States working together for wildlife.
American wildlife conservation has reached a historic milestone: the completion of statewide wildlife action plans in every state and territory. Continuing the long tradition of state-federal partnerships, the wildlife action plans complement existing programs aimed at the conservation of game species on the one hand and endangered species on the other. Taken as a whole, the wildlife action plans provide a national agenda for preventing wildlife from becoming endangered, with a focus on those that have not benefited from conservation attention due to a lack of dedicated funding.
Teaming with Wildlife
The impetus for wildlife action plans comes from the Teaming with Wildlife initiative, a national grassroots campaign launched in the early 1990s to expand the funding base for wildlife conservation. The goal of Teaming with Wildlife was to provide additional resources to support a more comprehensive approach to wildlife conservation and mirror the success our nation has had with the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Act and Dingell-Johnson/Wallop-Breaux Sportfish Restoration Act. Over time, the Teaming with Wildlife coalition has grown to include more than 4,000 organizations and agencies, including hunters and anglers, environmentalists, professional biologists, wildlife managers, and nature-related businesses.
During the late 1990s, the efforts of the Teaming with Wildlife coalition helped advance the Conservation and Reinvestment Act, a broad proposal to dramatically increase federal funding for a variety of land, water, and wildlife conservation programs. Despite strong bipartisan support, the Conservation and Reinvestment Act did not pass. However, Congress did enact two new programs in 2000 to support state-level efforts to prevent wildlife from becoming endangered: the Wildlife Conservation and Restoration Program and State Wildlife Grants.
The Wildlife Conservation and Restoration Program and State Wildlife Grants provide funding to state wildlife agencies for wildlife conservation planning and projects. Both programs are administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Division of Federal Assistance. Funds are distributed according to a formula based on each state's population and land area, and they require matching funds from state or other non-federal sources. The Wildlife Conservation and Restoration Program was created as a subaccount of the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Act and requires a 25 percent non-federal match for all activities. State Wildlife Grants operates as a stand alone program, requiring a 50 percent non-federal match for implementation projects and a 25 percent match for development of the action plans.
Although the Wildlife Conservation and Restoration Program was authorized as a permanent program under Pittman-Robertson, funding was only provided for the first year. However, federal funding has continued to flow to State Wildlife Grants through the annual appropriations process. Over the past five years, the two programs have provided a total of more than $400 million in new money for wildlife conservation. In a relatively short time, these programs have become the federal government's core programs for keeping wildlife from becoming endangered. This dramatic growth in a very tough budget climate has been the result of the strong bipartisan support built by the Teaming with Wildlife coalition.
As a condition of both the Wildlife Conservation and Restoration Program and State Wildlife Grants, each state wildlife agency committed to developing a wildlife action plan, known technically as a "comprehensive wildlife conservation strategy." These statewide action plans draw together all available information on the condition of each state's wildlife species and habitats, outline the conservation issues that need to be addressed, and make recommendations to address those issues. Each of the plans was submitted to the Service for review and approval in 2005.
In the legislation defining the wildlife action plans, Congress outlined eight core planning requirements (sidebar on next page). Beyond those requirements, the states have considerable flexibility to develop approaches that fit their own unique wildlife resources, management structure, and local issues. Wildlife agencies worked together to share information and priorities across jurisdictions. The states also gathered ideas from federal agencies and conservation groups, drawing on many different models and experiences to develop innovative planning approaches.
Species in Greatest Need
Congress asked states to assess the health of a "fill array" of wildlife, with particular attention to the wildlife species that have low or declining populations and are "indicative of the diversity and health of wildlife" of each state. Most of the wildlife action plans refer to these targeted species as "species of greatest conservation need." In identifying these species, the intent was not to define a new official status on top of existing threatened, endangered, or other designations. Instead, the goal was to identify the wildlife species that need attention in order to avoid the need for formal regulatory protection.
States used various sources to identify the species that needed to be targeted in each wildlife action plan, including natural heritage programs and other wildlife occurrence databases, data from other planning efforts and assessments, and input from agency biologists, academics, and other scientific experts. While the identification of species of greatest conservation need included species that had been designated under state-level programs and the federal Endangered Species Act, the wildlife action plans placed more emphasis on identifying at-risk species not yet identified by other conservation efforts.
Getting the Biggest Bang for the Buck
Many of our great wildlife restoration stories tell of the return of one species at a time, from the wild turkey to the American alligator. However, a species-by-species approach is not practical when dealing with the breadth of each state's wildlife. In even the smallest states, the native fauna can encompass several thousand species, while in Texas, California, and Florida, the number of species can reach into the tens of thousands. On top of the sheer complexity of addressing this many species individually, conservation planning efforts are challenged by serious information gaps about the habitat needs and life history of many species.
To efficiently address the needs of each state's full array of wildlife, the action plans are broadly built around a "coarse-filter/fine-filter" approach. Broad, habitat-focused conservation actions (the coarse filter) are combined with specific interventions for individual species whose needs are not completely addressed by habitat-focused actions (the fine filter).
In outlining habitat conservation needs, the states took a variety of approaches. Some states assessed species richness, habitat quality, and threat magnitude to identify specific geographic areas that encompass a range of conservation targets. Others focused on identifying and prioritizing those habitat types or communities that are most important to species in need of conservation. Still other states took a more comprehensive ecosystem approach to outlining the steps needed in all of the state's wildlife habitats.
A New National Agenda
The strong commitment of the state wildlife agencies and the Service resulted in the completion of all 56 state and territorial wildlife action plans in 2005. At an event recognizing the completion of the plans, former Interior Secretary Gale Norton hailed the historic place of the action plans in the conservation of North America's wildlife. "These plans represent a future for conservation in America that is rooted in cooperation and a partnership between the federal government and states, tribes, local governments, conservation groups, private landowners and others with a commitment to the health of our land and water, fish and wildlife," she said. "Working together, we are tapping into the expertise of those who live and work on the land so that we can conserve our fish and wildlife before they become threatened or endangered."
Working Together to Take Action
The wildlife action plans are already being implemented both by state wildlife agencies and their partners, including federal, state, and local governments, conservation groups, private landowners, and a variety of other individuals and organizations with an interest in wildlife. The agencies committed to developing the wildlife action plans to serve as plans for wildlife, not plans for wildlife agencies. States are working cooperatively to develop shared priorities and to adjust the plans to local and regional scales. Implementation actions address problems or threats to habitats and species by creating partnerships, restoring habitats, monitoring species, and filling in data gaps.
Additional information, including copies of each state's action plan, links to useful resources, and contact information, is available on a special clearinghouse website hosted by the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies at www.wildlifeactionplans.org.
Required Elements for Wildlife Action Plans
Congress outlined eight core requirements that are contained in every wildlife action plan:
1) information on the distribution and abundance of wildlife, including low and declining populations that are indicative of the diversity and health of the state's wildlife;
2) descriptions of locations and relative condition of habitats essential to species in need of conservation;
3) descriptions of problems that may adversely affect species or their habitats, and priority research and survey efforts;
4) descriptions of conservation actions proposed to conserve the identified species and habitats;
5) plans for monitoring species and habitat, and plans for monitoring the effectiveness of the conservation actions and for adaptive management;
6) descriptions of procedures to review the plan at intervals not to exceed 10 years;
7) coordination with federal, state, and local agencies and Indian tribes in developing and implementing the wildlife action plan; and
8) broad public participation in developing and implementing the wildlife action plan.
Dave Chadwick is a Wildlife Diversity Associate with the Association offish and Wildlife Agencies (444 N Capitol St NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20001, firstname.lastname@example.org, tel. 202-624 7890).