DRAFT Washington Shrubsteppe Restoration and Resiliency Initiative: Long-Term Strategy 2024 - 2054


Published: January 2024

Pages: 134

Executive Summary

Initiated in 2021 with a $2.35 million biennial allocation from the Washington State Legislature, the Washington Shrubsteppe Restoration and Resiliency Initiative (WSRRI) is a collaborative and focused effort to conserve and restore wildlife habitats, enhance wildfire preparedness and response, and support working lands in Eastern Washington's shrubsteppe landscape. This funding, part of a legislative proviso, is directed to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and is supplemented by an additional $1.5 million for the replacement of fences with wildlife-friendly alternatives. The initiative is a targeted response to the Labor Day wildfires in 2020 and unique ecological challenges faced by shrubsteppe habitats, wildlife, and human communities within the Columbia Plateau.

Spanning over ten million acres, the shrubsteppe landscape is vital for a variety of wildlife and plant species, some endemic to the region such as Columbia Basin pygmy rabbits. It is a critical area for habitat protection and conservation for species of greatest conservation need amid increasing threats from invasive species, wildfires, land use conversion, and other impacts. WSRRI seeks to address wildlife habitat protection and restoration challenges while also supporting working lands and communities in the face of wildland fire. Wildland fire preparedness, response, and recovery are important components of this effort.

WSRRI's Long-Term Strategy, set for a 30-year period, includes five key elements focused on community engagement, habitat protection, habitat restoration, species management, and fire management. It emphasizes a strategic conservation approach, encapsulated in the "Defend the Core, Grow the Core, Connect the Core" principle. The initiative leverages advanced remote sensing and TerrAdapt’s data models for effective landscape-scale mapping and monitoring, for identifying spatial priorities for habitat protection and conservation.

Organizational structure is vital to WSRRI's effective implementation. The initiative is overseen by a Steering Committee that includes representatives from WDFW, the Washington Department of Natural Resources (WDNR), and the Washington State Conservation Commission (WSCC). An Advisory Group representing the diverse interests of the shrubsteppe landscape is envisioned to inform and help guide the implementation of WSRRI Long-Term Strategy, working closely with Regional Implementation Teams to align regional activities under the overarching strategy. A Program Manager coordinates capacity and resources to achieve priority actions and ensures communication coordination between the Regional Implementation Teams, Advisory Group, and Steering Committee.

Emphasizing environmental justice (EJ) principles, the initiative commits to practices that are equitable and inclusive, particularly for Tribes, underserved, highly impacted, vulnerable, and overburdened communities. In the context of this strategy, Environmental Justice means addressing historical and ongoing inequities that result in disparities in the distribution of conservation efforts and their impacts across the shrubsteppe landscape. This strategy lays the groundwork for the development of actions to further assess and integrate EJ principles into the work framed by WSRRI.

Currently, WSRRI is updating and refining the process and procedure for coordinating resources and capacity towards project work on the ground, an integral part of its strategy to enhance fire resilience and habitat restoration, particularly focusing on Species of Greatest Conservation Need. This transparent and equitable process will prioritize effort and assistance to projects in Core Areas, Growth Opportunity Areas, and Corridors.

Central to the initiative is the Monitoring and Adaptive Management Plan, which employs adaptive management strategies to make informed decisions in uncertain conditions. This plan focuses on key metrics across Participation, Spatial, Habitat, and Wildlife categories and includes regular updates and assessments to adapt to social, cultural, scientific, and ecological changes.

In essence, WSRRI, fueled by legislative support and a tri-agency steering committee at the helm, is committed to preserving and revitalizing the unique shrubsteppe landscape of Washington State for the wildlife and human communities that call this unique landscape home. By balancing strategic wildlife habitat protection and restoration with sustainable working lands management and engaging a broad range of shrubsteppe communities, stakeholders and Tribes, the initiative seeks to foster a wildfire resilient and thriving landscape.