The Arcata Fish and Wildlife Office (AFWO) is home to a small and unique team associated with the USFWS Science Applications Program. Its focus is providing conservation planning and science support for addressing high-priority conservation concerns in and around the Klamath River Basin in California and Oregon. Our group was established to assist managers and researchers in integrating the Strategic Habitat Conservation (SHC) framework into their decision-making processes and projects, especially when working at a large landscape scale. Such a broad scope has provided us with opportunities to collaborate with a number of USFWS programs in achieving their missions, including Ecological Services, Fish and Aquatic Conservation, Habitat Restoration, and National Wildlife Refuges, as well as external partners. The Klamath Basin region was chosen as the focal area for the activities of our team because of its combination of high priority species, habitats, and natural resources and complex management issues requiring large landscape-scale solutions.
The AFWO Science Applications Program’s broad goal is to help USFWS and its partners improve the delivery of conservation in the region. This might be accomplished in a variety of ways, such as organizing or analyzing data on habitats or populations, developing ecological models, or identifying and filling “knowledge gaps” that may be hindering our understanding of how best to approach conservation challenges. Ultimately, we hope to provide insights into the most strategic places for conservation activities to be delivered on the landscape as well as which actions should be given the highest priority. In other words, we are trying to understand where USFWS and its partners can invest money and efforts to do the most good in terms of improving the ecological and economic health of the region.
The AFWO Science Applications Program specializes in landscape ecology, ecological modeling, spatial analysis, GIS applications, data management, and database design. Some examples of recent projects this group has conducted or assisted with include developing a landscape scale habitat connectivity model for the coastal marten, assisting with strategic planning and data management for the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program in the upper Klamath River Basin, and assisting with the development of the Klamath Integrated Fisheries Restoration and Monitoring Plan.
SHC: Working with partners to achieve science-based, landscape-scale conservation
The Science Applications Program based at AFWO was originally set up as a pilot program for implementing the USFWS’s Strategic Habitat Conservation (SHC) concept. SHC is a holistic approach to conserving wildlife populations and their habitats that aims to maximize the return on investments of our conservation dollars. Many wildlife and plant species are suffering from the effects of habitat loss, habitat degradation, and invasive species
An invasive species is any plant or animal that has spread or been introduced into a new area where they are, or could, cause harm to the environment, economy, or human, animal, or plant health. Their unwelcome presence can destroy ecosystems and cost millions of dollars.
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, all of which are exacerbated by climate change
Climate change includes both global warming driven by human-induced emissions of greenhouse gases and the resulting large-scale shifts in weather patterns. Though there have been previous periods of climatic change, since the mid-20th century humans have had an unprecedented impact on Earth's climate system and caused change on a global scale.
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. These stressors are best addressed by working across a broad region rather than within the boundaries of an individual wildlife refuge or other managed area.
Working at large landscape scales
Working with partners (other agencies, tribes, universities, private landowners, etc.) to leverage resources, jointly address shared concerns, and maximize the effectiveness of conservation actions
Science-based conservation planning and design, and setting measurable goals
Adaptive management: a systematic approach to assessing the effectiveness of conservation actions with outcome-based monitoring so that they can be improved over time
Partnerships between scientists and natural resource managers are key to the SHC process. Science provides important ecological information and analytical techniques for identifying current habitat needs and forecasting future conditions. Managers and scientists collaborate to clearly define objectives, prioritize geographic areas and habitats, and craft effective conservation actions. Biological monitoring is also central to the SHC framework, as it enables evaluation of the success of conservation actions and increases understanding of ecological conditions and processes. This allows continued improvements in conservation actions over time and helps managers respond to changes in habitat conditions.