I watched a webinar provided by the Center for Large Landscape Conservation titled “Legal Protections for Large Landscape Conservation,” part of which focused on “Habitat Connectivity and the U. S. Forest Service.” That segment can be seen here from 4:15 to 19:05. The presentation goes over the elements of Forest Service planning that could be useful for habitat connectivity. It includes a couple of examples of “innovations” from the Flathead and Carson/Santa Fe forest plan revisions, but concludes that few plan components that address connectivity are likely to be very effective. It cites a familiar refrain that the agency is “unwilling to commit to specific direction,” and “lack of commitment and interest from line officers.” However, the presenter observed that the movement of the Forest Service toward more centralized planning organizations might provide an opportunity to look at connectivity as a broader regional issue, and to develop regionally consistent approaches to planning for connectivity.
What if the Forest Service was actually interested in conserving the species that use its lands but require connectivity across other jurisdictions and ownerships (as it is required to do, “in the context of the broader landscape,” a phrase used seven times in the 2012 Planning Rule ), and what if the Forest Service played a leadership role in facilitating such cross-boundary connectivity by promoting large-landscape conservation strategies?
Maybe it would look something like what the Yellowstone to Yukon Initiative has accomplished since it began promoting large-scale landscape conservation in 1993. As Rob Chaney reports in the Missoulian, they have recently evaluated the effectiveness of their program in “Can a large-landscape conservation vision contribute to achieving biodiversity targets?” They found that in the Y2Y region where landscape connectivity was actively promoted, more public lands were dedicated to protection, more private lands were protected, wildlife highway crossing structures proliferated, and occupied grizzly bear habitat (as a proxy for actual benefits to wildlife) expanded.
Come to think of it, wouldn’t that be a great assignment for the Biden Administration to give the Forest Service (both the National Forest System and State and Private Forestry divisions) to promote its 30 X 30 conservation agenda?