Large landscape connectivity – could the Forest Service be a leader?

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?



9 thoughts on “Large landscape connectivity – could the Forest Service be a leader?”

  1. Interesting thought, Jon. However it seems to me that connectivity of wildlife species would be something USFWS would logically lead, collaborating with state agencies, the Park Service, the BLM and the FS (and DOD). Because.. the FS isn’t everywhere, for example the Great Plains, Texas, and so on.

    This seems like one of those things that trust between states and feds goes a long way in terms of building support. Everyone likes wildlife crossings… grizzlies everywhere, not so much.

      • I’ll be more specific then. In areas where there are major federal land holdings, the federal agencies with those holdings should play a leadership role in facilitating multi-jurisdictional planning for connectivity. I would expect USFWS to play its usual supporting role, but its recovery plans (as well as state and NGO conservation strategies) could be important pieces. (Grizzlies were used as an indicator for other species that are more universally liked.)

        • Well, I don’t know why they would play a “supporting role” if the concept is about where “all lands” wildlife corridors should go. Say for the Great Plains that Larry Kurtz thinks is important. Plus they have a bunch of wildlife refuges that could become parts of these areas.. they’re already supporting flyways.

  2. One could say that the current direction in the Sierra Nevada is just that. Unfortunately, there are huge new gaps from wildfires, burning from the foothills up to timberline. One could say that National Forests there are a ‘sanctuary’ for old growth, and dependent wildlife. One might also say that, despite the 28 year old protections, connectivity has diminished by significant amounts, due to drought, bark beetles and wildfires.

  3. Should rewilding efforts seek to approximate sustainable wild lands to Pleistocene Era conditions or let the Anthropocene lay waste to them desertifying precious resources changing the landscape forever leaving the survivors to cleave out habitable zones forsaking native species?

    President Biden has selected a BLM Director who will focus on recreation, conservation and restoration while healing the wounds left by the extractive and livestock industries. It’s time to connect the CM Russell Wildlife Refuge in Montana along the Missouri River to Oacoma, South Dakota combined with wildlife corridors from Yellowstone National Park to the Yukon in the north and south to the Pecos River through parts of Wyoming, Nebraska, eastern Colorado, western Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Texas.

    • Larry, I think connectivity is a good idea.. and it will be challenging to get access to the private land linkages and design them with minimal negative impacts to the people and cultures of the Great Plains.
      However, I don’t think it’s realistic to expect Stone-Manning to “heal the wounds” – although that’s pretty vague-, of industries that are legitimately on federal land. As we’ve seen, there’s only so much any Admin can do within the bounds of our statutory/legal system.

  4. Therelatively small distance between the Canadian River in New Mexico and the Missouri at Fort Peck in Montana reminds me again how the earliest humans in North America were undaunted by glaciers, the dire wolf, and Smilodon on everything north of the Sangre de Cristos terminating at Santa Fe then blazed the Pecos Trail from west to east into the southern Great Plains and Mississippi Valley to find an inland paradise teeming with prey.

    But today, Northern Colorado has just added a bison herd so have the Eastern Shoshone. The Forest Service-managed Oglala, Pawnee and Comanche National Grasslands are not that far away from each other. The Thunder Basin National Grassland in Wyoming is managed by offices in Colorado. The Fort Pierre National Grassland in South Dakota is managed from Nebraska. It merely takes the political will to build corridors for bison, other ungulates and their associated predators over public, tribal and leased private land into the Oglala National Grassland in Nebraska, Wyoming’s Thunder Basin National Grassland to North and South Dakota then through the Northern Cheyenne, Crow and Fort Peck nations in Montana. The Grand River National Grassland in South Dakota is managed from Bismarck, North Dakota.


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