The BLM recognizes that wildlife resources must be considered at large scales and is moving in this direction through implementation of broad-scale habitat restoration programs; the BLM’s Assessment Inventory and Monitoring Strategy; as well as the through development of planning guidance for the incorporation of ecoregional assessments of fish, wildlife and plant resources into Resource Management Plans. The BLM’s wildlife program is an integral part of these initiatives and is active in sagebrush and grassland restoration projects throughout the western states.
Wildlife managers face a number of challenges that transcend jurisdictional boundaries. These include increasing wildfires and invasive species; spread of diseases, providing for expanding demand for energy development and urban growth; and extended droughts, melting permafrost, and other climate change-related impacts. These factors can contribute to loss and degradation of wildlife habitat.
For example, some wildlife species have responded to warming temperatures by making a northward shift or an upward elevational shift relative to their historic ranges. Audubon reports that 60 percent of the 305 avian species overwintering in North America have moved their winter locations an average of 35 miles northward. Mapping and prioritizing wildlife resources at a biologically appropriate scale is necessary to effectively conserve and manage wildlife resources in the long term.
The BLM is preparing a series of ecoregional assessments to help land managers better understand and respond to these broadscale challenges. This will include the development of a wildlife adaptation strategy of significant geographic scope.
Four "pilot" assessments have already begun; they are Northern Great Basin, Wyoming Basin, Chihuahuan Desert, and Alaska’s North Slope. Eight additional assessments are underway: Sonoran Desert, Mojave Basin and Range, Central Basin and Range, Colorado Plateau, Middle Rockies, Northwestern Great Plains, Northwestern Glaciated Plains, and Seward Peninsula (Alaska).
These assessments will document areas of high ecological value, including regionally significant habitats and species of concern. They also will map areas outside of significant habitat areas that have high energy development potential. These areas could be best-suited for future energy development. Ecoregional assessments are based on an examination of existing information and describe ongoing and projected environmental disturbances from wildfire, invasive species, and climatic conditions. They also identify opportunities for resource conservation and development.
Partners include federal and state agencies, nongovernmental organizations and contractors. Products include detailed geographical information system (GIS) maps and a report concerning current ecoregional conservation status and potential for change in a 20-50 year planning horizon.
The assessments are being developed within the framework of the Department of the Interior’s climate change science initiative, which includes establishment of Climate Science Centers and Landscape Conservation Cooperatives (LCCs). The Interior Secretary’s Climate Change Order (Order 3289) states that the realities of climate change require changes to how the Department of the Interior manages land, water, fish and wildlife resources; it directs Interior Department agencies to consider climate change in planning and decision-making.
The BLM will use the results of the assessments to inform its land use planning and decision-making for an ecoregion’s public lands. The assessments will also help the BLM, working in cooperation with its partners and stakeholders, to prioritize, coordinate, and implement conservation actions that can achieve the greatest long-term benefit.
Funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act are being used to contract some of these ecoregional assessments. The BLM announced contracts for four assessments in July 2010.