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Mapping the Future of Berkshire Conservation

Posted Friday, April 19, 2024

Prioritizing the land we need to conserve—together.

What Berkshire landscapes are most at risk? Which parcels are highest priority to protect?

BNRC is working on new technology to find answers and bolster conservation efforts county-wide.

With funding from the Land Trust Alliance, the Open Space Institute, a Wild East Grant from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, and guidance from Rick Lederer-Barnes of Upstate GIS, BNRC’s geospatial model—a mapping system using Geographic Information Systems (GIS)—is near completion.

Important conservation goals identified in BNRC’s Strategic Conservation Plan have been translated into measurable criteria. Using data from the Commonwealth and The Nature Conservancy, the model weights the relative importance of various conservation criteria including ecology/habitat, climate resiliency, water quality, agricultural lands, and recreational values. The model helps identify the presence or absence of those criteria in parcels across Berkshire County.

“It’s a more efficient way to look at the work ahead and be proactive about projects that come our way,” says Beth Mills, Director of Land Conservation. “We can use the model to better understand the landscape and scale where we put our attention, so that our impact and goals are attainable.”

GIS data always informs BNRC’s conservation decisions; this model can be used for planning and to predict fundraising needs, too. By putting the data into this platform, staff can better understand where conservation dollars—that come from you, and other BNRC donors—will be best spent.

The model will enable us to ask complicated questions, and get answers to help guide donor-funded conservation efforts,” BNRC President Jenny Hansell said.

Questions like: Which landscapes are doing the most to sequester carbon? How can we best manage them to promote climate resilience? This geospatial tool helps target and focus.

The model will also be invaluable in supporting local land trusts. Using this data, we can query the model to answer their specific questions about the location of lands of high conservation value in their town or watershed.

As Karen Ross, long-time BNRC board member, observes, “this is an incredibly valuable tool that brings evidence-based decisions to the fore, to be combined with BNRC’s local knowledge and personal connections.”