At-Risk Species Assessment on Southern National Forests, Refuges, and Other Protected Areas

The National Wildlife Refuge Association (NWRA) recently released a final report on findings from the At-Risk Species Assessment on Southern National Forests, Refuges, and Other Protected Areas. The project revealed that southern National Forests and National Wildlife Refuges are home to the most at-risk species in the nation. The project was a partnership between the U.S. Forest Service southern region (Forest Service), the Southeast Region of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) and NWRA.

The Service began working with states, federal agencies, and other partners in 2011 to evaluate more than 400 fish, wildlife, and plant species petitioned for potential listing under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA). These evaluations are required due to litigation and petitions. The petitioned species represent a broad array of taxa groups and many of the petitioned species are locally occurring or aquatic species for which the Service had limited biological information.

In 2013 and 2014, NWRA first worked in cooperation with the Service to host six workshops that convened biologists and subject matter experts to assess the role that the 129 National Wildlife Refuges played in the southeast. Based on the success of this project, the Forest Service developed a cooperative agreement with the Service to conduct a similar effort surrounding National Forests. The NWRA again served as a partner and the project lead to organize and conduct a “Phase II” series of 9 workshops from December 2015 to January 2017 to discuss on-the-ground knowledge of presence/absence, status, habitat needs, and management opportunities for over 500 at-risk species on federal lands and other protected areas (National Wildlife Refuges, National Forests, Department of Defense installations, and other state and municipal protected areas) in the southeast. This collaboration quantified the role that public lands are already playing in supporting at-risk species populations and identified knowledge gaps, habitat management, and monitoring opportunities and also fostered cooperation among public agencies, as well as non-government organizations and private landowners on management and monitoring actions to benefit at-risk species.

The project revealed the important role that Refuges are playing in at-risk species conservation:

  • a total of 187 at-risk species were found to occur on 106 refuges
  • 98 were locally occurring species
  • 33 of these were significant populations that are critical to the species recovery
  • 30 populations were only reported on refuges and 13 of these were deemed significant populations.

During the assessment of over 600 public lands, 40 priority land units were identified that hosted 75% of at-risk species with known occurrences, nearly half the significant populations and 65% of the locally occurring species. These priority land units included 16 National Forests, 11 National Wildlife Refuges with the remainder Department of Defense, Park Service and other state and local lands.

The assessment also provided information enabling 45 candidate and petitioned species to be withdrawn and an additional 20 petitioned species were recommended for withdrawal by subject matter experts contributing to the workshops. These findings will help reduce the enormous workload on Service staff charged with addressing species for listing consideration.

The Fish and Wildlife Service maintains an online at Risk Species Finder. All occurrence data obtained from the workshops were added to the finder which can be found at https://www.fws.gov/southeast/finder/#/ .

Permanent link to this article: https://www.refugeassociation.org/2017/11/at-risk-species-assessment-on-southern-national-forests-refuges-and-other-protected-areas/

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