Arizona’s new AWCS is far more than a document. The AWCS offers both a comprehensive, 10-year conservation plan (SWAP) as well as a dynamic on-line presence complete with a set of innovative web-based planning tools. As a plan, the AWCS incorporates new data and information, identifies key changes and threats to wildlife and their habitats, and offers actions to meet our overall conservation goal to “keep common species common.” By providing web-based data visualization and decision support tools — such as the COA map viewer and the CAT — the AWCS is also a vital resource to guide strategic investments, mitigation, and conservation that will have the greatest benefit for wildlife in Arizona.
The AWCS is the result of a multi-year effort requiring the dedication of various AZGFD workgroups and teams, input from numerous partners and stakeholders, and the general public. In 2012, the USFWS approved the last revision of our 10-year plan and this latest revision will be completed in 2022. Through the rigorous revision process, the AWCS incorporates new data and information, key changes occurring in Arizona, and factors influencing the management of lands in our state. Numerous threats that affect fish and wildlife include the state’s human population growth, climate change, increasing demand for renewable energy sources, emergence of new wildlife diseases, and the increasing number of invasive species. Each of these — and many more — are addressed in the AWCS with the understanding that these threats are fluid and constantly changing their influence on wildlife and their habitats. The AWCS meets the challenges of this variable environment as a comprehensive, web-based planning resource that can be edited, updated, and altered to meet changing conditions.
Early in the revision process, it became apparent that any plan of this magnitude would need to be a “living” document in order to adapt to altered conditions on the landscape, changes to species status, emerging or changing threats, and shifting societal pressures. The advantage of the AWCS that integrates our 10-year plan into a fully web-based platform is that AZGFD staff will be able to continuously revise species, habitat, and threat information data as they become available. In addition, AZGFD will be able to continuously update our list of Conservation Opportunity Areas (COAs), a new and critical component of the AWCS that fosters widespread public and stakeholder engagement and collaboration in conservation efforts. Finally, since the AWCS provides a dynamic, web-based platform for our conservation strategy, we will be able to host annual meetings with stakeholders to review the AWCS. Comments, suggestions, or changes to the AWCS that are minor revisions will then be submitted to USFWS for approval. Upon approval, AZGFD can incorporate these changes into the AWCS’s web platform..
For each revision of the AWCS/SWAP, AZGFD embarks on a multi-year review process to make key changes to the strategy based on the latest information and data available. Over the past two years, AZGFD has been revising the AWCS and building off changes from the 2012 plan, formerly known as the Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy (CWCS). This section outlines the major changes to the new AWCS according to each of the Eight Required Elements and indicates where the details of those changes can be found.
Element 1: Species distribution and abundance
Changes were made to the various components of Element 1. These included changes to the Master Species List for Arizona (Appendix C: Master Species List) which was revised to reflect the taxonomic level at which wildlife is managed in the state. A new vulnerability analysis was conducted by AZGFD staff and these scores were applied to the Master Species List using revised and more defensible criteria. (See Chapter 1: Arizona’s Biodiversity for more detailed explanation of vulnerability analysis and definitions of vulnerability criteria.) As a result of this analysis, we created an updated SGCN list (Table 4). See Appendix D: Species of Greatest Conservation Need with Vulnerability Scores for full list of SGCN and vulnerability scores.
Following the vulnerability analysis, we created new habitat suitability models for nearly all Tier 1 and Tier 2 SGCN. Species leads at AZGFD completed a review of the current SGCN species distribution models developed over the past 10 years. These SGCN were then prioritized based on availability and/or accuracy of existing models. In total these efforts modeled 290 SGCN of various taxa. Chapter 1: Arizona’s Biodiversity details our modeling efforts.
Element 2: Habitat locations and conditions
Arizona is a large, topographically complex state with a wide variety of land uses ranging from protected natural areas such as federal wildernesses to highly developed urban areas. Wildlife occurs in and uses every habitat type in the state and often rely on variability within and among habitat types to survive. Therefore, we have identified all habitat types as inherently valuable to the natural heritage of Arizona and worthy of conservation actions.
