Coordinator of the Staying Connected Initiative, an international partnership of conservation groups and provincial and state agencies.
Jessica Levine Coordinator of the Staying Connected Initiative, an international partnership of conservation groups and provincial and state agencies. © Melody Charlie

Our People

Jessie Levine

Senior Conservation Advisor

Canada

Biography

Jessie Levine joined Nature United in 2013. She is a Senior Conservation Advisor and Coordinator of the Staying Connected Initiative, a binational partnership of conservation organizations and provincial and state agencies working together to sustain forested landscape connections across the northern Appalachian region of southeastern Canada and the northeastern US. Jessie is a Coordinating Committee member for the Network for Landscape Conservation and is the Eastern North American lead for the IUCN Connectivity Conservation Specialist Group.

Prior to joining Nature United, Jessie worked in a range of positions across North America, including managing and coordinating programs for local and international environmental organizations, facilitating biodiversity research at McGill University, and directing environmental education programs in the US and Latin America. Jessie has an MSc in Energy and Resources and an MCP in Environmental Planning, both from the University of California, Berkeley.

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What's been one of your biggest achievements working for Nature United?

Building on years of hard work led by our global affiliate and partners, the New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers signed a resolution in August 2016 committing to work together on habitat connectivity. It was really exciting because we were deeply involved in writing the resolution, and it has put the region on a path to developing innovations in connectivity, through transportation and land-use planning.

You have a unique role at Nature United—how did it evolve?

I started out working in the Adirondacks in upstate New York. The Adirondacks are a place I care deeply about and spend a lot of time—it’s only two hours from home in Montreal. I advised on policy and funding to help advance freshwater connectivity in the Lake Champlain Basin. That work eventually led to an opportunity to take on leadership for Staying Connected for Nature United, which spans the border and develops strategies for keeping the region connected: science to identify where to focus, local engagement, land-use planning, policy, and transportation.

Our partners are firmly rooted in particular places, such as the Berkshire region of Massachusetts or the northern Green Mountains in Quebec, which is essential for getting great things done but often their roles don’t allow them to think the beyond boundaries of their provinces, states or towns. Through the partnership, I'm working with those local organizations and agencies to unify their visions at the regional scale.

How does climate change factor into your work?

One way that species will adapt to climate change is by moving to find new, suitable habitat. Fish, for example, will need to move upstream to find “cold pockets” in the water. We need rivers and streams to be connected so fish can get upstream as it becomes increasingly harder to find those cold-water pockets.

For wildlife, the general trends show wildlife moving north in our region, as the Migrations in Motion Map indicates, but since we can’t predict exactly where they will go, keeping the landscape connected is key. We’re doing that through strategic land protection with partners, working with transportation departments to make sure roads are crossable for wildlife, and figuring out how to link together protected areas.

With intensifying storms, communities are vulnerable to impacts like flooding, and a changing climate also threatens livelihoods tied to forests. Keeping forests healthy and connected for wildlife can also help mitigate flooding impacts by allowing them to filter run-off and absorb high flows. It also allows forests to provide shade for brook trout, an iconic species that helps to underpin the tourism economy.

You’re a dual citizen of the U.S. and Canada. How does your work mirror that part of your life?

I work in a large region that crosses the border, and my work takes me back and forth between Canada and the U.S. The challenge of advancing landscape conservation on two sides of an international border is huge – and I suppose that’s part of what I love about my job. It’s thinking about enabling conditions in many different places at once, trying to figure out whether a lesson learned in Vermont is applicable in New Brunswick, and it’s bringing together all multiple partners to think big picture.

The Staying Connected partnership evolved from a bi-national collaboration of scientists (from Nature United and other organizations) under the umbrella of Two Countries, One Forest. Nature United, as part of a global organization known for its collaborative spirit and tangible results, is well-positioned to work with partners to protect this cross-border landscape of forests and rural communities.

What do you love most about your job?

I’m really excited about the transportation work we’re doing, bringing transportation agencies together to share information including best practices that work for this landscape in both Canada and the U.S. While there is a growing awareness of the effects of roads on natural habitats, it’s a challenge to make connectivity a part of agency practice and to do it in a way that is publically acceptable. There are many potential benefits from this work, including safety, flood resilience, and saving money on maintenance. A big part of my role is to help make these investments—in better culverts and crossing structures for wildlife—become business as usual for transportation agencies.

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