Conservation Planning Tools Assessment
The Conservation Planning Tools Assessment was created to determine planners' use of some of the conservation and open space planning tools currently available in the field. Based on the results, there is no doubt that planners are utilizing GIS tools, as well as many of the other tools long used by planning professionals to gather information and actively engage the public. Conservation efforts require an array of tools and methods, collaborative strategies, and the ability to seek and remain open to new and creative solutions. Planning is absolutely critical to the conservation goals of communities.
Professional planners comprise the majority (82%) of the assessment's 1,872-person sample. Most (65%) work in the public sector versus 17% in the private sector. Others working in the conservation planning field that responded to the assessment include: academics, non-profit professionals, land use attorneys, elected officials, and engaged citizens. Conservation planning is occurring in jurisdictions of all scales and sizes, but primarily at the municipality level (56%) followed by the county level (26%); and with populations of less than 100,000 (56%). 19% work with jurisdictions with a population above 500,000.
Almost half (49%) reported receiving assistance from some kind of local land management agency or conservation organization. Most of that assistance came from local land trusts (51%), state (46%) and local (32%) land management agencies. National conservation organizations accounted for 24% of assistance, including The Nature Conservancy (6%) and Trust for Public Land (3%) among others. Several federal agencies provided assistance, including U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services (26%), U.S.D.A. Forest Service (17%), U.S. National Park Service (14%), and U.S. Bureau of Land Management (9%).
Planners are certainly no strangers to GIS tools. 74% reported using them either frequently (34%) or always (40%) in their work. Almost half (49%) reported that there is strong support for conservation planning tools in their organization and about half (48%) claimed that their organization is very aware of the capabilities of conservation planning tools for planning-related work. Technical support, training, and funding for tools, however, is lacking.
Of the tools provided within the assessment, planners clearly gravitated toward the build-out/open space planning tools, such as CommunityViz and UrbanSim, as opposed to the biodiversity-based planning tools on the list. Despite their awareness of those specific tools, very few found them useful to their work. From the results, there was clearly little awareness of any of the tools, even less actual use of the tools in their work, and barely a trace of any real proficiency in the tools. Increasing barriers to entry for understanding fast-evolving conservation planning tools may provide some explanation to why many planners show a lack of proficiency in the tools. As the field of conservation planning rapidly grows and the specialization of these tools intensifies, planners have to learn a vast and complicated literature in order to accurately apply these new tools to their work. Another common preventative factor is clearly the cost of the tools, not to mention the time and training needed to learn them. Raising awareness about the growing capabilities of these tools, however, may prompt more planners to seek new ways of partnering with experts in the conservation planning field who utilize many of these tools on a regular basis. The results of such collaborations could lead to more informed land use decisions.
Many planners did express an interest in training opportunities for conservation planning tools. When asked what their level of interest was in workshops and web-based training for conservation planning tools the majority (63%) indicated "moderate-high" levels of interest, and 19% indicated a "very high" level of interest.
Communicating conservation planning information with decision makers poses some challenges to planners, but nothing that suggested any overwhelming difficulties. Only 9% found it very easy; 31% somewhat easy. 26% took a neutral position and only 27% reported it either somewhat or very difficult. Planners use a variety of resources and media types to convey information to decision makers.