Benefits of applying landscape prioritization tools to aquatic resource prioritization

Landscape prioritization tools may benefit wetland and stream restoration and protection efforts in a variety of ways. Some particularly important benfits of landscape prioritization include:

  • Efficient identification of restoration and protection sites that address multiple conservation objectives. Landscape prioritization tools can be designed to meet the objectives of multiple regulatory and non-regulatory programs that often have differing goals for the same or similar wetland or stream resources. By using landscape prioritization tools to visualize and identify projects or areas of priority for multiple programs or that achieve certain sets of functional benefits, environmental managers can achieve greater coordination of conservation and more cost-effective investments.
  • Advancement of regional conservation goals by prioritizing the selection of mitigation sites using a watershed approach. Many of the landscape prioritization tools evaluated for this handbook are used to support the selection of mitigation sites using a watershed approach. For example, the TNC-ELI Duck-Pensaukee Watershed Approach Pilot promotes the functional replacement of wetland benefits on a watershed basis by identifying areas in which to target mitigation through an analysis of historic functional losses within HUC-12 watersheds.

  • Streamlined permitting processes for transportation and natural resource agencies undertaking compensatory mitigation. Landscape prioritization tools can support early collaboration and planning among agencies, which can reduce project delays, field visits, and time spent approving and monitoring compensation projects.

  • Reduced costs associated with field monitoring. Monitoring costs (in terms of time and money) for programs that prioritize sites using landscape prioritization tools are low compared to costs for programs that prioritize sites based on field methods alone. While some landscape prioritization tools depend on field-based methods for some component processes (e.g., tool validation), costs associated with these methods are likely to be relatively small. In contrast, programs that determine priorities using field-based methods alone incur much higher costs as they carry out field assessments on a much larger scale.

  • Increase transparency in the selection of conservation sites. The processes applied by landscape prioritization programs are often well documented and highly transparent. This is especially true of those that draw heavily upon stakeholder input. For instance, stakeholder teams representing state and local government agencies, non-profits, and private businesses were responsible for developing metrics used to model priority habitat patches as part of the NOAA Habitat Priority Planner Mississippi- Alabama Habitats Tool.

  • Offer considerable opportunities for cost-savings by enabling users to evaluate a large variety of potential conservation sites. Since conservation costs vary throughout space and time based on component costs of conservation (e.g., land values and costs of on-the-ground restoration work), prioritization can better target locations that will achieve high-quality environmental outcomes at lower costs. Consolidated conservation projects, such as those performed by mitigation banks, conservation banks, and in-lieu fee programs, can achieve economies of scale in land acquisition and on-the-ground restoration costs, reducing the marginal cost of these projects.

  • Allow for effective cost-benefit analysis with respect to functional return on investment. Practitioners can apply landscape prioritization tools to account for watershed-scale factors - such as stressors, stream order, and proximity to existing conservation lands - that inform assessment of functional return on investment when selecting aquatic resource restoration and protection sites.

  • Reduce the time required to locate project sites. Results of landscape prioritization analyses for a given watershed can have a long shelf life, assuming that the rate of land use change within the watershed is low. As needs arise for aquatic resource restoration and protection (e.g., through compensatory mitigation), practitioners can readily reference prioritization results to guide selection of areas in which to pursue projects. This is especially true when prioritization results are disseminated widely to potential users, such as through interactive web-based maps.

  • Development costs continue to decrease. The costs required to obtain the hardware, software, and technical skills necessary to develop landscape prioritization tools are not insubstantial. However, as the programs evaluated in this handbook illustrate, once an agency or organization has incurred these fixed up-front costs, additional costs for data acquisition are often negligible since many datasets are freely available.

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