Reconnecting Stranded Public Lands is a Win-Win for Conservation and People
- Reconfiguring stranded public land parcels can increase conservation in Montana.
- Three conservation reserve designs, confined by budget, increase habitat conservation.
- All reserve designs increase county-level landscape connectivity.
The spatial distribution of many public lands in the western U.S. is an artifact of 19th-century land-disposal policies. While this legacy is sometimes an impediment to conservation, it may also provide novel opportunities to spatially reorganize public conservation lands within realistic budget constraints. Here we seek to understand the conservation potential of strategically rearranging inaccessible (“stranded”) public land in Montana, US. We use conservation reserve network design and consider coarse- and fine-filter conservation features—land cover types and predicted habitat for 12 umbrella species, respectively—and incorporate habitat connectivity corridors into one reserve design scenario. All conservation reserve network designs are constrained by a budget equal to the current value of stranded public land parcels and seek to meet or exceed the extent of conservation currently provided by stranded parcels with respect to land cover type and predicted species habitat. We find that each conservation reserve simulation expands the total protected area in Montana within the realistic budget constraint. Two maximum coverage scenarios, which exhaust the budget, result in reserve designs that substantially exceed coarse- and fine-filter conservation targets. All reserve designs provide landscape connectivity benefits. Our results illustrate notable and practical opportunities to develop conservation reserve networks in the western US that account for landscape connectivity and that benefit both private landowners and biodiversity conservation efforts through land trades and acquisitions.