animals and plants found there. With a better portrait~t of
the natural life in freshwater ecosystems, the Conservancy and others can
devise conservation measures to better protect those species and
communities which are most vulnerable. A recent "Rivers of Life"
publication soon to be released by TNC will illustrate some of the
utility of recently acquired freshwater data in directing us to the most
critical watersheds for freshwater conservation action.

Strategy Two
Two types of threats (alteration of natural water flows and farm
pollution) affect a large majority of TNC's domestic freshwater sites.
Abating these threats is complex and requires the concerted efforts of a
number of land owners, water managers, and other interests. One has only
to consider the number of agents which could be contributing to
agricultural nonpoint source pollution in a watershed to understand the
enormity of the challenge in reducing this threat. To alleviate
hydrologic alteration threats, the Conservancy will need to learn the
culture, laws, economics, and politics of water management. To improve
conditions for downstream aquatic organisms, we will need to change the
way that dams are operated or municipal and agricultural water needs are
met. But, there is no reason to believe that the Conservancy cannot be as
successful in these pursuits as we have been in our terrestrial work.
Strategy Two will advance demonstration projects to lead the way.

Strategy Three
A Freshwater Learning Center will provide staff With the training, tools,
data and other information needed to improve their effectiveness and
knowledge. The emphasis here is to educate both Conservancy staff and
conservationists at large, so freshwater biodiversity protection will be
an integral part of any comprehensive, integrated conservation strategy
of ecosystems.

The Next Five Years
In the next five years, the Conservancy will have gathered and analyzed
the freshwater data needed to inform ecoregional planning as outlined in
Strategy One. It will have field tested new ways to abate top threats at
selected sites as Strategy Two outlines. Finally, as part of Strategy
Three, the important process of freshwater information exchange and
education will be spreading out through the Conservancy's biodiversity
conservation efforts.

Funding and Cost

The Freshwater Initiative calls for the investment of an additional $42
million over the next five years, split nearly equally between public and
private sources.

The Nature Conservancy's mission compels it to attend to the freshwater
biodiversity crisis. By including freshwater conservation targets and
sites as protection goals, the Conservancy can expand significantly the
conservation community's success in biodiversity conservation.

Robert Rice
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