By Bill O'Brian

In the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, CRI stands for Cooperative Recovery Initiative. It almost as easily could stand for “cultivate results immediately.”

Over the past three fiscal years – 2013, 2014 and 2015 – the CRI provided more than $16 million to fund 41 projects designed to restore and recover species listed as threatened or endangered on national wildlife refuges and surrounding lands. Fiscal 2016 proposals are under consideration now.

“The Cooperative Recovery Initiative provides opportunities for focused, large-scale collaborative conservation efforts that typically have few venues for funding,” says CRI National Review Team coordinator Linh Phu. “Projects are focused on implementing recovery actions for species near delisting or reclassification from endangered to threatened or that will significantly improve the status of one or more listed species.”

CRI projects, which typically involve two years of on-the-ground work and three years of follow-up monitoring, generally have four common components, according to Kate Freund, an Office of Science Applications policy specialist on the 10-member review team:

  • They start with lands and habitats managed by the Service, often refuges.
  • They are capable of showing demonstrable success to delisting or downlisting of species, or preventing extinction.
  • They involve a strong monitoring component.
  • And they are cross-programmatic within the Service.

The CRI “relies upon programs that are working together for projects to be funded successfully,” says Freund. “We talk all the time about the need to work across programs and break out of our programmatic silos, and I think CRI creates a real opportunity for staff from refuges to take advantage of the expertise of other programs such as Ecological Services, Partners for Fish and Wildlife, Fish and Aquatic Conservation, Migratory Birds and Science Applications.”

“With limited capacity and resources to adequately conserve the thousands of federal trust species, it is critical that the Service work cross-programmatically to identify species of greatest conservation priority and focus recovery efforts by leveraging financial and technical resources,” says Phu.

While refuges and other Service lands are often the heart of projects, the CRI also supports efforts on private lands, “especially private lands that help connect habitat between refuges or otherwise help achieve the refuge management goals,” says Freund.

The CRI played an important role in two conservation success stories in the Pacific Northwest in 2015.

The Willamette Valley Multi-Species Recovery Project, funded in fiscal 2013, conserved a vital population of Oregon chub and helped lead to the Service's February 2015 announcement of the removal of the small minnow from the list of endangered and threatened species. The Oregon chub became the first fish ever to be delisted.

“The largest single population of Oregon chub is in a wetland unit on Ankeny National Wildlife Refuge,” says Willamette Valley National Wildlife Refuge Complex project leader Damien Miller. “During flood water events, this population was at risk of invasion by non-native fish coming in from adjacent waterways. CRI funding was used to conduct dike repairs and enhancements to successfully alleviate this risk and further secure this important population of Oregon chub.”

The Recovery of the Columbian White- tailed Deer Project, funded in 2014, helped provide additional acreage of grass/forb meadow, wooded plots and corridors of mixed deciduous trees and shrubs for the endangered deer. It also paid for some deer translocations from Julia Butler Hansen Refuge for the Columbian White-tailed Deer to Ridgefield Refuge in Washington state and ongoing monitoring efforts. In October 2015, the Service proposed to downlist the deer from endangered to threatened.

“We're looking for those places where a relatively small amount of additional investment can lead to big gains,” says Freund. “Those are often on wildlife refuges or associated with other lands or facilities that we manage. The core idea of the CRI is to support projects that are both collaborative and result-focused.”

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