The AWCS relies on Brown and Lowe’s (1980, 1994) mid-scale classification system to identify the 17 habitat types described in Chapter 7: Habitat Profiles. Habitat specialists and species leads at AZGFD developed detailed habitat profiles that describe the locations and conditions of habitats throughout Arizona. Included in these profiles are narrative descriptions of the habitat type including natural history, native flora and fauna that occur, key habitat features, and current challenges and trends. Other information detailed within these habitat profiles include an updated list of SGCN that occur within the habitat type, primary threats to the habitat, challenges in the context of climate change, a list of potential partners for conservation efforts, and more. Each habitat profile also includes a list of potential COAs where conservation efforts would be most beneficial to SGCN and their habitats. Finally, habitat profiles also include a list of Additional Influential Species, which are non-SGCN, but species that can play out-sized roles in any ecosystem and utlimately affect SGCN popoulations. For example, American beavers can pond lotic systems and potentially alter community composition of native aquatics species and also encourage the recruitment of invasives such as bullfrogs. Acknowledging these direct and indirect effects of influential species on SGCN must be considered when planning and implementing any management actions.
Element 3: Threats to species and habitat
Throughout the AWCS, we address the many challenges facing Arizona’s wildlife and their habitats and provide potential conservation efforts that can reverse or remedy these threats. From disease to climate change to renewable energy development, Chapter 3: Conservation Challenges is dedicated to detailing the exhaustive list of threats facing Arizona’s wildlife and their habitats today.
Unlike previous versions of the SWAP, the AWCS fully utilizes a standardized lexicon for threats described in Salafsky et al. (2008). Adopting this lexicon for threats was first recommended by AFWA in 2012 shortly after the publishing of our previous SWAP. This standardized lexicon uses a hierarchical system with different levels, similar to the Linnaean System of taxonomy. For the AWCS we made minor changes to the lexicon to better address our environmental conditions here in Arizona. This standardized lexicon is now found throughout the AWCS. A full integration of this lexicon in the AWCS will greatly improve our collaborative efforts with neighboring states as we move forward together to better conserve the resources we share across borders. Threats are first briefly identified in each of the habitat profiles found in Chapter 7: Habitat Profiles. Then in Chapter 8: Threats and Conservation Actions, the AWCS goes into greater detail about how each threat is affecting habitats and the wildlife that occur there.
Element 4: Actions to conserve species and habitat
Following the identification of threats and utilization of Salafsky’s standardized lexicon, the AWCS fully integrates conservation actions that specifically address each threat by offering potential actions to remedy the identified threats. Chapter 8: Threats and Conservation Actions details these potential actions by habitat type.
To address the growing threat of climate change, the AWCS includes a section “Conservation in the Context of Climate Change” in each of the habitat profiles detailed in Chapter 7. This section identifies many actions that can address climate change and its effects, both directly and indirectly. Some of those actions are being implemented currently by AZGFD and many can best be accomplished by our partners and the public.
A new and innovative component of the AWCS is the addition of Conservation Opportunity Areas (COAs). These are specific areas on the landscape that AZGFD staff and partners identified to help prioritize on-the-ground conservation efforts where investments are most likely to lead to substantial gains for wildlife. More than 400 terrestrial and aquatic COAs are identified in the AWCS, ranging from small stock tanks to entire mountain ranges. Some COAs are specific to individual species that are in need of targeted conservation efforts while other COAs emphasize the conservation of multiple species found in a particularly threatened habitat type.
Chapter 7: Habitat Profiles first identifies each COA found in that habitat type. Appendix G: Aquatic COA Profiles and Appendix H: Terrestrial COA Profiles then provides an in-depth look at each individual COA. Each COA profile includes a brief description of the site, SGCN present, primary threats, and potential conservation actions, among other valuable information. Each profile then offers a list of potential partners as well as actionable conservation actions that could remedy imminent threats to the COA.
