A Window of Opportunity
The North Atlantic LCC and Northeast states have agreed to work together to develop a collaborative approach to map Northeast Regional Conservation Opportunity Areas (RCOA). The guiding purpose of these areas will be to identify and spatially depict priority areas at the Northeast regional scale that offer the best opportunities and potential for conserving Regional Species of Greatest Conservation Need (RSGCN), considering the location and relative condition of their habitats.
The states will provide guidance on specific conservation and management objectives that may be supported by RCOAs, as well as expert input on species, distribution data, and modeling procedures. The North Atlantic LCC will serve a facilitating role in the management of data and provide collaborative support to develop a methodology. The LCC will provide training to GIS staff in each state to prepare them with data and tools to assist decision makers to make informed technical decisions about RCOA methodology. When clear decision points emerge, North Atlantic LCC staff will facilitate a workshop for state staff to provide input and make informed decisions.
This effort aligns with the North Atlantic LCC’s continuing work to provide assistance to assemble the best available data for State Wildlife Action Plans, which are due to be revised by all states in 2015. States compiled a list of more than 500 RSGCN. In parallel, the LCC organized a collaborative effort to assemble the best available data to describe species distribution and habitat condition for RSGCN. These data helped LCC staff and partners apply ranking criteria, screen for information gaps, and identify quality control issues for all those species. The process of compiling, ranking, and screening data has positioned the Northeast to map important areas for conservation.
The need for a connected network of habitats is nationally recognized as a top conservation priority. For example, the National Fish, Wildlife and Plants Climate Adaptation Strategy names identification of an ecologically connected network and mapping high priority areas for conservation as foremost strategies. The Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, in Best Practices for State Wildlife Action Plans, recommends that each plan “identify and spatially depict priority areas on the landscape that offer the best opportunities and potential for species of greatest conservation need.”