Identifying and prioritizing potential conservation sites in the Upper Oconee subbasin
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Landscape scale conservation planning informed by stakeholders is necessary for effective conservation action. We developed a watershed level conservation planning approach by working with two local land trusts that operate in the Upper Oconee subbasin of northeast Georgia. Emphasizing the interdependency of ecological processes and human livelihood to area residents motivates stewardship; hence, we focused on conservation values that draw these linkages. In the United States, private landowner conservation is essential for successful protection of ecological processes and biodiversity. The prevalent route for involving private landowners with conservation is through partnerships with land trusts. A rapid proliferation of land trusts across the U.S. over the past decade indicates the increasing importance of private land conservation efforts. As our primary objective, we developed a GIS model for evaluating nine conservation features in the watershed using a weighted scoring system modified from the Georgia Land Conservation Program evaluation criteria. We extracted the 70 highest-ranking parcels as target recruitment parcels. The land trusts will begin targeting these 70 parcels for easement recruitment immediately. The second objective included quantifying these nine conservation features for current easements and other conservation lands to aid development of strategic conservation plans. Land trust personnel agreed with the relative scoring of their current holdings. We provided the land trusts access to the entire database of values for the features analyzed in all 34,024 parcels, empowering them to visit a potential easement site with a priori knowledge; thereby, enhancing the efficiency of their finite funding and personnel resources.