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The southeastern United States still harbors globally significant biodiversity and other important natural resources despite decades of habitat loss and ecosystem alterations. The Southeast is also the fastest growing region in the United States. The trend appears to be driven by climate, economic stability, cultural attractions and the natural environment. This growth will continue to deplete and degrade the critical ecological resources that remain, and it is imperative that comprehensive efforts to efficiently and effectively protect these resources are developed rapidly. This report represents exploration of a regional conservation strategy needed to conserve the integrity of ecological systems essential for human well-being.
The Southeastern Ecological Framework (SEF) is a decision support tool created through systematic landscape analysis of ecological significance and the identification of critical landscape linkages in a way that can be replicated, enhanced with new data, and applied at different scales. It is intended to provide a foundation for the adoption and implementation of effective and efficient conservation measures to minimize environmental degradation and protect important ecosystem services. It has been developed for all eight southeastern states contained within the boundaries of the Environmental Protection Agency Region 4: Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee and Kentucky by staff of the Planning and Analysis Branch of EPA Region 4 and researchers at the University of Florida. Work on the project began in October 1998 and was completed in December 2001.
The Framework was derived using Geographic Information Systems (GIS), a computer mapping technology that links maps and related information. Data on which the work was built were acquired for the entire region and from individual states within the region. Data availability and consistency is improving rapidly, but is currently somewhat limited for projects of this scale. The land area identified in the Framework represents 43 percent of the land in the eight states. Of that 43 percent, 22 percent is in existing conservation lands, 12 percent in open water (rivers, lakes and reservoirs), 14 percent is in wetlands outside existing conservation lands and 52 percent is in privately held uplands (that include 100 year floodplains).
When the SEF was completed, three applications of it were developed to demonstrate its conservation usefulness at different scales. The first was a region-wide application: prioritization of the SEF to identify the most significant conservation priorities for the region. The second was analysis of the Mississippi Delta with the goal of developing a planning resource to highlight ecological priorities for a variety of natural resource programs, both federal and non-federal. The final application was at the local scale: the development of a conservation plan for Murray County, Georgia that included analysis of the usefulness of the SEF for local conservation purposes.
The Southeastern Ecological Framework Final Report includes some valuable tools for use by others: Guide to Resources for Regional Conservation Planning (Section IX), a listing of critical resources used in the development of this report and of value to anyone engaged in a similar endeavor; a Data Library (Section X) compiled on three compact disks that include input data, data analyses and results for the original SEF delineation and the three applications; and a listing of Conservation Tools and Strategies that can be employed in land conservation including both regulatory, incentive-based and voluntary strategies (Appendix H).
While the work undertaken was supported by Region 4 of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the products developed have potential value for other federal agencies, state and local agencies and for non-governmental organizations. It is the sincere hope of all involved, that the process and work products can be creatively employed to enhance effective conservation efforts in the southeastern United States and elsewhere.

Related Sites:

GeoPlan Center, University of Florida
US Environmental Protection Agency
US Environmental Protection Agency Region 4