OLYMPIA - In a move that could usher in a new approach to conserving Washington's rich natural resources, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Washington Department of Natural Resources and The Nature Conservancy have agreed to create a series of assessments that will guide their conservation work for years to come and improve the stewardship of wildlife habitat across Washington State.
A Memorandum of Understanding will be signed by Public Lands Commissioner Doug Sutherland, WDFW Director Jeffrey Koenings and David Weekes, director of The Nature Conservancy's Washington chapter at a ceremony on June 25, at 8:30 a.m., in the Commissioner's office of the Natural Resources Building. The gathering is open to the public.
The purpose of the agreement is to provide a framework for WDFW, DNR, and the Conservancy to coordinate the development of "ecoregional assessments," comprehensive analyses of the native species and habitat types in a given area, their abundance and distribution, and threats to their viability. The parties, in the MOU, describe each assessment as "a dynamic atlas of conservation priorities," which will be updated regularly as new information becomes available or as tools for analysis become more sophisticated.
WDFW, DNR and the Conservancy will create the assessments using the best available science and human expertise across a range of pertinent fields. These assessments are not plans and have no regulatory authority but are guides for cooperative conservation across the ecoregion. The assessments, all three parties believe, will encourage collaboration and information-sharing, make use of a broad spectrum of conservation tools and will become new resources for landowners, planners, agencies, tribes, land trusts and others working to protect the state's native plants, animals and ecosystems.
Ecoregions are large geographic areas that share similar climate, landforms and native species and that provide an analytical framework based not on jurisdictional boundaries but on the geography of landscape and biology. Nine ecoregions-from the Northwest Coast to the Columbia Plateau-intersect Washington.
The concept of "ecoregions" is increasingly used in conservation planning and was used to develop DNR's 2003 Natural Heritage Plan to coordinate the conservation activities of many private groups and government agencies. That plan is available at http://www.dnr.wa.gov/ under Publications.
WDFW is also using ecoregions as the geographic framework for its Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy. The statewide strategy will be a landscape-based document that addresses the full array of the state's fish and wildlife, with a focus on species and habitats in greatest need of conservation. For more information, go to the department's web page, http://wdfw.wa.gov/conservation/cwcs/.
The decision to work on these ecoregional assessments reflects a new way to view conservation and biodiversity protection.
Traditionally, land-management agencies and conservation organizations have taken a site-by-site approach, often focusing on a particular species, geographic area or management issue. These assessments will analyze the patterns of distribution and abundance of native species and ecosystems on a much broader scale, enabling the three parties to make informed resource management and policy decisions that protect an ecoregion's biodiversity as well as the human landscape and its economic well-being.