Designing Sustainable Landscapes (DSL) is a landscape conservation project applied to 13 states in the Northeastern United States. The purpose is to provide guidance for strategic habitat conservation by assessing ecological integrity, regional connectivity, and landscape capability for a suite of focal species across the landscape. Assessments are done for both the current landscape and potential future landscapes, as modified by models of urban growth, climate change, and sea level rise.

The DSL project provides much of the basis of the conservation planning tools Nature’s Network ( and Connect the Connecticut (

Designing Sustainable Landscapes is a project of the Landscape Ecology Lab at the University of Massachusetts (Bradley Compton, Ethan Plunkett,  Joanna Grand, William DeLuca, and Scott Jackson, with significant contributions from Kevin McGarigal, Liz Willey, Andrew Milliken, Scott Schwenk, and Eduard Ene). It is supported by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s North Atlantic-Appalachian Region, the Northeast Climate Adaptation Science Center (NE CASC) and the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

New! ecoConnect: Regional ecosystem-based connectivity

We’re excited to announce our ecosystem-based models of regional connectivity, created with funding from the USGS Northeast Climate Adaptation Science Center. We assessed connectivity across the Northeastern U.S. at multiple scales and without relying on predefined conservation targets, thus model results work flexibly with various conservation strategies. Results are now available to inform conservation actions aimed at maintaining connected landscapes for multiple species, both locally and across the Northeast.

Read about it and try the new stopgap web viewer, to be replaced with a full featured site-scoring tool in Spring 2024.

2020 update

Highlights of this update include: 

 We are happy to announce a new version (version 5) of many of the DSL data products, as of March 2020. This update concentrates on improving source data, bringing in the latest versions and correcting errors. We have updated the landcover and many of the ecological settings variables, rerun the integrity metrics, the Index of Ecological Integrity, and the focal species models, and updated most elements of the Landscape Conservation Design (Nature’s Network), as well as the SPRAWL urban growth model, climate data, future species projections, and ecological impact metrics. We have not updated the sea level rise model, aquatic cores, and future elements of the Landscape Conservation Design. We plan to update these in the next few years. For now, the elements that have not been updated (version 3) are still valid, but data will not necessarily match the updated elements. Highlights include:

  • A new species model for the spotted turtle (Clemmys guttata) and species-specific landscape conservation tools, including conservation cores, connectivity, and road-crossing vulnerability.
  • The representation of development has been vastly improved with the inclusion of Microsoft’s building footprints.
  • The Nature’s Network landscape conservation design cores now use the second edition of The Nature Conservancy’s Resilience, which includes the new coastal resilience.
  • New data for roads, road-stream crossings, and dams.
  • Significant improvements in the NHD stream linework, with several thousand errors fixed.

For a summary of this update, see dsl_documentation_phase5_whats_new.pdf.