To qualify for SWG funds and to ensure they are allocated to appropriate conservation targets, a current SWAP must address the following eight elements:
Species distribution and abundance including low and declining populations that are indicative of the diversity and health of the state’s wildlife.
Habitat locations and conditions essential to the conservation of species identified in Element 1.
Threats to species and habitat and priority research and survey efforts needed to identify factors which may assist in restoration and conservation.
Actions to conserve species and habitat including priorities for implementation.
Plan for monitoring effectiveness of actions facilitating adaptive management approaches.
Procedures for updating the plan to maintain current, useful information ensuring effective response to changing conditions.
Partner involvement throughout review and revision of the SWAP as well as implementation.
Public participation to increase awareness and support for conservation needs and to encourage involvement in implementation of the SWAP.
These eight required elements ensure a certain degree of consistency across SWAPs, allowing for multi-state and regional conservation efforts while fostering effective conservation actions to be assessed at a broader scale.
While enforcing consistency, the eight required elements still provide significant flexibility for each state to tailor their SWAP to their unique situations and incorporate innovative conservation approaches, making it an effective strategy from which to tier operational and implementation plans. Here in Arizona, the AWCS not only satisfies the requirements for participation in the State Wildlife Grants Program, it also provides a foundation for the conservation of all of Arizona’s fish and wildlife species. In addressing the eight required elements for every SWAP, the following key changes were made and included in the AWCS:
Element 1. Information on Species Distribution and Abundance
The SGCN vulnerability criteria were refined by combining categories within criteria to make the assessment a more straightforward, repeatable process. Also, the fragmentation status criterion was removed because we decided it would be better addressed as a threat in Chapter 3: Conservation Challenges. The resulting SGCN list was further prioritized according to tiers of vulnerability that reflect AZGFD’s management commitments using the same system established in the previous SWAP. These tiers are now Tier 1, 2, and 3 rather than Tier 1A, 1B, and 1C. However, the criteria for placing a species in each of the tiers remains largely the same with the exception of a few changes to Tier 1. Methods for assigning tiers are detailed in Chapter 1: Arizona’s Biodiversity. The full SGCN list, along with the vulnerability criteria scores can be found in Appendix D: Species of Greatest Conservation Need with Vulnerability Scores.
We also focused on the availability and quality of habitat suitability models for SGCN. Species experts at AZGFD conducted an analysis of current SGCN models and prioritized modeling needs for the AWCS. The SGCN that either did not have a model or had a model that was determined to need improvements were given high priority, whereas the species that already had models which reasonably described the potential distribution were given lower priority. To model all SGCN, AZGFD contracted with the Research Foundation for the State University of New York (SUNY) to focus exclusively on developing robust habitat suitability models in coordination with AZGFD staff.
Element 2. Descriptions of Habitat Locations and Conditions
We also reassessed and revised our approach to habitat conservation and management. Arizona is a large, topographically, and physiographically complex state with a wide variety of land uses, ranging from heavily-protected natural areas to highly-developed urban areas. Wildlife occurs in every habitat type in the state and wildlife species often rely on variability within and among habitats to survive. Therefore, although we recognize the need to establish conservation priorities, we identified all habitat types as inherently valuable to the natural heritage of Arizona and worthy of conservation actions. Chapter 7: Habitat Profiles details the various habitats found throughout the state and provides important information on habitat conditions, SGCN species, primary threats to the habitat, potential partners, and more.
Our method for prioritizing areas within each habitat type included identification of specific Conservation Opportunity Areas (COAs). Detailed profiles for each COA — including information such as a habitat description, SGCN species that occur in the COA, and conservation actions — are found in Appendix G: Aquatic Conservation Opportunity Areas and Appendix H: Terrestrial Conservation Opportunity Areas.
Conservation Opportunity Areas (COAs) are part of the landscape where conservation efforts can have significant benefits to SGCN wildlife. Research, data, and expertise identified the many COAs described throughout the AWCS.
The Brown and Lowe (1982, 1990) biotic communities classification system, which was used for the first and second iterations of Arizona’s SWAP, remains the system of choice as it provides the optimal planning unit for associating areas on the landscape with conservation strategies.
Element 3. Descriptions of Threats to Species and Habitat
Rather than describing an exhaustive list of threats with relative levels of importance, as was done with Arizona’s previous SWAP, the AWCS now emphasizes threats in the context of species and their habitats. We reassessed threats and consolidated the list into two major threat categories according to the World Conservation Union-Conservation Measures Partnership (Salafsky et al. 2008) classification of direct threats to biodiversity. Using a standard system for categorizing threats not only facilitates regional and multi-state coordination by providing a consistent nomenclature, but also allows us to link conservation strategies to threats, and identify conservation actions to be taken to counter the effects or minimize impacts. Threats to species are detailed in Chapter 3: Conservation Challenges. Later, threats to Arizona’s major habitat types are detailed and presented along with conservation actions to remedy these threats in Chapter 8: Threats and Conservation Actions.
Element 4. Descriptions of Actions to Conserve Species and Habitats
The AWCS also includes a revised approach to identifying specific actions that benefit wildlife and their habitats. Rather than listing all possible actions, we now describe seven broad conservation action categories that have proven successful in conserving and protecting wildlife and their habitats in Arizona. These seven categories have been adapted from Salafsky et al. (2008) and are described in detail in Chapter 4: A Comprehensive Conservation Approach. These categories encompass the more detailed activities that have been, and will continue to be, conducted as part of conservation and recovery efforts.
