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Landscape Summit draws on experiences, connections
Armed with success stories, questions and project ideas, more than 200 people descended on Harrisburg Jan. 14-15 to learn how communities are using their natural assets to drive local conservation, planning and community economic revitalization efforts.

From small business success stories in the Pennsylvania Wilds to funding land conservation efforts in populated areas of the state, the first Conservation Landscape Summit pulled together those people and organizations that are helping to create economic opportunities through shared vision—a vision where natural, cultural and heritage qualities are celebrated and protected.

DCNR Secretary Richard Allan opened up the conference by describing how his travels throughout the state have reinforced in him the value of our natural assets to local communities. “Our natural, cultural and historic assets are key economic drivers in communities both large and small. People are drawn to visit and live in places where natural beauty abounds, and where there is close access to recreational amenities, parks and trails.

“We want to foster the regional work that is taking place across the state. We believe that working together across municipal and county boundaries with multiple state, local, private and nonprofit partners, we will all achieve more. We will protect more land. We will build more trails. We will encourage more economic growth.”

Following Secretary Allan, keynoter Lynn Scarlett, former deputy secretary for the Department of the Interior and current co-director of the Center for Management of Ecological Wealth—Resources for the Future, described how Pennsylvania was getting it right in protecting our special outdoor spaces. “These places have untapped potential. They have the potential to guide Pennsylvania’s communities toward cleaner, greener, and smarter futures that are cost-effective. Many parks include critical watersheds, tree cover, wetlands, and other natural systems that provide basic benefits to human communities.”

Participants in the summit came from across the state from the tourism, economic development, conservation, recreation, planning, and local government sectors. Many represented work that was already taking place in seven Pennsylvania conservation landscapes: Pennsylvania Wilds, Poconos Forests and Waters; Lehigh Valley Greenways; Schuylkill Highlands; Susquehanna Riverlands; Laurel Highlands; and South Mountain. Attendees were able to choose from four learning tracks: Tourism and Economic Development; Land, River and Greenway Conservation; Visitor Experiences; and Communications and Engagement. The sixteen sessions were wide ranging, from funding and closing trail gaps; to ensuring conservation and recreation success in the Marcellus Shale region; to translating the economic benefits of heritage- and nature-based tourism.

Robert Pirani, vice president of environmental program for the Regional Plan Association, said through his work in the 13-state northeastern United States he sees Pennsylvania as a leader in landscape level conservation. He believes landscape conservation is critical because it may be the only way to tackle today’s conservation challenges.

“Buying land isn't enough. Building parks won't get it done. Restoring forests and wetlands by themselves is not an answer. Successful conservation requires a comprehensive, regional approach,” Pirani told the dinner crowd. “It’s the way nature works, and it’s the way we think about our places—our rural lifestyles, cultural preservation, recreation and tourism.”

Joel Dunn, executive director of the Chesapeake Conservancy, and Jonathan Doherty, assistant superintendent of the National Park Service’s Chesapeake Bay Office, both spoke to how rivers and trails aren’t confined to geo-political boundaries and can serve as galvanizing projects for landscapes, such as the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail, which spans several states and enters into southern Pennsylvania. The two speakers noted how trails—both water and land—can expand access and conserve visitor experiences.

Because many of the attendees represented tourism industry interests, nature and heritage tourism was a dominant theme throughout the sessions and plenary discussions. Debra Bowman, executive director for tourism, film and marketing for the Department of Community and Economic Development, reminded the lunch audience that “tourism is economic development” and that our natural, cultural and historic assets are what set Pennsylvania apart from other states.

Funding for projects and ideas was also a resounding theme throughout the conference. Attendees and panelists opined that the strain of an economy was an even greater call for cooperative investment in our natural resources.

Scarlett noted that in her time as chief budget officer at Interior, she understood the meaning of budget constraints and the competition for taxpayer funds that support health care, education, and basic infrastructure. “It is with this understanding that I note that parks and conservation investments link to these bedrock values of health, education, economy, and infrastructure,” she said. “Generating funding is not easy in this time of scarcity. Perhaps some hope can arise from transforming the value of nature’s capital into revenue streams that bring together economy and environment.”

A funding panel at the summit’s close kept attendees from hitting the road early. A packed ballroom listened to the advice and wisdom of four experts whose organizations have the ability to advance the regional conservation work: Scott Christie, PennDOT deputy secretary; Andy Tuck, senior campaign advisor for The Nature Conservancy; Brian Hill, program officer for the Richard K. Mellon Foundation; and Andrew Johnson, program officer for the William Penn Foundation. All the panelists spoke to how the landscape work will require continued focus and partnerships at all levels, and that the challenges will be to measure impact and outcomes.

The Conservation Landscape Summit was supported by DCNR, the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, the William Penn Foundation, the Richard King Mellon Foundation, the Community Foundation for the Alleghenies, and Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful. Presentations from the summit will be posted on the summit's web site.

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January 23, 2013

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