What’s Left to Conserve?

This map displays where the unprotected ecological habitat is located in relation to protected habitat.  Protected lands refer to areas that are permanently protected either through federal ownership, state conservation, or private land that is conserved through a conservation easement or owned by a conservation group.

Looking only at land containing ecological habitat which was defined and digitized during the creation of the Connected Land Conservation Plan, there are approximately 170,268 acres of intact habitat within developable land in the East Cooper region (out of a total of 216,372 acres).  After removing all protected land from the calculation, 65,336 acres of habitat are not permanently protected through federal, state, or private means.  This unprotected acreage does include some wetlands as well as municipality-owned park and recreational land, however, these areas still face the risk of changes in zoning and development pressure.  Much of this habitat area includes ecologically-sensitive areas that are important to the overall health of the region as well as beautiful vistas or recreational destinations that the public has assigned a high value to.

The lands that contain these areas have the greatest benefit to the public as conserved natural spaces, sometimes containing low-impact recreational amenities.  East Cooper Land Trust is working diligently to identify these areas and work with landowners, developers, and the local municipalities to determine mutual solutions to have land conservation alongside economic development.

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Connected Land Conservation Plan

Natural asset planning is a strategic landscape approach to open space conservation, whereby local communities, landowners, and organizations work together to identify, design, and conserve their local land network in order to maintain healthy wildlife and human communities.

It can be used to prioritize land that should be conserved or restored, and can also point to areas that are more appropriate for development.  This type of analysis is accomplished with the assistance of Geographic Information System (GIS) tools and a methodology which can be shared, adapted, and replicated.  The analysis is based on the identification of digitized “habitat cores.”  Habitat cores essentially are natural areas of land and water that support wildlife and provide benefits to humans, which are fragmented by developed, barren, and impervious land features.

The purpose of the Connected Land Conservation Plan is to zoom out and take a regional look at development and its effect on natural resources in the coastal region between the Cooper and Santee Rivers.  East Cooper Land Trust, the College of Charleston, and the South Carolina Sea Grant Consortium have partnered with the municipalities that lie within this region to plan for the future of its natural assets. This plan serves to guide in the review of where the highest quality natural assets exist on a regional scale, and in the creation of strategies to conserve them in ways that cooperate with the region’s inevitable population growth and development.

As expected, there are ongoing challenges that come with implementing policy recommendations and changes at the local government level.  Developing a natural asset plan requires a synthesis of technical knowledge regarding urban and regional planning, GIS, and landscape ecology.  Most aspects of this approach to natural asset planning can be adapted to be used in other regions across the country.

Please see the attached technical Report, which gives the details of the project:

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