Partnering for Wildlife Habitat Connectivity
In the first half of 2023, our office is reflecting on some of the major accomplishments coming out of our 2017-2022 5-Year Strategic Plan. This plan has been a pivotal one for the Forest. As we move to advance these goals and accomplishments into our next strategic plan, we thought to share some of our highlights with you.
Goal 1. Stewardship for Long Term Sustainability
Objective C. Maintain a stable land base and prevent further fragmentation to sustain the integrity of the Duke Forest’s natural resources and the multiple benefits received from them; revisit the established land planning strategy and create a longterm vision for the forest.
Objective D. Demonstrate exemplary large-scale ecosystem stewardship as a model among local, national, and international organizations; promote landscape level conservation to maintain ecosystem function and habitat connectivity beyond Duke Forest boundaries.
The Duke Forest and other protected areas in our rapidly developing region play a crucial role in providing wildlife habitat and ecosystem services, but the value of all these natural and conserved lands diminishes as they become isolated from each other (a process known as fragmentation). One significant result of fragmentation is that passage for wildlife from one habitat ‘island’ to another becomes impossible or dangerous (think fences, roads, developments, culverts, etc.).
In our last strategic plan we highlighted the need for improving wildlife corridors between Duke Forest lands and other conserved lands. Our participation in the Eno-New Hope Landscape Conservation Group (with partnering nonprofits, universities, local governments, and scientists from all over the region) was a major effort throughout this implementation cycle. Our collaborative project published a 79-page report outlining the status of wildlife corridors and received a Catalyst Fund Grant of $25,000 in 2020.
In December of 2019, in a related effort to preserve critical wildlife habitat and protect the integrity and viability of nearby major research, Duke Forest acquired 27 acres of land adjacent to the Blackwood Division.
Read more about both of these initiatives below.
Catalyst Fund Grant Awarded for Collaborative Habitat Project
This story appeared in October 2020 on our News blog.
The Office of the Duke Forest along with its steering committee partners (see list below) from the Eno-New Hope Landscape Conservation Group are thrilled to announce the reception of a 2020 Catalyst Fund Grant of $25,000. Submitted on behalf of the group by the Eno River Association, the Catalyst Fund Grant offered by the Network for Landscape Conservation is a highly-competitive nationwide award given this year to only 13 of the 100 collaborative partnerships that applied. The funding intends to “enable each of these Partnerships to accelerate their efforts to build enduring, place-based, collaborative conservation efforts that protect the ecological, cultural, and community health of the landscapes they call home.”
The Eno-New Hope Landscape Conservation Group (ENH-LCG) consists of local governments, conservation organizations, universities, and ecologists. Members of this group have been working since 2015 to address increasing habitat loss and fragmentation in the Eno River and New Hope Creek watersheds. While the Duke Forest and other protected and managed lands across the landscape provide an anchor of wildlife habitat and ecosystem services (e.g. clean air, clean water, carbon sequestration), these areas have become increasingly isolated and disconnected from other natural spaces—due to road infrastructure, real estate development, and other permanent conversions of land. The habitat and ecosystem service values of these conserved lands, as well as their resilience to climate change, only diminishes as fragmentation increases.
In December 2019, ENH-LCG released A Landscape Plan for Wildlife Habitat Connectivity in the Eno and New Hope Creek Watersheds, North Carolina (read), a 79-page report outlining the results of an analysis that identified opportunities to preserve and restore habitat connectivity in the region. That initial report, which was funded by Partners for Green Growth, led by ecologist Julie Tuttle, Ph.D., and administered by Johnny Randall, Ph.D., NC Botanical Gardens, was announced at the Orange County Environmental Summit.
The report demonstrates the important role of the Duke Forest and other partner lands in maintaining and connecting a natural network that functions for the benefit of both people and animals. Most importantly, it identifies areas of high conservation value that are potentially vulnerable to land use conversions. This work offers critical insight into sustaining the natural spaces and wild things that create a healthy and vibrant environment for all.
The Catalyst Fund award will be used support and strengthen the collaborative effort necessary to achieve landscape conservation by hiring a coordinator and solidifying the group’s partnership structure. The funding will also enable the group to develop a strategic action plan to guide implementation of its existing landscape conservation plan.
Steering Committee Partner List
Eno River Association
Triangle Land Conservancy
Duke University, Office of the Duke Forest
UNC Chapel Hill, North Carolina Botanical Garden
Durham County Open Space and Real Estate
Orange County Department of Environment, Agriculture, Parks & Recreation
North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission
Julie Tuttle, Ph.D., Ecologist
Meadow Flats Natural Heritage Area Expands
This blurb appeared in our 2020 Duke Forest LOG
Upland Depression swamps like this one above in the Meadow Flats Natural Heritage Area are important habitats for Four-toed Salamanders (Hemidactylium scutatum).
At the end of 2019, we announced the purchase of 27 acres of land adjacent to the Blackwood Division of the Duke Forest, which is critical to our research mission. The Blackwood Division has long been an important national and international destination for studies related to climate change, atmospheric chemistry, ecosystem health, and more. The addition of these lands helps preserve the integrity and viability of ongoing and future research and enhances our commitment to natural resource protection. In particular, this property includes unique wetland habitats called upland depression swamps or vernal pools (pictured in background), which are vital for amphibians like the Four-toed Salamander – a Species of Greatest Conservation Need identified in the 2015 NC Wildlife Action Plan. Much of the acquired land had been previously delineated as part of the Meadow Flats Natural Heritage Natural Area by the NC Natural Heritage Program. Duke already owned most of the downstream portion of this heritage area, and with this property now in hand, the Duke Forest will manage the entire unit for its important conservation values. This land also contains physical remnants of historical and cultural connections to the nearby community, which we intend to better understand so that we can help share these stories.