Conservation Priority Mapping in West Virginia

Wetland along Gandy Creek edit 2

  • Created dimension maps for wildlife species found in West Virginia
  • Located priority habitats and assembled them into a Conservation Network
  • Set in motion data development for the next phase of the WVCAP (West Virginia Conservation Action Plan)
  • Led to the development of the ICT (Interagency Coordination Tool)

 

The West Virginia Division of Natural Resources (WVDNR) developed the WVCAP as a framework to conserve species diversity in West Virginia. The plan identifies those fish and wildlife resources that are Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN) and emphasizes what conservation and management techniques are needed for preserving these resources. Initially, however, further work was needed to both identify priority habitats and assemble them into a separate network to allow for proper decision-making in support of conservation needs. 

The WVDNR asked us to design this network, which is now known as the Conservation Network. The Network utilizes the Environmental Protection Agency’s Green Infrastructure Principles to identify the resources necessary to support SGCN at a landscape scale. This provides the WVDNR vital guidance in their efforts to focus the limited resources available for natural resource conservation.  

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A map of the state according to conservation priority; just one outcome of the Conservation Network

Conservation Network

The basic building blocks of the Network are areas of land or water known as cores, hubs and corridors. Cores are high-quality, functioning habitats that meet the thresholds for species populations and landscape conditions. A core can be any type of ecosystem, such as a forest, grassland, wetland, or a body of water. Hubs are groups of multiple cores that can represent relatively intact (unaltered) landscape elements. Finally, corridors are the areas that link cores together and allow animals, seeds and pollen to move from one core to another as part of a naturally functioning environment.

Each of these three types of areas are identified and ranked according to their ecological and conservation value. The metrics used to rank these elements were chosen to reflect the desired characteristics of context, condition, and rarity. These characteristics specifically relate to ecosystems of high conservation value.

Beyond the Network

Data produced by the Conservation Network has been put to use in a number of ways. For example, it was a critical part of the foundation for the the Wildlife Action Plan (WAP). The WAP was developed from processes similar to those that were behind the Conservation Network. The goal of the action plan is ‘to conserve the diversity of West Virginia’s fish and wildlife resources by emphasizing [those] species in greatest need of conservation’. The plan outlines conservation and protection efforts well into the next decade, but it is only the initial step in a management process for long-term habitat and organism conservation. The plan is estimated to be completed late 2015.

Another tool that incorporated data developed from the Network was the ICT. The ICT was designed to evaluate the potential impacts on populations and/or habitats of SGCN from agricultural conservation practices. It also has allowed for a more streamlined Endangered Species Act (ESA) compliance process for Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) field offices.

Finally, data produced has assisted land trusts and other conservation organizations in their decision-making processes when it comes to developing in the state.