Conservation of species and their habitats, of course, does not end at state or international borders. Foraging and breeding habitats, migratory corridors, and watersheds, are just a few of the resources that Arizona shares with its neighbors in New Mexico, California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, and across the international border into Mexico. While the Brown and Lowe classification is well-known among agencies and organizations in Arizona, other regional classification systems may be more familiar to our neighboring states and partners in Mexico. To facilitate coordinated efforts at a broader scale and improve our ability to aggregate information at a regional level, the AWCS will also rely on two other widely-used datasets: Level III Ecoregions (Griffith et al. 2014) and Bird Conservation Regions (BCRs; Bird Studies Canada and NABCI 2014; Figure 2).
Ecoregions are areas where ecosystems are similar and possess common characteristics such as ecosystem quality and quantity of the environmental resource. This ecoregion framework is adapted from Omernik (1987) with mapping done in collaboration with EPA regional offices, other federal agencies, state resource management agencies, and neighboring North American countries. Level III Ecoregions are revised version derived from a multi-agency collaboration between the USDA, EPA, USGS, TNC and several state agencies (Griffith et al. 2014). This ecological framework divides the landscape into regions with similarities in physical and biological characteristics including geology, physiography, vegetation, climate, soils, land use, wildlife, and hydrology.
The BCRs are similar to Level III Ecoregions in that they divide the landscape into areas with similar characteristics, however the BCRs divide North America into regions with similar bird communities, habitats, and resource management issues (NABCI 2020). This widely-used framework developed by the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) has become the standard for developing coordinated bird conservation initiatives and landscape level strategies and priorities across state, provincial, and international boundaries.
The finer-scale Southwest Regional Gap Analysis Project (SWReGAP) was also incorporated into the AWCS. These classifications are well known and are an easy way to crosswalk between the mid-scale Brown and Lowe biotic communities and local-scale ecological units used in AWCS habitat suitability modeling.
In 2020, the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (AFWA) published a report titled President’s Task Force on Shared Science and Landscape Conservation Priorities: Final Report (Mawdsley et al 2020), which recognized that landscape scale, cross-jurisdictional collaborations are valuable for fish and wildlife agencies in order to achieve statutorily-required conservation of fish and wildlife and their habitats. The report also identifies that SWAPs are foundational documents for regional- and landscape-scale coordination toward conservation goals, including goals that scale beyond state or other jurisdictional boundaries. In line with this, the report recommends that “AFWA convene a diverse work group to assess and develop recommendations on how SWAPs can improve range-wide conservation of Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN) and contribute to regional and/or national landscape conservation priorities.”
To meet these goals identified in the AFWA report, AZGFD has partnered with our colleagues at the Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW) in an attempt to foster development and implementation of a cross-jurisdictional approach to conservation in the west. Through regular communications and data/information sharing, the two state wildlife agencies are working together as their respective SWAP revisions move forward. This cooperative approach ensures that each agency will meet the individual needs of their state while simultaneously considering needs that stretch beyond respective state boundaries.
Like all state wildlife agencies, AZGFD and NDOW were required to develop SWAPs to secure federal State Wildlife Grant funding. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) is a critical partner in the process and is supporting the state effort. Several things are happening both within Nevada and Arizona, and within the national conversation on SWAPs, including:
Consideration of supporting SGCN through additional technical expertise or new value-added mapping and modeling tools
Fostering the implementation of long-term conservation actions through partnerships between regional USFWS and state wildlife agencies or regional associations
Through this important Arizona-Nevada collaboration, we are currently exploring how we might use additional technical expertise and new mapping or modeling tools to accomplish several goals:
Identify which species’ ranges the two states share across boundaries and map where they may occur on the landscape.
Coordinate identification of threats and conservation actions for these species and their habitats.
Identify shared areas of conservation value or potential that could define transboundary Conservation Opportunity Areas (COA) that currently are not part of either state’s SWAP.
Help address climate change effects at more regional scales that can in turn help us direct habitat restoration and protection efforts.
