A Smarter, More Collaborative Way to Conserve
By Ryan Moehring
Natural resource management in the United States is experiencing an unmistakable paradigm shift. In response to transboundary stressors such as habitat fragmentation and climate change, wildlife and land managers at the federal, state, and tribal levels are transitioning from plans that operate along political boundaries to trans-jurisdictional, landscape-level strategies that more closely mirror the ecosystems they seek to conserve.
While there exists a broad and growing consensus in the scientific community that the landscape-level approach is the appropriate conservation model to address landscape-scale stressors, this awareness has spurred a genesis of multiple programs from a variety of conservation stakeholders, which in turn, has created the potential for duplication.
Ideally, conservation policies and initiatives should be complementary and synergistic. Until recently, however (and due partly to advances in technology that have increased expectations for data sharing and information exchange), most landscape-level work has been largely disconnected from other meso-regional and national efforts, creating a perception that projects are either competitive or duplicative.
For example, the U.S. Forest Service has begun development of the Integrated Resource and Protection Strategy (IRPS), a landscape-level information system designed to inform Forest Service decision making in the Northern Region. The Bureau of Land Management has a similar initiative, Rapid Eco-regional Assessments (REAs), which are geospatial landscape evaluations designed to identify areas of high ecological value within an ecoregion. The Western Governors’ Association, in concert with state fish and wildlife agencies throughout the western U.S., has initiated several pilot projects to develop Decision Support Systems (DSS) to identify important fish and wildlife habitat and corridors. The Heart of the Rockies Initiative has developed the High Divide Project to engage in collaborative conservation planning.
The U.S. Department of the Interior’s Landscape Conservation Cooperatives (LCCs) provide yet another example. Intended to deliver a coordinating framework for science and information, LCCs inform a collective vision for conservation in the face of landscape stressors. At an October 2010 steering committee meeting for the Great Northern LCC (GNLCC), the committee recognized that significant geographic overlap existed between IRPS, REA, and DSS projects and with the approval of their counterparts in the affected agencies, agreed to launch the Landscape Assessment and Decision Support System Demonstration Project to ensure that these projects were as collaborative and efficient as possible.
“As technology has increased our ability to exchange and use information,” said Tom Olliff, National Park Service Coordinator for the GNLCC, “the opportunities for resource managers to collaborate have also increased, especially when ecological, administrative, and political boundaries overlap. We are working diligently with our partners to ensure this cooperation achieves maximum efficiencies, while producing results no individual agency could achieve on its own.”
To this end, a collaborative team was appointed by the GNLCC steering committee to oversee the project. The team consists of 9 individuals from as many agencies and organizations, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the Western Governors’ Association, the states of Idaho, Montana, and Washington, and the Heart of the Rockies Initiative. Among its many duties, the team will take measures to understand any overlaps that may exist between the projects, as well as any potential gaps in data.
The team will also pursue other project goals, such as recommending cross-project data sharing protocols, as well as ways to coordinate similar projects in the future, mindful of the fact that initiating coordination activities prior to project implementation will generate even greater efficiencies. At the end of the project, the team will report both on short- and long-term opportunities for the coordination of other existing and proposed assessment studies.
More information about this project is available on the GNLCC website, here.