ELI Primary Menu

Skip to main content

Advancing the Implementation of Conservation Planning

Community planning and development decisions made at the local, county, and state levels have a significant and cumulative effect on the conservation of plants, animals, and natural communities. While many planners and decision-makers express interest in using their tools to conserve habitat and wildlife, most land use decisions are made in the context of competing political interests and without the information necessary to make science-based, conservation planning decisions.

The Environmental Law Institute’s Conservation Thresholds Program seeks to execute and coordinate a set of activities designed to advance the effective implementation of conservation planning. To date, the program has been supported by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, George Gund Foundation, H.M. Jackson Foundation, Johnson Foundation, New York Community Trust, Surdna Foundation, Wilburforce Foundation, and an individual donor.

Conservation Thresholds for Land Use Planners

In 2003, ELI released Conservation Thresholds for Land Use Planners, a review and synthesis of information from the biological literature for land use planners. The report provides planners with rules of thumb on how much land to protect, the adequate size and location of habitat corridors, and appropriate widths for riparian buffers. The conservation thresholds recommended in our publicationhave been used extensively across the country in land use plans, regulations, and other land use standards.

Lasting Landscapes

In 2006, ELI asked the leading thinkers in the planning, conservation biology, and conservation policy professions to reflect upon their respective profession’s role in promoting the use of science-based information in planning. Their thought-provoking essays, published in Lasting Landscapes: Reflections on the Role of Conservation Science in Land Use Planning (2007), make it clear that a more intentional approach to conservation planning is needed.

Conservation Thresholds Wingspread Conference

Our conference at the Wingspread Conference Center brought together an historic assemblage of leaders and academics from the planning, conservation biology, and conservation policy professions. The conference was designed to identify concrete implementation strategies that support the integration of conservation biology principles into planning — and it succeeded in doing just that.

The Next Steps

The priorities outlined in Lasting Landscapes and refined at the Conservation Thresholds Wingspread conference will serve as our roadmap for advancing the implementation of conservation planning. Throughout this initiative, and with the help of our Advisory Committee, ELI has been partnering with local, regional, and national groups and associations as we execute and coordinate the following implementation strategies.

1. Mapping high risk critical habitats. In collaboration with Colorado State University and NatureServe, we have developed maps and animations of where the pace and extent of urban and exurban development will soon be a significant threat to wildlife habitat over four different time horizons: 2015, 2025, 2035, and 2050. The products of this study will provide target audiences with guidance on where pro-active conservation planning will be most effective and timely. The maps will also provide a crucial framework for our outreach activities.

2. Interdisciplinary research on effective conservation planning strategies. ELI is working with conservation biology and planning academics to develop an outline for an interdisciplinary research proposal that would support an empirical assessment of the development, adoption, and implementation of growth management and natural area conservation policies to determine what is working best to conserve land and water resources. To lay the foundation for the grant proposal, we are developing a synthesis article that builds the case for the need for this body of interdisciplinary, empirical research.

3. Market research and development of a communications strategy. ELI is working with an experienced communications consulting firm to undertake market research and develop a communications strategy to motivate local decision-makers to make pro-active, conservation-minded land use decisions. Based on 60 targeted interviews and a survey of close to 500 public and private planning professionals, elected officials, planning board members, and conservation biologists, we are learning more about what kind of information is needed to support conservation planning, how the information should be packaged, and how it can be delivered most effectively. This research will guide the development of appropriate outreach materials.

4. Develop outreach materials designed to meet the needs of community planners.
Conservation Planning Primer. ELI plans to work in partnership witha group of planners, biologists, economists, and others, to develop a primer on best practices for conservation planning. The primer will lay out procedural guidelines for how to incorporate biological information into planning at each of the five strategic points of intervention (visioning and goal setting, plan making, management tools, development review, public investments). (1)

Briefing papers. ELI plans to work with our partners to develop a series of downloadable briefing papers for elected and appointed public officials, community planners, conservation biologists, and other key audiences.

Presentation materials. ELI plans to work with our partners to develop a packaged presentation for delivery at professional meetings that responds to the market research outlined above. The presentation will be designed to be delivered along with the best practices primer and will feature the maps of critical wildlife habitat.

5. Disseminate outreach materials to planners and environmental professionals. ELI plans to work with our partners to disseminate the outreach materials to community planners and other target audiences. Specifically, we seek to deliver the presentation and outreach materials at the annual meetings of key associations.

6. Advance excellence in the conservation planning profession. ELI plans to work with our partners to develop academic standards for the next generation of planners and conservation biologists to ensure that their professional training gives them the skills they need to plan with conservation in mind.


(1) Klein, William. November 2007. “Why Planning Matters — The Five Strategic Points of Intervention.” Planning. American Planning Association.