Conservation czar could coordinate wildlife efforts
KEYSTONE, Colorado A plethora of conservation plans devised by government agencies and private groups have provided overlapping, and in some cases, conflicting information for officials trying to plan a long-term wildlife preservation strategy for Colorado, participants said Tuesday in a groundbreaking conference here.Groups such as The Nature Conservancy and the Trust for Public Lands have developed their own maps prioritizing conservation areas, and the groups all raise funds independently, sometimes competing for the same out-of-state dollars.And the Colorado Division of Wildlife has its own wildlife action plan, identifying key habitat and almost 1,000 species of concern that need special management consideration.All that information might be too much of a good thing, some participants at the Colorado Conservation Summit said, suggesting that a conservation czar could help coordinate the various plans and make sure that groups are working together when it comes to finding precious dollars.Even just making the Department of Natural Resources a cabinet-level agency could help provide a focal point for coordinated conservation efforts, said John Mumma, former director of the Colorado Division of Wildlife.Mumma hopes the conference results in some specific legislation, addressing matters such as the way the states wildlife commission is constituted and including Colorados agriculture community in the conservation dialogue.In the past, appointments to some state commissions have been made as political favors and thats not the way to ensure the group makes decisions that are in the best interest of the states wildlife, Mumma said.The conservation conference at Keystone, ending today, is aimed at finding that common ground with the goal of making specific policy recommendations that will protect Colorados wildlife for the next 50 years and beyond.Threats include climate change, energy development, and population growth and sprawl, as well as public apathy, policy leaders said Monday during the opening session.
The state conference comes at the same time that the International Union for Conservation of Nature released an alarming report about global threats to wildlife, indicating that about a quarter of the worlds mammals are threatened with extinction due to such threats.Habitat loss and degradation affect about 40 percent of the worlds mammals, especially in Central and South America, as well as parts of Africa, according to the report.About 450 mammals have been listed as endangered worldwide, according to the assessment conducted by more than 1,800 scientists in 130 countries, including researchers from Arizona State University, Texas A&M and the University of Virginia.Amphibians are facing a global extinction crisis, according to the group, which has added 366 species to its global Red List. About 32 percent of the worlds amphibians (1,983 species) are either threatened or already extinct.
Given limited resources, any successful conservation effort will have to prioritize and identify different threat levels to various types of habitat, officials said.One of the things I hope comes out of this conference is (answering the question): Where do we put our habitat-protection dollars, said Tom Remington, director of the states wildlife agency.For example, Remington said, its clear that mountain valleys provide key habitat and connectivity for animals and should be a focus for conservation planning.Resort and residential development in places like the Snake River valley just outside the conference center have long been an issue for biologists.Just a few years ago, a now-shelved development plan for the Ski Tip area would have pinched a forested corridor important for lynx and other rare animals. State and federal wildlife biologists warned against the development, as local planners muddled through the approval process trying to evaluate sometimes-conflicting information.We have to inject wildlife and wildlife habitat into all those land-use decisions, said Tom Nessler, manager of the conservation section for the Colorado Division of Wildlife.A big part of the challenge for groups working on the long-term plan is to make sure that the mapping and other scientific information gathered at the statewide level somehow is useful for local conservation efforts, said Heide Anderson, director of Breckenridges open space and trails department.Its not always possible to determine how much habitat needs to be protected and therefore to pinpoint the cost.Thats a crucial missing piece of the equation when it comes to asking voters for conservation funding, Remington said.A prime example is the Gunnison sage grouse, he said. The rare birds expansive habitat overlaps extensively with natural-gas fields.The wildlife agency focuses on species that could be placed on the federal Endangered Species List because of the potential economic impacts to Colorado, Remington said.All the planning could be for naught if conservationists dont find a way to make their work relevant to citizens at large, warned Tim Wohlgenant, of the Colorado Conservation Partnership, a group trying to make sure that there is statewide coordination.Were not connecting our work to the daily lives of people … we have to frame all these issues as quality-of-life issues, he said.That goes hand in hand with finding the political and social will for conservation.Without that, all the plans and maps in the world wont do much good, said Nessler.If were going to protect wildlife, its going to be because we want to. All the plans, the funding wont make it work, he concluded.
Check out the states Wildlife Action Plan at: http://www.wildlifeactionplans.org/pdfs/action_plan_summaries/colorado.pdfThe Colorado Conservation Partnership is online at: http://www.keepitcolorado.org/The international report on global mammal extinction is at: http://www.iucn.org/news_events/events/congress/index.cfm?uNewsID=695
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