Linking Landscapes for Wildlife
What is “Linking Landscapes for Wildlife?”
Mule deer. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
— It’s conservation that maintains and reconnects vital habitats for healthy populations of native species. To accomplish this, NWP uses the best scientific research and planning to find ways to conserve linked—or physically connected—wild areas in Nevada, benefiting plants and animals that need connected landscapes for migration and population viability.
The Benefits of Linked Landscapes
Connected landscapes benefit wildlife – and us. Animals need connected landscapes so they can move freely, migrate, find access to a diverse gene pool and options for dealing with dramatic changes affecting them, such as fires, other natural events, human development and climate change. Biologists call it "landscape permeability."
Connected landscapes benefit humans because the over-all ecosystem is more robust. We benefit from cleaner air and water, better opportunities for hunting and fishing and from economic opportunities brought on by having quality wildlands right next door. We need to make sure the wild areas we love – many of those we have fought for and saved – are linked together for the sake of wildlife, for us and for generations to come.
Bighorn sheep. Photo courtesy of U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Many states facing rapid growth struggle to prevent natural habitats from becoming fragmented into smaller ones that cannot sustain wildlife populations or protect biological diversity. We face this problem in Nevada, and it’s essential that we work to minimize the affects of growth on the landscape by planning wisely.
Some states have addressed this issue by producing conservation “blueprints” that identify and map wildlife linkages and corridors. These blueprint maps can be used by stakeholders as baselines for a wide range of planning—from highway maintenance and construction to open space plans for counties, federal or state legislative proposals to resource allocation.
NWP has the unique science and grassroots resources to jumpstart the “blueprint” effort in Nevada—and that’s what we’re working on. We identify appropriate partners, create opportunity for various stakeholders and ensure that Nevada’s land use and wildlife future proceeds thoughtfully, informed by science and in accordance with best practices for wildlife conservation.
We have identified 20 places in Nevada that are key “Linking Landscapes” priorities – places known to have significant wildlife populations that move great distances on the landscape. The first one we are focusing on is in southern Nevada, a vast area referred to as the Desert National Wildlife Refuge-Delamar Wildlands Complex.
The Desert National Wildlife Refuge includes approximately 1.6 million acres. It is large enough to cover the state of Rhode Island twice and still have room left for over a quarter of a million football fields. This is the largest National Wildlife Refuge in the lower 48 states. To the east of the Refuge lies an area commonly referred to as the “Delamar Wildlands Complex.” It is made up of the Delamar, Meadow Valley, Mormon Mountains, and Arrow Canyon wildernesses. Despite it’s chunky name (“complex?” – sounds like a shopping center), these lands are magnificent.
Wildlife encounter all kinds of humanmade obstacles as they move across the land. NWP staff use motion-sensitive cameras, like these set up near a culvert, to learn more about the wildlife species crossing highways in specific locations. Photo by Ron Hunter
Bighorn sheep migration map - click to enlarge
Historically, bighorn sheep made seasonal migrations between the Refuge and these ranges to the east. They migrated to the Sheep Range to gain access to year-round water and summer forage. In the fall and winter months, bighorns would migrate east and settle into the lower elevation ranges, taking advantage of favorable forage and warmer temperatures. Increased traffic on U.S. Highway 93 (which “splits” these areas in two), energy corridor development, pipelines, new residential development and changing water sources in the region threaten to negatively alter bighorn movement. The potential exists to isolate this important desert bighorn population.
Our long-range goals include creating suitable permeability and crossing structures, along with educational campaigns about the sheep movements, to improve the overall stability of these bighorn populations. Working with residential and energy developers, state and federal agencies, and other wildlife conservation groups, we are partnering with the Western Environmental Law Center to develop a plan to educate the public about the importance of this corridor, monitor wildlife movements and prescribe administrative and legislative solutions that will protect historic connectivity and provide room for bighorn to accommodate the impacts of global warming and other threats.
Addressing all 20 of these linkages and completing a conservation “blueprint” for Nevada, or statewide network of linked habitats for wildlife, won’t happen overnight. A lot of planning and partnership has to happen first, and we are spearheading that effort. Our goals:
We want to provide transportation planners, state and federal agencies, community leaders, engineers, sportsmen and conservationists with a statewide vision for reconnecting habitats that are vital for our native species—some of the most magnificent and diverse in the country.
- State wildlife and land use planning agencies will coordinate to minimize impacts to wildlife and their habitats as Nevada plans for continued growth.
- Nevada will have a Wildlife Linkages Working Group, made up of many people from different organizations, that informs federal, state and local governments on conservation priorities for land use planning.
- Nevada will have a State Wildlife Action Plan that implements conservation with the objective of maximizing wildlife connectivity and habitat protection statewide.
- Federal protection of lands will be gained through multiple legislative opportunities that create permanent protections for important wildlife corridors and habitats in Nevada.
- Conservation projects will be prioritized and mitigated using Clark County's Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan.
Have questions? – e-mail John Tull , Conservation Director, NWP