The Arid Lands Initiative (ALI) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) collaborated to assess the Columbia Plateau Ecoregion and identify priority conservation areas. The members of the ALI/FWS partnership developed this document to present the methods and data used to assess and identify collaborative conservation priority areas.
Priority areas were identified using criteria from a conservation action planning process completed by the ALI. The ALI is an assemblage of public, private and nongovernmental organizations convened to develop and implement a coordinated strategy for conserving arid lands in Washington. The conservation targets selected by the ALI are ecosystems including shrub steppe and grasslands, wetlands, riverine systems, cliffs and caves, dunes, and species groups including grouse and burrowing animals. Key ecological attributes (KEA), such as patch size, that are important for determining the ALI targets’ integrity or viability, were used to develop spatial data layers for each conservation target. These spatial data layers were then used as targets in a Marxan analysis. Marxan is a widely used spatially explicit conservation planning tool that identifies areas where conservation goals can be satisfied most efficiently.
The assessment team included experts from The Nature Conservancy, USFWS, Bureau of Land Management, Washington Department of Natural Resources, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, and other agencies (see next page for acronyms). The project was funded in part by a grant from the Great Northern Landscape Conservation Cooperative. Over eight months, more than 20 meetings were held to determine the appropriate “crosswalk” of ALI KEAs to spatially explicit Marxan targets, and to agree on percentage goals for each target.
The results provide a spatial design of priority core areas to meet ALI goals and objectives. Marxan identified a portfolio of sites that could protect a suite of representative systems and species. Using a “medium-goal” level, this portfolio encompasses 20% of the ecoregion. A set of results maps in Appendix A shows the distribution of these priority areas, and their relationship to other geospatial information layers such as ownership and protection status. The results section articulates what these priority areas contain, and describes the current protection levels of the ALI conservation targets.
This analysis identified a collection of priority core areas, based on landscape-scale data, where local protection and restoration actions can best contribute to the ALI’s overall goals. This is meant to be a starting point that will allow this landscape-scale conservation initiative to work from a common design. The results articulated in this report, ALI 2014, and Washington Wildlife Habitat Connectivity Working Group (WHCWG) 2012 and 2013a, represent major pieces of a landscape conservation design for the Columbia Plateau Ecoregion. This assessment provides a set of priority core areas that achieve ALI goals and objectives most efficiently, and the WHCWG products show how these cores can best be connected at a landscape scale. Map A-11 shows the final map of ALI combined spatial priorities using these core and corridor data sets.
Implementation of this design will require coordination among State, Federal, and nongovernmental organizations, in collaboration with other stakeholders with natural resource development interests. Each entity is encouraged to use these results as a blueprint for meeting conservation goals in the region, realizing that implementation will require further site-specific planning.
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