These COAs will be an integral part of the new on-line presence of the AWCS. The COA map is a dynamic tool to help visualize the current and potential areas of conservation throughout the state. This interactive, user-friendly map is intended to be used by, not only AZGFD, but the general public, our partners agencies, local governments, and so on. One goal of integrating COAs into the AWCS and providing an on-line tool is to foster partnerships with other agencies, conservation groups, and the general public by providing a comprehensive, state-wide map of actionable conservation areas where partners can collaborate to meet common goals.
Element 5: Plan for monitoring effectiveness of actions
Chapter 9: Monitoring was revised primarily for clarity, to update the literature and on-going monitoring efforts. This chapter includes an exhaustive list of current protocols, management plans, and other guiding documents used by AZGFD and our partners to monitor SGCN and their habitats. Since the AWCS will be fully web-based, we’ll have the opportunity to update and make minor revisions to our monitoring efforts as conditions on the ground change and new information presents itself over the next 10 years.
Element 6: Procedures for updating the plan
Arizona’s new AWCS is far more than a document that guides wildlife conservation over the next decade. The AWCS is a fully integrated data management system that allows AZGFD to share data on the SGCN, the threats and conservation actions, and the landscape models with all of our partners and with the public through the use of the Wildlife Data Warehouse (WDW). The advantage of taking this approach to the AWCS is that we will be able to continuously revise species, habitat, and threat data as information becomes available. Notably, because of the new on-line format, feedback from our partners and public can be incorporated in real time. This allows AZGFD to engage in true adaptive management while limiting the need for constant revisions of the plan itself.
However, AZGFD recognizes that many changes will occur over the next decade: Priorities will change, landscapes will be altered, species’ status will change, programs are completed and new programs are launched. We are fully committed to reviewing this document as required by USFWS guidelines and performing a full review and revision as needed by 2032 and incorporate major revisions to the status of species, habitat conditions, threats to wildlife, and monitoring. As part of the on-going review process, AZGFD will continuously monitor public comment through various resources and will hold public meetings to review the revision at that time. AZGFD will also obtain minor revisions from USFWS as needed through time.
Element 7: Partner involvement
As part of AZGFD’s commitment to partnerships and collaboration, throughout 2020 and 2021, we held various outreach efforts with stakeholders, from federal and state agencies, to Tribes, NGOs, and other interested parties. More than 40 entities were represented over 10 stakeholder focus groups, all of which were performed on-line as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Chapter 6: Conservation Partnerships details our collaborative efforts with our various stakeholders and much of the valuable information gathered and incorporated into the AWCS.
Feedback from these outreach efforts was instrumental in helping AZGFD shape our current plan, by identifying priorities and providing feedback for us to create an innovative, user-friendly platform in the AWCS. We are fully committed to continuing this productive stakeholder outreach process as we approach our next major revisions for 2032. In the meantime, we will be hosting semi-regular stakeholder outreach events to gain input in subsequent years and make changes to the AWCS as needed.
Element 8: Public participation
Broad public participation is a critical component to any comprehensive conservation strategy and the AWCS is no exception. During the two-year revision process, AZGFD hosted several public forums to present the AWCS to a wide audience. The goal of such outreach was to introduce the AWCS, outline our goals and priorities, provide progress updates, and receive feedback on how to improve our strategy and tools.
In the spring of 2020, we initiated our public outreach with a broad survey about the AWCS. With the help of social media, email listserv, and direct mailing to targeted audiences, we received more than 2,300 responses from a wide variety of constituencies, including conservation organizations, private landowners, representatives from local governments, and concerned citizens, among others. Responses provided us with valuable input about our vision for the AWCS. Results from these public outreach efforts and changes we incorporated into the AWCS can be found in Chapter 6: Conservation Partnerships.
In September 2021, we hosted a series of virtual presentations about the AWCS. The purpose of these presentations was to engage the general public about the AWCS and gain feedback. More than 90 individuals attended these on-line forums, many of whom provided valuable feedback and suggestions on how to improve the AWCS.
As a result of our public outreach efforts, we incorporated several changes to the AWCS. Some of these more substantial changes included:
Increased emphasis on climate change and wildlife connectivity
Improved public awareness and trainings of the AWCS
Identification of priority areas for conservation
Agreed to develop an industry engagement strategy and promote use of the AWCS