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Archive for December, 2009

On June 29, 2008, the Western Governors Association, which is an independent, nonprofit organization representing the governors of 19 states and three U.S.-Flag islands in the Pacific, adopted the “Wildlife Corridors Initiative Report.” This report was developed through a multi-state collaborative effort that included six separate working groups, each of which was charged with developing findings and recommendations on various aspects of wildlife corridors and crucial habitat.

In adopting the report, the Governors established the Western Governors Wildlife Council (WGWC) “for the purpose of coordinating and overseeing implementation of the report, so that we can identify key wildlife corridors and crucial wildlife habitats in the West, and conserve these lands—and the vast wildlife species that depend upon them—for future generations.”

The mission of the WGWC, consistent with WGA Resolution 07-01, is to identify key wildlife corridors and crucial wildlife habitats in the West and to develop and coordinate implementation of needed policy options and tools for conserving those landscapes.

The WGWC met October 3-5, 2009 in Helena, Montana to discuss a state-based Decision Support Systems (DSS). State DSSs would be used to compile information; assure data quality; and make the data, models and analyses available at scales useful to anyone analyzing proposed energy, land use, and transportation projects or examining climate adaptation strategies.

DSSs would be developed and used by individual states, while promoting the prospects for and benefits of integrating systems and their component information across jurisdictions. Also discussed were definitions of crucial habitat for wildlife and guidelines that states can use to develop regionally compatible DSSs. Crucial habitat definitions were further refined from those included in a report from earlier in the year titled Wildlife Corridors Initiative Report, which was developed to help states prioritize habitat and corridors within their boundaries in order to meet a state’s conservation objectives. The refined definitions are a necessary first step to achieve the compatibility and consistency of categorizations for species across state boundaries.

The definitions are:

Crucial habitats: places containing the resources, including food, water, cover, shelter and “important wildlife corridors,” that contribute to survival and reproduction of aquatic and terrestrial wildlife and are necessary to prevent unacceptable declines, or facilitate future recovery of wildlife populations, or are important ecological systems with high biological diversity value.

Important Wildlife Corridors: a subset of crucial habitats that provide connectivity over different time scales (including seasonal or longer) among areas used by animal and plant species. Wildlife corridors can exist within unfragmented landscapes or join naturally or artificially fragmented habitats, and serve to maintain or increase essential genetic and demographic connection of aquatic and terrestrial populations.

With established definitions, states can begin the process of assembling important data, analyzing and prioritizing that data by category based on habitat conservation needs, and turning that data into a useful tool.

Gov. Brian Schweitzer, current chairman of the Western Governors’ Association, addressed the Western Governors’ Wildlife Council meeting, which was attended by a variety of public, non-profit and private entities and the general public – including representatives from several western affiliates of the National Wildlife Federation.

“My colleagues in the Western Governors’ Association and I face a real challenge,” Schweitzer said. “We are seeking a balance between developing the tremendous resources of the region and our desire to protect the landscapes and creatures that inhabit them.

“The maps, models and data sets that can be generated by wildlife Decision Support Systems will be shared with our communities and state managers to inform their choices as they seek to provide the best opportunities for meeting our needs for growth and maintaining room to roam for wildlife.”

WGA’s Wildlife Corridors Initiative has brought together experts from government, tribes, industry, conservation, academia and other entities to advise the states on strategies to protect wildlife. States will identify and map crucial habitat and wildlife corridors individually, but in a manner that is comparable across the region and supplies wildlife information early in land planning and decision-making processes. Schweitzer said protecting connectivity is an approach that will help address many of the challenges wildlife face, such as fossil and renewable energy development, busy roads and rails, growing communities and climate change.

“Wildlife knows no boundaries so, to be successful, wildlife protection must work across jurisdictions – federal, state, local and tribal,” Schweitzer said. “Since maintaining healthy wildlife is a primary public trust responsibility of the states, it makes good sense for Montana and other states to take the lead.”

Jack D. Sahl, director for Environment and Resource Sustainability for Southern California Edison, said such environmental decision-support tools create a more productive dialogue that should create better results for all. Sahl also serves on the steering team of Freedom to Roam, a broad-based coalition of organizations and businesses working to increase support for and protection of wildlife corridors across North America so that animals can continue to move and adapt with human use and climate change.

“Working in partnership, these tools can be used to protect habitat and wildlife so that government, communities, and the electricity supply industry can meet the clean energy needs for today’s and future generations,” Sahl said. “The Western Governors’ Wildlife Council presented tools that will help to evaluate solar and wind projects so they can be located in the right place and permitted in a timely manner.”

Dr. Stephen Torbit, regional executive director for the National Wildlife Federation, noted during a peripheral non-government organization (NGO) meeting at the same time and location as the WGAWC that in order for the DSS to be effective it needs to be activated quickly, before more development is completed. “There needs to be some type of mechanism to engage, and hold accountable, the federal component of this landscape level planning,” Torbit said. “Without holding the BLM’s feet-to-the-fire on these programs we’ll have little success in the long run.”

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