ON THE HORIZON: April 2018, Issue 11

Posted by WAFWA on April 1, 2018
On March 30, the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA) submitted to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service its fourth annual report detailing achievements under the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Range-wide Conservation Plan. Among other accomplishments, WAFWA reported on the permanent conservation of land in three ecoregions, including a stronghold that was created with the placement of a conservation easement on a nearly 30,000-acre ranch in Kansas. In addition, the population of the bird is trending upward, a promising sign.

“We’re in this for the long haul and we’re just four years in at this point,” said J.D. Strong, Director of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation and Chairman of the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative Council. “We’re pleased at the progress that has been made thus far. The population trend is encouraging, as is the continued support of all of our partners who are participating in the range-wide plan.”

The range-wide plan is a collaborative effort of the state wildlife agencies of Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas and Colorado as well as other private and public partners involved in lesser prairie-chicken conservation. It was developed to enhance lesser prairie-chicken conservation by refocusing existing efforts and also established a new mitigation framework, administered by WAFWA, to encourage greater voluntary cooperation of landowners and industry participants. This plan allows industry participants to continue operations while restoring and maintaining habitat and reducing development impacts to the bird and its habitat.
Recognizing that people are an integral part of the sagebrush landscape, two social science research projects have been funded as part of the Sagebrush Science Initiative. The initiative is a collaborative project of WAFWA, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Land Management.

The first project focuses on developing a social science research agenda to guide managers in sagebrush ecosystems. The study will query stakeholders to define the critical social science questions that, if answered, can help managers and landowners better integrate social and ecological perspectives into more comprehensive sagebrush management strategies. The study will be conducted by researchers at the University of Wyoming, Bird Conservancy of the Rockies and the Thunder Basins National Grasslands Prairie Ecosystem Association in Wyoming.

The second study will examine the stakeholders and networks that will be critical to the successful implementation of the Sagebrush Conservation Strategy. The study will provide information about stakeholder relationships that will provide insight into how governance processes can be most effective. This study will be conducted by researchers at the University of Texas, the USFS Rocky Mountain Research Station and the University of Montana.

The projects are expected to be completed by the end of 2019, and will be published shortly thereafter. Research findings will be applied to the Sagebrush Conservation Strategy as they become available. The two projects underscore WAFWA’s commitment to draw on the best science available to inform conservation management decisions across the West.
In February, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke signed Secretarial Order 3362, which aims to improve habitat quality on western big game winter range and migration corridors​ for antelope, elk, and mule deer. ​The order directs bureaus within Department of the Interior to work in close partnership with 11 western states to enhance and improve the quality of big-game winter range and migration corridor habitat on Federal lands in a way that recognizes state authority to conserve and manage big game species.

The order specifically directs federal agencies to assess state-derived migration data for land-use plans, and to “proceed in close cooperation with the states, in particular the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA) and its program manager for the Crucial Habitat Assessment Tool (CHAT), prior to developing maps or mapping tools related to elk, deer or pronghorn movement or land use.”

WAFWA, through its Mule Deer Working Group, has emphasized the importance of winter range for decades. Now, state wildlife agencies across the West are outfitting mule deer with satellite telemetry collars to better understand their movements and habitat use. Thanks to a joint effort between USGS scientists at the University of Wyoming and the WAFWA Mule Deer Working Group, this data is now being used to delineate migration corridors and winter ranges for many herds across the West. These data and analyses are intended to serve as a path towards better informed collaboration and proactive planning regarding migration routes. This project is funded through the Sagebrush Science Initiative, a collaborative effort between WAFWA and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Did you know that Gila Trout is one of the rarest of all native trout species?

You can find that out and more in the latest “Get to Know Your Native” poster produced by the Western Native Trout Initiative (WNTI) and their partners. This is the third poster in the series. The goal of the project is to reach out to diverse organizations and communities – especially classrooms and youth groups – to educate them about Gila Trout biology, evolutionary history, habitat needs, threats, current status, and support needed to eventually move Gila Trout from its current Threatened status. WNTI partners on the project include Trout Unlimited, Arizona Game and Fish Department, New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

WNTI is a WAFWA program that is a collaborative, multi-state, multi-partner effort that builds on the conservation needs of 21 native trout species described in species conservation and recovery plans in the 12 western states where they are found. The Initiative serves as a catalyst for identifying priority projects and providing funding to efforts to halt and reverse native trout declines and expand existing populations.
American Angler recently shined the light on the Western Native Trout Initiative (WNTI). The profile of the program featured an interview with program coordinator Therese Thompson.
Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever have recently released a new video that highlights the value of conservation easements in protecting wildlife habitat for future generations. The video showcases a property in Kansas, on which WAFWA secured a permanent conservation easement that forever protects 1,781 acres. The conservation easement is held by Pheasants Forever, and it legally restricts future development and activities that would be detrimental to wildlife habitat.