Prioritizing Cape Fear Arch Working Lands for Protection in Southeastern North Carolina
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The North Carolina Coastal Land Trust, along with twenty other organizations, participates in the Cape Fear Arch Conservation Collaboration, a partnership to conserve high quality natural areas and biodiversity in the Cape Fear Arch, encompassing parts of coastal North and South Carolina. In its Conservation Plan, the Cape Fear Arch Conservation Collaboration cites the importance of working lands. Ecologically, privately owned working lands can serve as corridors of connectivity between larger already protected lands and can have important restoration potential. Private working lands in North Carolina are under increasing pressure from suburbanization and increasing land value, making it financially attractive for private owners to sell their land to developers. Identifying priority parcels of working lands in the Cape Fear Arch would be beneficial to the conservation goals of the Cape Fear Arch Conservation Collaboration as well as preserving the rural, historic, and economic resources of the area. This study prioritized parcels in three Cape Fear Arch Priority Areas located in Bladen and Cumberland County, NC: Suggs Mill Pond/Bushy Lake Complex, Tussock Bay Complex, and Jones Lake/Salters Lake and other Bladen Lakes Forest Bays. I used multi-attribute utility analysis to construct an objectives hierarchy of goals for working lands conservation with Janice Allen of the North Carolina Coastal Land Trust (NCCLT) as the primary decision maker. A preliminary analysis used the fifty largest parcels in the study area, using parcel area as a strict threshold cutoff. The smallest parcel in the preliminary analysis was 495 acres. I identified thirteen criteria: distance to nearest Managed Area (areas already under protection), parcel size, presence of prime agricultural soil, area of farmland, area of forest, forest state (natural or planted), area of significant natural heritage area, stream frontage, North Carolina Coastal Region Evaluation of Wetland Significance wetland type, multiple parcel ownership, enrolled in conservation agreement, percent of parcel in managed area, and presence of known longleaf pine. I assigned each criteria a weight and utility value based on Janice Allen’s input. The results of this analysis successfully prioritized the fifty parcels in the study area on a scale of 0 to 1. Large parcels near Managed Areas and those containing significant natural heritage area or forested areas ranked highest on the priority scale; however, there were some areas that contained significant natural heritage areas that were not identified in the preliminary analysis. A secondary analysis focused on one Priority Area, Suggs Mill Pond/Bushy Lake Complex, and used all parcels greater than one hundred acres. The same objectives hierarchy was used, although the criteria of Presence of Longleaf and Known Conservation Agreements were removed because of difficulty obtaining the data for a large dataset. Results of this analysis suggest that the preliminary analysis missed important parcels for conservation to the NCCLT because they were smaller than the cutoff imposed. The secondary analysis incorporated these parcels and found many to be of high conservation priority for the NCCLT. This study suggests that future prioritizations by the NCCLT use one hundred acres as the base cutoff point, to fully encompass all parcels that could potentially meet their conservation goals. The results further suggest that setting a firm cutoff for one single attribute may overlook valuable alternatives for conservation.
DepartmentNicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences
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