As coordinator of the Staying Connected partnership, Jessica Levine works across teams and borders to keep eastern Canadian forests intact.
Jessie Levine is a Senior Conservation Advisor for Nature United and Coordinator of Staying Connected, an international partnership of conservation groups and provincial and state agencies working together to sustain forested landscape connections across southeast Canada and the northeastern U.S. Prior to joining Nature United, Jessie worked as an environmental science and planning consultant to community based NGOs as well as national and international environmental organizations. When she’s not working to keep forests connected, she’s out enjoying them (hiking, camping, cross-country skiing, kayaking—all manner of outdoor adventure) with her family.
You celebrated a big conservation win recently. What happened?
Building on years of hard work led by The Nature Conservancy (Nature United's global affiliate) and our 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.
Implementation is just getting underway, but it will be led by the states and provinces. My role at Nature United is supporting those leaders—making sure they have access to data and good science. I think the resolution will go a long way in bringing transportation and resource agencies together to think bigger. We have lots of great examples from across the region. I’d love to see those examples shared so that they can be applied in other places.
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.
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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.
I grew up in New York, spent 15 years on the west coast, and moved back east 11 years ago to Montreal, where I live now. So I have a connection to this region. Our family spends our weekends at our cabin in the Adirondacks. We love to spend time there because it’s beautiful and wild and because everything we love to do can be done there — we backpack, we canoe. I’m a trail runner and I love to cycle and swim and cross-country ski. As a family we hike, cross-country ski and take paddling and camping trips every summer in the Adirondacks. I love that my job allows me to help ensure the long-term health of a large landscape that is so special to me.