Something for everyone in State Wildlife Action Plans

No two are exactly alike: Snowflakes, butterflies, and State Wildlife Action Plans.

Pennsylvania’s is the largest (a whopping 14 pounds) and includes a foreword written by a Pulitzer Prize nominee.

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New and improved! The updated State Wildlife Action Plans are designed to inspire coordinated action to protect species in need.

Connecticut’s is the smallest (in their words, the most “concise”), and covers flora in addition to fauna.

Rhode Island’s was the first to be finished in the nation and features a companion Wildlife Quiz. (I scored an abysmal 40 percent, but have a newfound appreciation for opossum.)

The District of Columbia’s includes two freshwater sponges once found in Rock Creek Park.

Each one is unique, but they all have the same purpose: outlining exactly what needs to happen in each state to protect the fish and wildlife we care about in the face of increasing threats.

Fortunately, the plans all have the same basic structure too, which makes them particularly handy for people who work in conservation in different parts of the region. People like U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staff.

“We want to inspire ourselves and partners to figure out: What are the biggest threats? What are the best ways to respond? How do we mobilize people? What do we want them to do?” explained Virginia’s State Wildlife Action Plan coordinator Chris Burkett during a presentation at the Regional Office to introduce Service staff to the new plans on March 22nd.

Burkett and 11 of his counterparts from across the region (only New Jersey and D.C. were unable to attend), stopped by the Regional Office for the meet and greet in the midst of a three-day SWAP coordinators meeting in Amherst, Mass., where they compared notes (and page counts) from the second generation of documents that were already ahead of their time when first developed ten years ago.

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The brains behind the plans: Wildlife Action Plan coordinators from across the Northeast region met in Massachusetts in March to compare notes (and page counts) from the 10-year updates of comprehensive plans to support species of greatest conservation need.

“After decades spent working one critter at a time, we realized we needed a more strategic approach,” said Burkett. “It’s not enough to keep species from going extinct. We need to keep them from becoming endangered in the first place.”

That ambitious goal led Congress to establish the State and Tribal Wildlife Grant Program in 2001 to provide annual appropriations to each state for targeted investments in wildlife. On one condition: Come up with a plan for how your state is going to do it.

The completion of the first generation of State Wildlife Action Plans (SWAPs) in 2005 signaled a new era for endangered species conservation, with the Northeast at the leading edge.

“One of the things that came out in discussions after the first Wildlife Actions Plans was that few of these species are confined to one state. They occur over multiple jurisdictions,” said Burkett. “So how do we address their needs collectively?”

In 2006, representatives from all 13 states met in Albany, N.Y., to identify issues of regional concern, and to determine what needed to be done at the landscape-scale to address them. Along with priorities, the meeting in Albany gave rise to a means of funding them: the Regional Conservation Needs (RCN) program, which draws four percent of each state’s Wildlife Grant funding into a common pool to support regional projects.

“We are the only region that has done this,” noted Burkett. “As a result, we have funded more than 40 projects that are meant to support all of our Wildlife Action Plans, including the the Northeast Habitat Classification system, Northeast habitat maps, and effectiveness measures that have contributed to the development of national measures.”

Black-bear

State lines? Black bear don’t care. Since many at-risk species occur across multiple jurisdictions, the Northeast states have worked together to develop shared strategies for protecting fish and wildlife based on regional scale habitat data.

The 10-year Wildlife Action Plan updates completed last fall reflect the evolution in regional planning born of the RCN program, and fostered by the North Atlantic Landscape Conservation Cooperative (LCC) after its establishment in 2010.

During their recent meeting, the SWAP coordinators focused on how to keep the momentum going with plans that are designed to help identify opportunities to collaborate with each other, and with the Service.

“Having been with these folks for a day and a half, I can tell you that because these plans were cross-walked so well, they speak like a regional plan, which intersects with Fish and Wildlife Service priorities left, right, and up and down,” said Chief of the Division of Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration for the Northeast region Colleen Sculley, ticking off examples: “Aquatic Connectivity, Species At Risk, Coastal Resilience. Our priorities are emerging and aligning, and putting us in a position to do great conservation across the Northeast.”

The North Atlantic LCC has played a key supporting role in that regard by coordinating a team of partners from 13 states, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, nongovernmental organizations, and universities to develop a landscape conservation design that lays the groundwork for unified action across the entire region by incorporating habitat needs for more than 3,000 species of animals and plants, including those identified as Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN) in updated Wildlife Action Plans.

“We’ve been working for 18 months to identify where to put resources on the ground to do the most good, and to make the best use of our money,” said Burkett, a member of the project team. As such, the products of that effort provide regional perspective that can be used in complement to information in SWAPs to find places where partners can act on shared priorities.

“So if you live in Hampton Roads area of Virginia, you can use the plan to see: here are the things we care about, here are the threats, and here are best places to start,” said Burkett. “We want to be as clear as possible.”

That includes outreach to Service staff who are working in any of these states. “We want to get information out in a form that you can use it,” said Emily Preston of New Hampshire. “If you are working in New Hampshire, we want to know where. We are here to partner with you.”

Find more information and links to all of the revised SWAPs on the North Atlantic LCC website.

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