Western Governors reaffirmed their commitment to work across political boundaries to tackle landscape-scale wildlife conservation through the Western Governors' Wildlife Council and committed their state agencies to complete wildlife decision-support systems within the next three years.
Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire, who was elected as WGA's new Vice Chair today, moderated the session.
"As environmental issues grow more challenging, we need to look more often at opportunities for cooperation across state borders and with Canada and Mexico," she said.
The governors have been working to conserve crucial wildlife habitat and corridors through the council, which has brought states together for the first time to coordinate their data and produce more accurate wildlife counts and maps.
"Balancing wildlife conservation with development is only one piece of the puzzle," said C.L. "Butch" Otter, WGA's new Chair. "The Western landscapes we treasure also are facing threats from wildfires, drought, pine beetle infestation and invasive species."
Experts offered advice on ways states can expand and integrate their efforts to improve conservation of water, wildlife and forest resources.
Sally Jewell, President and CEO of REI, said, "Ecosystems don't know political boundaries, so conservation of the most important wildlife corridors, water and forest resources require cooperation across multiple public and private entities."
The U.S. Department of Energy has awarded $3 million for 17 states to develop their wildlife decision-support systems. The information will be accessible not only to governmental entities, but also landowners, conservation groups, industry and agricultural interests. Eight pilot projects across the West were launched earlier this month to begin developing these compatible systems.
The systems will be developed in coordination with diverse interest groups that will be the ultimate users of the wildlife information. This month the WGA Wildlife Council formed a stakeholder advisory group to act as a sounding board for council activities and products. The group's first meeting will take place on Tuesday, June 29 in Whitefish.
Wildlife Pilot Project Descriptions
Utah, Nevada, California and Arizona are identifying areas of wildlife conservation potential at a landscape scale. Their goal is to develop a useful and consistent source of mapped biological information across the states. At the end of this two year pilot project, each of the states will be positioned for designing, building and implementing a publicly available mapping tool that can be used to encourage energy development that minimizes impact to wildlife.
New Mexico and Colorado are working to implement an MOU signed by Governors Ritter and Richardson last December. Their joint pilot will identify and prioritize crucial habitat and important wildlife corridors in the region, and will evaluate potential threats to those corridors from future development. The creation of publicly available wildlife mapping tools will guide the development of strategies to aid the management of crucial wildlife habitat and important migration corridors shared by these two states.
Idaho and Montana are partnering in the coordination of a transboundary wildlife mapping tool for fish, wildlife and habitats along the Idaho-Montana Divide. The pilot will focus on shrub-steppe, high desert and coniferous forest ecosystems and associated fish, wildlife and plant species in the Bailey's Ecoregional Sections of the Beaverhead Mountains, Idaho Batholith, Bitterroot Mountains and Flathead Valley. The joint development of this mapping tool will make it easier for developers and the states to identify areas where development can occur with minimal impacts on wildlife.
South Dakota, North Dakota and Nebraska are identifying important habitat for priority grassland species. Habitat mapping will be combined with energy site planning to allow for improved risk assessment and/or mitigation planning of future energy sites.
Oklahoma and Kansas are identifying crucial Lesser Prairie Chicken habitat across the five LPC states, which includes Colorado, New Mexico and Texas.Once crucial habitat for the species is identified across the five-state region, the states will work together to assess risk of habitat loss in relation to various threats, such as wind energy development and agriculture. Ultimately the states will be developing a range-wide mapping tool that could be used to identify areas important for LPC conservation, as well as connecting corridors for population maintenance.
Washington and Idaho are partnering in the conceptualization and coordination of a transboundary wildlife mapping tool for fish, wildlife and habitats that occur along the Columbia Plateau Ecoregion in Idaho, Oregon and Washington. The pilot will focus on the Arid Lands shrub-steppe, high desert, and associated fish, wildlife and plant species in those states. The joint development of this mapping tool will make it easier for developers and the states to identify areas where development can occur with minimal impacts to wildlife.
Wyoming is building a wildlife mapping tool that will function seamlessly across all political jurisdictions within the state. They will develop a centralized database for housing important wildlife information and will make that information publicly available to help identify areas where development, particularly energy development, can occur with minimal impacts to wildlife.
Alaska will be working with local and federal governments, NGOs, industry and university partners to prepare and consolidate spatial data for respective aquatic/resident fish and arctic migratory caribou herds. Through this effort they will demonstrate capabilities to define crucial habitats and corridors using common definitions outlined in a Western Governors' Wildlife Council white paper.
More detailed descriptions of the state wildlife projects are available on the Web at: www.westgov.org.