A globally rare ecosystem that provides home for the federally endangered Karner blue butterfly, the Albany Pine Bush Preserve seemed a fitting location for the final workshop of a project team that has collaborated for more than a year on an effort to ensure a future for important species and habitats across the Northeast region.
From July 6th to 8th, nearly 30 team members representing state agencies, the North Atlantic Landscape Conservation Cooperative (LCC), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, non-governmental organizations, and universities met for three days at the Pine Bush Discovery Center in Albany, N.Y. to review the first iterations of products from the Regional Conservation Opportunity Areas (RCOAs) project in advance of sharing them with target users for testing and refinement.
Led by a team of technical experts from 13 states representing federal programs, state fish and wildlife agencies, and conservation non-profits, the RCOA project offers science-based guidance developed through regional consensus for conserving intact terrestrial, aquatic and coastal ecosystems, supporting habitat for imperiled species, and connecting natural areas across 13 states.
As it happens, the Karner blue butterfly makes a perfect spokes-creature for the project, which outlines a network of natural areas in the Northeast that represent the range of intact ecosystems needed to support fish and wildlife species of greatest conservation need. The network encompasses habitats for 30 representative species and thousands of rare, threatened species, and endangered species, like the Karner blue.
More than a map, RCOAs is a suite of decision-support tools that different agencies and organizations can use to complement their own information and expertise to identify and confirm conservation priorities based on individual objectives. It builds upon pioneering work throughout the Northeast conservation community to achieve shared goals for fish, wildlife, and habitats at landscape scales, from the 10-year effort by Northeast states to combine information and expertise from State Wildlife Action Plans to better support imperiled species, to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s cross-programmatic work to support Strategic Habitat Conservation.
During the workshop, the five sub-teams that have been focusing on the five distinct but related conservation approaches nested within the RCOA project presented their products to the full team to gather input on necessary adjustments before distributing Version 1.0 for review. The resulting suites of tools, which can be can used together or separately, represent the following conservation approaches:
- Terrestrial Core Networks – A connected network of intact and diverse terrestrial, wetland and coastal systems
- Aquatic Core Networks – A connected network of intact and diverse aquatic systems
- Regional Species of Greatest Conservation Need (RSGCN) habitats – Important habitat for vulnerable species not fully captured in core networks
- Restoration Opportunities – Degraded or fragmented places where restoration will make the most difference
- Regional Connectivity and Marsh Migration – The best opportunities to maintain regional connections and connect tidal marshes to adjacent uplands
With the benefit of regional context, states, non-governmental organizations, and federal agencies can both reinforce existing priorities, and identify new ones. For example, knowing that your state contains the most high quality habitat for a species of concern like Karner blue in the entire region can help justify decisions to protect that habitat. That kind of information can benefit a range of users, from wildlife biologists to grant writers making a case for funding.
Starting on August 4th, the RCOA team will make the first iteration (Version 1.0) products available within their organizations so technical staff and users can begin to explore the data and provide feedback that can be used to improve the products for the next iteration (Version 2.0).
If you are interested in being involved in the review process, please contact North Atlantic LCC coordinator Andrew Milliken.