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Putting science to work for refuge planning

During a National Wildlife Refuge biological workshop at the National Conservation Training Center, staff from the North Atlantic LCC and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service introduced refuge biologists to scientific tools that offer regional perspective on habitat management and planning.

From March 21st to 25th, more than 60 biologists representing National Wildlife Refuges across the Northeast region convened at the National Conservation Training Center for a workshop designed to help align efforts to meet shared conservation goals by improving the application and analysis of field-collected data on refuge lands. 

Many returned home with a better understanding of how landscape-scale conservation tools could help them achieve collective goals through more strategic action at individual refuges.

During three sessions on “Applying Landscape Scale Tools to Refuges” coordinated by staff from the North Atlantic LCC and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Northeast Region, refuge biologists had the opportunity to get acquainted with regional science in familiar terms: the organizing framework for the workshop was based upon National Wildlife Refuge System policies for identifying and prioritizing Resources of Concern for Refuge planning and using prioritized resources in the development of Habitat Management Plans.   

To ensure that the content of the workshop would meet the needs of the audience, the team led by Jeff Horan, Rebecca Longenecker, and Nathan Bush, worked with Matt Whitbeck from Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, and Rachel Cliche and Jeremy Goetz from the Silvio O.Conte National Wildlife Refuge, to select tools that would be especially useful in helping biologists understand the wider landscape context beyond refuge boundaries, and that could complement existing knowledge and fine-scale data within refuge boundaries.

With the benefit of the inside perspective, the team was able to develop exercises for the workshop that reflected both refuge priorities and challenges.

A handful of demonstrations explored how Habitat Capability Models for Representative Species might be used to inform habitat management plans on refuges, Developed by the North Atlantic LCC-supported Designing Sustainable Landscapes project, the models depict high-quality habitat for 30 representative species that were selected because they typify lifecycles and habitat requirements for others, are sensitive to landscape changes, can be monitored feasibly, and collectively represent all major habitat types in the region.

But more than just a tool for identifying the best habitat for priority species at an individual refuge, the models offer new perspective on the status quo by providing regional context.

For example, diamondback terrapin is a relatively common species at Blackwater, and is thus not necessarily regarded as a top priority for management. However by looking at the regional habitat picture for this species across the whole Northeast region, it becomes clear that Blackwater is especially important for this coastal turtle.

“This kind of perspective allows managers to consider: What is highest and best use of our refuge?”, said Horan .

Moving forward, the North Atlantic LCC will focus on the best way to follow up in order to provide biologists with the additional information, resources, and support they need to put these tools to work back home.

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