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Designing Sustainable Landscapes

Assessment of Landscape Changes in the North Atlantic Landscape Conservation Cooperative: Decision-Support Tools for Conservation

This project highlights the potential for collaboration and coordination among conservation practitioners and research scientists to plan for the future. A team of UMass scientists has developed a landscape change, assessment and design model to assess ecosystems and their capacity to sustain populations of wildlife in the northeastern U.S. in the face of urban growth, climate change, and other stressors. The project plays a major role in developing the science and data for two collaborative landscape planning and design efforts: 1) Connect the Connecticut, the pilot Landscape Conservation Design for the Connecticut River Watershed, and 2) Nature's Network, which expands and elaborates on the data to extend to throughout New England and the Mid-Atlantic. Using the best available science and information, participating partners are developing tools and strategies for conserving a connected network of lands and waters to sustain natural resources and communities within the watershed.

This project is designed to support the overall goals of the North Atlantic Landscape Conservation Cooperative (NALCC), which are as follows:

  1. Assess the current capability of habitats in the NALCC to support sustainable populations of wildlife;
  2. Predict the impacts of landscape-level changes (e.g., from urban growth, conservation programs, climate change, etc.) on the future capability of these habitats to support wildlife populations;
  3. Target conservation programs to effectively and efficiently achieve objectives in State Wildlife Action Plans and other conservation plans and evaluate progress under these plans; and
  4. Enhance coordination among partners during the planning, implementation and evaluation of habitat conservation through conservation design.


LCC Staff Contact: Scott Schwenk

In August 2017, this project was extended to support the development and application of Nature's Network, a suite of tools and products including a conservation design for the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic U.S. developed with state fish and wildlife agencies and other partners. Nature's Network was launched in May 2017, building upon and extending Connect the Connecticut.

In 2016 the project team, working with partners, has finalized a collaborative Landscape Conservation Design for the Connecticut River Watershed known as Connect the Connecticut. This collaborative project, developed with guidance from a team federal, state, and nongovernmental organizations in the watershed, is intended to advance conservation of fish, wildlife, and the ecosystems on which they depend in the watershed. It is also a pilot for testing the application of the information and tools developed by the project team for other regions. 

Additionally, the Designing Sustainable Landscape project has developed a number of regionally consistent spatial datasets and models for the 13-state Northeast region. Many of these datasets are available for viewing and download in a gallery on the North Atlantic LCC Conservation Planning Atlas hosted by DataBasin - click here to go to the Designing Sustainable Landscapes gallery. Examples include:

  • Index of Ecological Integrity - an assessment of the ability of natural areas to sustain biodiversity and ecosystem processes over the long term.
  • Landscape Capability datasets for a number of representative species, such as American Woodcock, Black Bear, Marsh Wren, Moose, Ruffed Grouse, Wood Duck, and Wood Thrush (full list here).
  • A series of climate projections by decade for 2010-2080
  • Major enhancement of the region's stream network mapping (high resolution hydrography, NHD 1:24,000 scale) 

Extensive project documentation is available at:

Progress Reports

2015 (final progress report, phase 2)

Jan-July 2014

July-December 2013 

Nov 2012-June 2013 


Ecological impacts - modeling landscape capability for representative species (2013-03)

Scientific Advisory Committee Meeting (2013-03)

Landscape Conservation Design (2013-04)

Designing Sustainable Landscapes for Wildlife: Science Seminar Series (2012-02) [Webinar recording | PDF]

Selected presentations on the Designing Sustainable Landscapes project are also available from the McGarigal Lab website.

Final Reports from Phase 1 of the Project

In the first phase of this project (2010-2012), the project tested its approaches in the three small watersheds described in the following reports. In 2014-2015, work first tested in the middle Connecticut River watershed was expanded to the full Connecticut River watershed.

Kennebec River Watershed Final Report

Middle Connecticut River Watershed Final Report

Pocomoke & Nanticoke Rivers Watershed Final Report

Funding YearAmount AwardedFunding Source
2010 $435,000 North Atlantic LCC
2011 $70,000 North Atlantic LCC
2012 $407,337 North Atlantic LCC
2012 $98,172 Northeast Climate Science Center
2013 $467,104 North Atlantic LCC
2013 $98,172 Northeast Climate Science Center
2014  $230,000

North Atlantic LCC



North Atlantic LCC



North Atlantic LCC

Northeast Region

Many spatial datasets are available for viewing and download in a gallery on the North Atlantic LCC Conservation Planning Atlas hosted by DataBasin - click here to go to the Designing Sustainable Landscapes gallery.

This project provided technical support and leadership for the Connect the Connecticut landscape conservation design, announced in May 2016.

For a list of the 30 landscape capability models for representative species of wildlife, and their availability - click here

Results of Phases 1 and 2, other workshop materials, and extensive documentation of the project are also available at the UMass Landscape Ecology Lab website 

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