May 15, 2018|By Katie Allen| Community Development
For many people, it may be difficult to recall a time when the Internet was a small research project, there was no Facebook, no webinars, and a little thing called Google was just getting off the ground. But a couple of decades ago, aside from annual conferences, the halls of academia, and personal network exchanges, there was not a meeting space—real or virtual—available for ongoing training and technical assistance for those who wanted to drive innovative conservation strategies.

The Conservation Fund recognized a clear need for a national network to connect people and organizations that were building new approaches to conservation. That’s why in 1998 the Fund established the Conservation Leadership Network (CLN) to serve as a catalyst and platform for collaborative learning.

5 15 IMG 4580CLN's Kendra Briechle speaking to participants at the Balancing Nature and Commerce in Rural Communities and Landscapes course. Photo by Whitney Flanagan.

As the network grew so did our reach. Along with the technical approaches to conservation, CLN is also focused on the “people-side” of conservation, and have made strides leading communities to understand the true value of conservation and associated opportunities to drive economic development.

“CLN has demonstrated that the best and most practical solutions to conservation and economic challenges emerge from the voices and perspectives from all sectors.” 

—Larry Selzer, CEO and President, The Conservation Fund

Over the course of our 20 years, we’ve made it a priority to forge diverse partnerships. These include traditional conservation partners such as conservation nonprofits and all levels of government in natural resources, transportation, environmental regulation, and economic development. Equally important to our network are non-traditional partners such as corporations, utilities and infrastructure developers. Indeed, a founding principle of the Fund was to bring all parties to the table—public, private and nonprofit—to create conservation solutions.

Across the country, CLN workshops and events offer lessons in how to be more proactive and less reactive; to be multifunctional, not single purpose; to think large scale, not small; and to better integrate with other efforts to manage growth and development.

The Conservation Fund and CLN operate at the intersection of conservation and economic development, creating win-win-win scenarios for the environment, communities and economies. This is why CLN has developed national and regional programs for communities seeking to balance nature and commerce. Going beyond conservation, these programs provide communities the expertise to capitalize sustainably on natural resources to gain economic benefits. By dispelling the myth that you can’t have development and conservation at the same time, we’ve helped over 700 communities in 45 states safeguard their community character, revitalize their downtowns and develop more walkable communities.

One such community is Rockbridge County, Virginia. A rural Appalachian community and a gateway to scenic landscapes, they sought community renewal and a thriving future. CLN, through its Balancing Nature and Commerce program, provided the skills and capacity to capitalize on the economic opportunities of their surrounding natural assets. Together with CLN, Rockbridge leaders created an action plan that sustainably supports more than 100,000 acres of public land and builds an outdoor recreational economy, generating jobs and small businesses, as well as increasing visitor spending in local communities.

tubing SamDeanPhoto by Sam Dean.

We’ve proven that it is possible to generate revenue from tourism, recreation, and new businesses through conservation and stewardship of natural resource assets through many projects. For example, with our help Pennsylvania Wilds has demonstrated steady increases in visitor spending in the region over the past 10 years, which has contributed to a 25 percent increase in tourism jobs.

5 15 Penn Wilds c Nicholas TonelliPhoto by Nicholas Tonelli.

Another success story is Pennsylvania’s South Mountain Partnership, which has made big strides since attending the Balancing Nature and Commerce conference several years ago. Their latest economic assessment values the local impact of the orchard industry at $580 million, supporting 8,500 jobs, while creating a statewide impact 2 to 4 times greater.

5 15 Blossom Trail jpegs 3 17 17122Photo by Loy Elliott.

To be a catalyst for conservation, also means to stay relevant and innovative in how we provide assistance to conservation practitioners as well as how we deliver technical assistance. We’ve grown our programmatic services beyond trainings to include large conference convenings, peer exchanges, focused group engagement and coaching, webinars and toolkits, and re-granting programs. Exciting developments in conservation approaches in the last decade have led us to build new programs related to market-driven conservation, such as compensatory mitigation and water quality trading, across the country.

This year we mark our 20th anniversary with two very important initiatives to celebrate our network’s reach and impact. To honor the legacy of CLN’s first director, Dr. Mark A. Benedict, we will be launching a peer-exchange program for green infrastructure using a strategic approach to conservation. And in December, we will hold the National Summit for Gateway Communities, where participants will learn about strategies and actions for supporting gateway and rural communities.

CLN believes that when you bring diverse perspectives together you can achieve greater environmental and economic success by developing shared knowledge, networks and technical skills. We are ready to support practitioners and communities with innovative developments in the conservation movement for another 20 years and beyond.

 Please join our mailing list to get all the up-to-date information about workshops and technical assistance as well as the launch of these great initiatives.