The on-going collaborative efforts between AZGFD and NDOW are in their initial stages at the time of this publishing. However, these discussions are already proving fruitful and have expanded to include our other neighboring states, including representatives from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, and New Mexico Department of Game and Fish. Since Arizona and Nevada will finalize their latest SWAP revisions in 2022 (the other states will be completed in 2025), AZGFD and NDOW are taking the lead in defining the parameters of this region-wide collaboration.
Initial efforts of the AZGFD-NDOW collaboration include:
Define ecosystem/habitat classification at a regional scale using Ecoregions Level III from the EPA. Since each state appears to classify habitats slightly different in order to meet their own needs, using a more coarse-grained ecoregions classification system will provide us with a universal, regional-wide habitat classification system to better facilitate efforts between states.
Identify the various SGCN that Arizona and Nevada share. Define threats and conservation actions facing these species according to standardized lexicon from Salafsky et al. (2008).
Identify potential transboundary COAs in our shared landscape and potential collaborative efforts that we can implement as well as other valuable resources, such as potential partners and funding sources.
Western States Regional Decision Support Tool
The Critical Habitat Assessment Tool (CHAT) is a GIS-based decision support tool managed and maintained by the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA). The tool identifies important wildlife habitats and key wildlife corridors across the west and represents state-level priorities. Currently, AZGFD is collaborating with 14 other state fish and wildlife agencies to make up-to-date, regional level wildlife data available through the CHAT. The tool is designed to improve collaboration between state wildlife agencies, their partners, and the public. It is publicly accessible and appropriate for landscape-scale conservation planning and analysis. For more information and to access the CHAT, visit the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies website.
While AZGFD is responsible for conserving, enhancing and restoring Arizona's diverse wildlife resources and habitats for current and future generations, AZGFD also has a long-history of binational wildlife collaborations with partners in Mexico and Canada. These efforts started more than 30 years ago with activities associated with shared species of common conservation concern, such as certain native fish and the endangered Sonoran pronghorn. Since the mid-1990s, most international collaboration efforts have been coordinated by AZGFD’s International and Borderlands Program. These successful binational collaborations have received important recognition and awards from state and federal agencies from both countries.
Over the last few years, our partnership with groups in Mexico, particularly with the State of Sonora, have achieved important goals for the management and conservation of wildlife and their habitats. Our successful collaborations with Mexico have allowed us to exchange wildlife genetic material and expand the knowledge of the natural history of species common to the border area. The information collected has assisted AZGFD and other state and federal agencies in the decision-making process and has helped develop an effective management program for those species that occur on both sides of the border. In addition to native fishes and Sonoran pronghorn, AZGFD has collaborated on the management and recovery of black-tailed prairie dog, Mexican wolf, lesser long-nosed bat, white-tailed deer, thick-billed parrot, masked bobwhite, cactus ferruginous pygmy owl, Gould’s turkey, Sonoran desert tortoise, flat-tailed horned lizard, as well as waterfowl, shorebirds, and native frogs. In 2019, and in collaboration with Sonoran partner state agencies, we implemented a wildlife inventory project on private properties within Sonora’s Sky Island region.
Since 1996, AZGFD’s International and Borderlands Program has led an effort in wetland training and capacity building in Mexico with the assistance of wetland scientists and managers from the United States, Canada, and Mexico. Other training opportunities to Mexican partners provided by our program include: introduction to the use of camera-traps in wildlife monitoring, breeding bird surveys, zoonotic diseases, golden eagle monitoring, and white-tailed and mule deer management. In addition, AZGFD has actively participated in binational recovery teams, the AFWA’s International Relations Committee, the Arizona-Mexico Commission, the Border Governors Conference, the North American Commission on Environmental Cooperation, Good Neighbor Environmental Program, Sonoran Joint Venture, Desert Landscape Conservation Cooperative, Convention on Biological Diversity, and the Canada/Mexico/U.S. Trilateral Committee for Wildlife and Ecosystem Conservation and Management.