These conservation action categories play an important role in Chapter 8: Threats and Conservation Actions. In this chapter, the AWCS describes specific threats facing each habitat type as well as conservation actions that will address one or more of the primary threats. By addressing these key challenges and tying actions to conservation targets, this approach makes the AWCS an actionable plan for conserving and protecting Arizona’s fish and wildlife resources.
Finally, the COA profiles found in Appendix G: Aquatic Conservation Opportunity Areas and Appendix H: Terrestrial Conservation Opportunity Areas detail specific, actionable conservation efforts within each habitat type.
Element 5. Plan for Monitoring Species and Their Habitats
Species and habitat monitoring is a cornerstone of meeting conservation goals. Tracking trends in species and habitats, measuring the effectiveness of conservation actions, and adapting management activities to address any changes are integral parts of the AWCS. Most of the highest-priority SGCN found in Arizona are currently monitored by AZGFD staff and our partners via rigorous monitoring plans. These monitoring plans may be implemented at different scales, including multi-species, single species, and habitat evaluations. Chapter 9: Monitoring details the various monitoring plans AZGFD currently uses for monitoring species and their habitats.
Element 6. Procedures for Updating this Plan
The AWCS is a living document and set of tools. Likewise, an important part of wildlife conservation is adaptive management, or the ability to alter management plans as situations change. A lot can happen over the next 10 years: Environmental regimes change, new threats such as disease might arise, new information may be obtained, and many other unforeseen problems may affect wildlife and their habitats. The AWCS is a web-based, interactive plan which will allow for updates, edits, and changes as they present themselves. This new web-based presentation means the AWCS will always be up-to-date with the latest information to help inform conservation efforts over the next 10 years. Chapter 5: Keeping the AWCS Current details our approach to updating our plans over the next decade.
Element 7. Partner Involvement
Improved coordination and engagement with partners were two of the main goals for the AWCS. To that end, we partnered with Creative Strategic Resources, an Oregon-based company that specializes in outreach, communication, and strategic planning to develop a comprehensive engagement strategy. The strategy included an online survey, internal messaging to ensure staff were well-informed of the revisions, and ways they could support the outreach effort. Other elements of this strategy included creation of a list of key AWCS talking points to ensure consistent messaging to stakeholders, and engaging partners in a series of small focus group discussions to identify stakeholder values, address concerns, and develop collective goals and priority actions based on mutual interests. Chapter 6: Conservation Partnerships details our extensive efforts to gain input from our many partners and collaborators around the state.
Six focus groups were hosted in November of 2020, including federal agencies (24 participants), tribes (3 participants), local governments (10 participants), nonprofit organizations (4 participants), academia (7 participants), and industry (4 participants). Focus group participants were asked about what most concerns them about native fish and wildlife and their habitats, what has changed in the past decade that could affect how AZGFD plans for wildlife and their habitats, priority issues that should be addressed in the AWCS, what tools could be used to better integrate information relative to planning, and what goals AZGFD should set to achieve mutual outcomes. An additional focus group between AZGFD and USFWS Ecological Services Field Offices (ESFO) occurred in January of 2021. Attendees described their priorities for Arizona fish and wildlife and their habitats during the next decade and discussed ideas for building continuity of collaboration among ESFO and AZGFD staff.
In April of 2021, AZGFD hosted three additional focus groups to share what AZGFD staff learned from previous focus groups and how it was implementing and addressing the input the agency received. Federal agencies participated in a focus group on April 9 (20 attendees plus 10 AZGFD staff). The tribes and one Federal agency representative participated in a focus group on April 12 (4 attendees plus 10 AZGFD staff). Non-governmental organizations, local governments, academia, and industry participated in a focus group on April 13 (30 attendees plus 9 AZGFD staff). During each of these focus group sessions, Department staff shared recommendations from the November 2020 focus group discussions they will be implementing, tasks they are currently implementing, and tasks they will be partially or not fully implementing.
Element 8. Public Participation
The AWCS was developed with considerable input from resource professionals, federal and state agencies, Native American tribes, local governments, recreational groups, conservation organizations, academia, and private citizens. Outreach to inform development of the AWCS included a public survey in 2020, followed by a series of focus groups in November of 2020, January of 2021, and April of 2021. We conducted additional public meetings in September 2021 to gain input on the AWCS. All outreach was conducted remotely as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. On-line surveys and outreach video conferences were announced via the AZGFD website, press releases, E-news subscription updates, and social networking notices.
A total of 2,345 people participated in the survey to describe their familiarity with the 2012 SWAP. Other information gleaned from the survey included the frequency with which they use information/maps from the SWAP, their opinion on the effectiveness of AZGFD in protecting wildlife and their habitat over the last decade, the top 10 threats to Arizona fish and wildlife and their habitats, the importance of activities to address key stressors to Arizona fish and wildlife and their habitats, and changes they would like to see in the 2022 SWAP update.
Additional public forums were conducted in September 2021 where AZGFD staff presented the AWCS to the public. These presentations included the vision and goals of the AWCS, introduction to the AWCS functionality and tools, and the integration of recommendations and comments from the public review process and stakeholder engagement. Detailed summaries of our partner involvement and public participation — and how we incorporated changes into the AWCS as a result of these productive meetings — can be found in Chapter 6: Conservation Partnerships.