Systematic Conservation Prioritization Centered on Sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus), in a Region of Competing Land Uses
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The once expansive sagebrush habitat in the western United States has suffered substantial losses largely due to the encroachment of development for extractive and renewable resource-based industries. Sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus; hereafter “sage-grouse”) persistence is tied to protecting the remaining sagebrush, in recognition of this conservation actions like the creation of priority areas for conservation (PACs) have been forwarded, but further action is needed to address ongoing sage-grouse declines. Questions remain regarding how conservation actions should be prioritized, suggesting Systematic Conservation Planning (SCP) efforts are needed. We provide a case study for an SCP process for the Rock Springs Field Office (RSFO) located in southwestern Wyoming. Field offices are nested within the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) structure presenting a relevant spatial scale for sage-grouse management. Our case study was informed by broader investigation of how alterations to the prioritizations influence solution quality measured with metrics including irreplaceability and ROI. We focused on recommending sites for seasonal, annual, and multiple species benefitting plans with the goals of identifying priority areas and areas suitable for improving the PACs, entering conservation easement agreements, and restoration. We considered how selections of priority areas changed with the application of different objective types, feature weights, cost features, and the inclusion of connectivity. We found seasonal differences in the vulnerability of priority sage-grouse habitat, as expected, nesting habitat was the best represented by the PACs whereas brood and winter habitat could benefit from greater PAC coverage. Incorporating other species (elk and mule deer) into our prioritizations was beneficial to our process because we were able to identify common pathways between the three species involved. Assessing the trade-offs between various ways to quantify conservation objectives into specific parameters for a prioritization is expected to be unique to each SCP process and should be relevant to the species or species’ and ecological, political, and social systems of focus. Future conservation planning projects at the landscape scale where multiple land uses need to be balanced, lacking land cost values but with fine scale ecological data could benefit from a similar set up for their prioritizations. Structuring our case study with a maximum utility (MUP) objective type, a cost feature to bring threatened areas into the prioritizations, feature weights created with local expert input, and incorporating connectivity with genetic informed data and spatial constraints led to improvements in solution quality.
Cite this version of the work
Marie Racioppa (2021). Systematic Conservation Prioritization Centered on Sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus), in a Region of Competing Land Uses. UWSpace. http://hdl.handle.net/10012/17546