Strategic Habitat Conservation
Conserving the Nature of America

Related Information:

Landscape Conservation Cooperatives

FWS Climate Strategy

Science Applications


spacer Mallards. Credit: USFWS

Our Conservation Approach

Guided by our vision for the future and the values we strive to express, we will identify clear, consistent and shared strategic priorities to achieve landscapes capable of sustaining fish and wildlife populations for future generations. This approach is designed to help us get the most value from our investments to meet the challenges we face today and in the future.

This approach will also support:

  • Use of a consistent conservation framework that will enable our workforce to plan, design and deliver conservation actions more strategically;
  • Provide greater transparency, include a science-driven conservation investment decision-making process (agency-wide), reflect Service priorities;
  • Increase accountability by measuring our progress – both as a Service and employees/partners;
  • Operate in a more coordinated and collaborative way by focusing programmatic efforts towards shared outcomes.
SHC Elements: Biological Planning, Conservation Design, Delivery, Monitoring, and Research. Credit: USFWS.
FWS partners and biologist Greg Neudecker lead tour of Blackfoot Valley. Credit: Bruce Andre / USFWS

Strategic Habitat Conservation Principles:

  1. Start with ecologically meaningful scales:  Addressing conservation challenges that cross jurisdictional boundaries, such as habitat fragmentation, wildlife disease, and climate change, requires conservation planning at an ecologically appropriate scale (e.g., watershed, ecoregions) rather than smaller scales (e.g., single land management units) that coincide with jurisdictional boundaries.

    By starting at larger versus smaller scales, we are better able to address conservation challenges (e.g., climate change, disease) that cross arbitrary boundaries.

  2. Work in partnership to maximize effectiveness and efficiency:  To be successful with conservation at landscape scales, it is even more important to involve a diversity of partners, both public and private, that have an interest in the geography.

    Broad conservation partnerships such as Landscape Conservation Cooperatives (LCCs) and Joint Ventures provide forums for identification of conservation priorities and common science needs, leveraging funding and capacity, and implementing conservation actions.  Further, public support is critical for implementation of conservation actions at large scales.

    By establishing enduring conservation partnerships seeking shared conservation outcomes, we are positioning ourselves to better leverage resources and support for ensuring landscapes capable of sustaining diverse and sustainable populations of fish, wildlife, and plants.

  3. Adaptive management framework:

    Elements are:

    • Biological Planning: Through Biological Planning, we build a shared foundation for future conservation efforts by identifying our conservation targets, describing current and desired future conditions and defining the conservation deficit, and refining species-habitat relationships. Because the resources needed to conserve all of our trust resources outweigh our existing capacity, we must focus our investments wisely. Surrogate species is one tool to help focus our biological planning efforts in a way that benefits multiple species on these landscapes. Population objectives (e.g., numbers, range, trends) will be set for these species to help gauge our progress towards achieving our desired conservation outcomes.

    • Conservation Design: Conservation Design involves using the best tools and information available to bring together the results of Biological Planning to identify strategies for achieving population objectives. Through improved understanding of the relationship between populations and habitats, we assess the ability of landscapes to support populations, and determine the best strategies for attaining our desired conservation outcomes. Landscape Conservation Design is both a partnership-driven process and a product that results in a science-based, spatially-explicit representation of the desired future condition of that landscape needed to meet population objectives. For example, spatially explicit habitat objectives would be identified as part of the process. Many LCC partnerships are already developing the science and tools (e.g., habitat classifications and maps, species and habitat vulnerability assessments) to inform Landscape Conservation Design.

    • Monitoring and Research: Monitoring and Research are a prominent and fundamental element of Strategic Habitat Conservation that informs the iterative process whereby managers learn and improve conservation outcomes. Through targeted and purposeful monitoring and research we evaluate the effectiveness of our conservation delivery, gauge progress and the success of our actions, validate assumptions used in conservation design, and incorporate learning into future conservation planning and decision making. Landscape Conservation Designs will identify appropriate monitoring activities to help determine the effectiveness of conservation delivery and whether refinements need to be made. The National Wildlife Refuge System’s Inventory and Monitoring Program is investing resources to improve our monitoring capacity to help make the best use of resources and help prioritize efforts that are most likely to give us the greatest returns on our conservation investments.

  4. Science and tools:  To facilitate achievement of desired biological outcomes, our decisions must be made using the best science and tools available.  Each of these components is based on science, including biological, ecological, social, and physical.

    A critical part of the Strategic Habitat Conservation process is identification of gaps in knowledge, generating information and tools to answer questions, and using that information to inform and refine decision-making.

Using Surrogate Species to Implement Strategic Habitat Conservation
We simply can’t manage for every species, or account for every factor influencing complex natural systems. Focusing on measurable outcomes for a limited number of species will simplify the task in front of us, while providing benefits for many other fish, wildlife and plant species that share the landscape.

We’re working with our state agency partners to identify a subset of species that can effectively represent other species or aspects of the species’ environment (e.g., water quality, sagebrush or grasslands, etc.). Conserving habitat for these species or conservation targets will therefore help us address the needs of a larger group of species that share the landscape with them.

Ultimately, working toward shared, measurable outcomes for these species will enable the Service to make smarter, more cost-effective conservation and management decisions and investments and improve our ability to sustain abundant, diverse and healthy populations of fish, wildlife and plants now and in the future for the American people we serve.

For more information, download the Technical Reference On Using Surrogate Species for Landscape Conservation.


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Additional Resources:

Building Capacity for Strategic Conservation through Training


Technical Reference On
Using Surrogate Species for Landscape Conservation cover. Credit: USFWS
Surrogate Species Technical Reference

SHC report cover. Credit: USFWS
SHC Report

SHC report cover. Credit: USFWS
SHC Handbook

Conservation in Transition


Last updated: January 21, 2016

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