All land trusts follow a set of detailed rules governing operations and land transactions called “The Standards and Practices.” Among the standards is one requiring a land trust to develop a strategic conservation plan for prioritizing its land acquisitions. NeighborSpace began to create such a plan in 2011, when it received the first of four technical assistance grants from the National Park Service to develop a GIS mapping tool. The thinking was that the GIS tool could help to quickly identify and rank parcels around such factors as access to open space, connectivity and real estate values. While similar tools had been developed for rural areas where there are large contiguous parcels for conservation, none had been created for an urban area like ours, where the opportunities present themselves as “pock marks”across the earth.
NeighborSpace gathered its constituents together and ultimately identified 28 criteria (i.e., GIS layers) that it thought would aid in prioritizing properties for conservation. Stakeholders dutifully ranked these criteria through pairwise comparison and a GIS expert incorporated the pairwise results into a database that NeighborSpace received in 2014. (A short presentation outlining this process of weighting GIS layers through pairwise comparison and then grading the extent to which they are found on the ground can be found here). Unfortunately, field testing revealed that the layers had a habit of canceling each other out. There were too many criteria and not enough attention had been applied to their collective measurement direction when the model was under development.
Work then ensued to revise the model. With the help of Thayer Young and Cicada GIS Consulting, a new model was developed and the number of criteria cut in half. Great attention was paid to the direction of measurement so as to avoid the challenges alluded to above. The elements of that model are summarized in the diagram below and sample maps can be found in this presentation. Importantly, the model includes criteria on vulnerable populations, which will further our community conservation efforts, i.e., using our lands in partnership with human service organizations to address pressing needs like food insecurity and disconnected youth. Next steps include vetting this model with stakeholders and using it to develop a strategic conservation plan.