WMI Signs New Agreement with the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies to Work on Landscape Conservation in Western States

WMI Signs New Agreement with the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies to Work on Landscape Conservation in Western States

The Wildlife Management Institute and the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA) have initiated a new partnership to work cooperatively on landscape-level conservation throughout the western states. While the formal agreement is for six years, partners recognize that landscape conservation is more of a journey rather than a destination, and long-term dedication to ecosystem approaches are necessary to have lasting conservation impacts. To lead the landscape conservation work in this unique partnership, WMI has hired Jen Newmark, formerly with the Nevada Department of Wildlife. Jen has extensive conservation experience across a breadth of species and landscapes and is both well-known and well-regarded by her western peers. This work is initially being supported through a grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Science Applications Program.

Swift fox in Colorado grasslands

In other regions in the United States, similar efforts have been under way for several years. There is the Northeast Nature’s Network, the Southeast Conservation Adaptation Strategy and Blueprint, and the Midwest Landscape Initiative. All three of these large-scale, ecosystem-based approaches bring together partners from both public and private organizations to strategically align conservation actions in places that have the greatest impact on conservation outcomes – both from a habitat perspective as well as for the species that rely upon those habitats.

WAFWA, within its unique scale and complex pattern of land ownership, has similarly been working in the landscape arena for decades. Several highly successful conservation approaches have been developed and are currently being implemented. One such effort is the Western Grasslands Initiative. It is estimated the Great Plains and desert grasslands once covered over 500 million acres stretching between Canada, Mexico, and the United States. Nearly 200 wildlife species were found to use this immense sea of grass in 11 different states within the United States. However, grasslands are a declining resource that was recognized to not be well represented in conservation actions. Thus in 2004, WAFWA developed a comprehensive ecosystem conservation approach that built upon existing plans focused on specific species such as swift foxes, prairie dogs, black-footed ferrets, lesser prairie-chickens, and a host of other species. Through collaborative partnerships, the goals of the Initiative are to stabilize and conserve healthy populations of species dependent upon grassland habitats, increase public benefits by sharing resources and leveraging partnerships, and increase funding to accomplish strategic actions identified within the plan.

A similar effort in the sagebrush biome has been underway for at least the past decade. Catalyzed by declining greater sage-grouse numbers, it was recognized early on that conservation and restoration of the entire ecosystem was needed as this biome supports more than 350 unique plants and animals. Perhaps the greatest threat to this ecosystem is unnatural fire cycles resulting from invasive species such as cheatgrass. Through coordinated efforts to “preserve the core and grow the core”, millions of acres are being targeted for protection, restoration, and conservation.

Beyond habitat efforts, WAFWA and partners have been developing conservation strategies for suites of species, such as the recently approved, 50-year conservation strategy focused on monarchs and other pollinating insects. Despite each state having a variety of management authority over insects, it was important to all the participating states to proactively conserve this critical suite of species. Through partnerships and collective conservation actions, all states can benefit and make a difference in the conservation trajectory of declining pollinator species.

And of course there are individual range-wide, species-specific efforts. There are working groups and collaborative committees focused on bighorn sheep, mule deer, wolverines and forest carnivores, native trout, a variety of salmon species, migrating songbirds, waterfowl – the list could go on and on.

With all these existing efforts, you may be wondering why the need for landscape coordination. WAFWA and WMI recognize that despite these excellent and worthwhile, successful efforts, the West is wide, vast, and full of variability. And beyond the states and the Association, there are conservation projects being led by academia, other NGOs, and other government agencies that may not be well connected with WMI, WAFWA, or member states’ efforts. How can we tell the story of all the successful existing work that is being accomplished, create connections and strategic actions between them, understand potential gaps in either biomes, species, or priorities, and use that knowledge to look at landscape conservation throughout the West that builds upon partnerships with states, federal agencies, tribal nations, NGOs, and the public, that enables lasting conservation success?

The vision for this effort is very much from a relationship- and partnership-building framework, which leverages existing work, talent, expertise and technical tools, and brings all of us together around a value that we all share deeply – a dedication to the preservation and conservation of wildlife and their habitats.

In the first year or two, we will be focusing on connecting existing projects, identifying new priorities and opportunities by understanding where gaps exist in our current work, elevating state priority species and habitats, and facilitating the development of tools and data. This includes informing the growth of WAFWA’s newest initiative, Animal Movement and Connectivity, which includes state priorities for big game migration and landscape connectivity planning. As this project gets off the ground, we will be looking to all of you, our partners, to help develop this strategic framework. As seen in the many examples of landscape-level initiatives, both within WAFWA and beyond it in other regions, partnerships are key. By strengthening our relationships and working together, we can build a durable and resilient framework for conservation, from local scales to ecosystem scales.

Photo Credit
Ryan Moehring, Flickr
June 14, 2024