ON THE HORIZON: February 2018, Issue 10

Posted by WAFWA on February 1, 2018
The Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA) gathered for their annual mid-winter meeting in early January, with record attendance. State wildlife agency directors and conservation professionals from across the West attended a number of productive work sessions and committee meetings, including discussions centered around chronic wasting disease (CWD). CWD is an infectious disease that affects cervid species, including mule deer and elk. It represents a significant threat to the future health and vitality of free-ranging cervid resources in western North America. The Wildlife Health Committee and the Mule Deer Working Group collaborated on a set of adaptive management recommendations that are now available online. Recommendations in the document reflect the best science available from the states that are grappling with the disease.

“The management of CWD in our free-ranging deer and elk populations will require a coordinated approach from agencies so we can all learn from each other what is effective and what is not,” said Bob Broscheid, Colorado Parks and Wildlife Director, who is the director sponsor of WAFWA’s Mule Deer Working Group. “For agencies that would like to experiment with different population management options to slow or stop the spread of CWD, this document provides a template that will allow us to learn together in a coordinated way.”WAFWA recently convened a forum of conservation professionals working on lesser prairie-chicken recovery efforts to share information and strategize how conservation efforts for the bird can be enhanced. The meeting took place at the Arcadia Conservation Education Area in Edmond, OK Jan. 17-18, 2018, and was hosted by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, WAFWA, the Natural Resources Conservation Services (NRCS), and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). More than 60 people attended, including representatives of state and federal agencies and nonprofit organizations that are working on a variety of efforts to conserve the grassland bird. The conservation partners forum was designed to identify paths forward to enhance current conservation strategies and develop new strategies to conserve grasslands and the lesser prairie-chicken. The focal point of the meeting was WAFWA’s Lesser Prairie-chicken Range-wide Conservation Plan.

“Everyone at the table during the meeting shares the same goals of improving habitat and ultimately increasing populations of the lesser prairie-chicken across its range,” said J.D. Strong, Director of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation and Chairman of the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative Council. “Now comes the real work of executing our action items, and I am confident that we can make a real difference for long-term health of the prairie chicken population and the working landscape where it lives.”The Property and Environment Research Center (PERC) has published an in-depth article about efforts to conserve the lesser prairie-chicken in five western states. The article explains how a unique alliance of wildlife agencies, conservation organizations, private landowners, and industry partners have collaborated to help recover the lesser prairie-chicken while preserving traditional land uses.The sweet trill of songbirds provides a musical backdrop across sagebrush country. These unique songs do more than make us smile — they also serve as barometers for the health of the range. Some of these birds need sagebrush. Others need woodlands. The abundance and diversity of songbirds across a specific region gives us a glimpse as to how the ecosystem is faring.

The Sage Grouse Initiative, led by the Natural Resources Conservation Service, has released the newest component of the SGI Interactive Web App, called the Songbird Abundance layer. These custom maps represent the predicted abundance of nine species of sagebrush- and woodland-obligate songbirds within the U.S. distribution of sagebrush-steppe ecosystems.

The new songbird abundance maps aim to bolster multi-species conservation across the American West. The innovative new songbird mapping tool — created by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Habitat and Population Evaluation Team with the support of WAFWA’s Sagebrush Science Initiative — will help partners target conservation practices to benefit declining songbird populations.