Multispecies Conservation: Integrated Approaches to Conservation of Aquatic and Terrestrial Ecosystems: Part I

Ecological systems have been dramatically altered, resulting in degradation of fish and wildlife habitats and declines in native species. Anthropogenic changes continue to occur at scales and rates that systems cannot sustain. Innovative conservation approaches are needed to preserve, restore, and enhance fish and wildlife habitats, while simultaneously supporting human needs. Conceptual frameworks such as Conservation Opportunity Areas, Landscape Conservation Designs, Native Fish Conservation Areas, Aquatic Diversity Management Areas, and others focus on the conservation of fish and wildlife communities at watershed and landscape scales while incorporating life history needs and acknowledging compatible human uses. Analytical approaches can now integrate conservation biology, landscape connectivity, and spatial prioritization principles to provide rigorous, science-based, and spatially explicit information to inform conservation planning and delivery. Innovative planning approaches have yielded multi-agency partnerships and large-scale funding programs focused on operationalizing conservation plans and supporting meaningful and transformative conservation delivery for fish, wildlife, and their habitats. This symposium will highlight these innovative multispecies and landscape-scale approaches to fish and wildlife conservation, profiling case studies from ecological systems throughout the USA and that include diverse partnerships encompassing agencies, corporations, non-governmental organizations, and large geographic conservation partnerships (e.g., fish habitat partnerships, bird joint ventures).

8:20AM Conserving Landscape Integrity – Two Examples from the State of California
  Junko Hoshi
The State of California has been engaging in landscape and biodiversity conservation for more than three decades, over the course of which many programs, plans, and analytical tools have been created to facilitate the efforts. This presentation will illustrate two examples: (1) the California State Wildlife Action Plan 2015 Update, a region-based plan that provides a vision and blueprint for sustaining biodiversity and ecosystems of the state; and (2) the SB34 Advance Mitigation Land Acquisition Grants Program, an in-lieu fee grant program designed to strategically purchase parcels in advance of development, while providing developers an option to mitigate project impacts by purchasing credits for multiple species and/or habitat type(s), targeting the renewable-energy projects emerging in the California deserts. These efforts have employed regional-scale, spatial and non-spatial a priori analyses to describe environmental baselines for directing conservation, mitigation, and/or human activities, both to sustain ecological health and facility operation. After an overview, the strategic and collaborative approaches taken by these efforts will be highlighted, and accomplishments and challenges currently surfacing will be shared. Brief introductions of other related efforts, such as Natural Community Conservation Planning and the Areas of Conservation Emphasis mapping tool, will also be provided throughout the talk.
8:40AM Identifying Conservation Opportunities across the Hot Deserts of North America Using Landscape Conservation Design
  Matthew Grabau, Genevieve Johnson
Landscape-scale conservation requires working beyond the jurisdiction of any one organization or agency. One model for this “collaborative conservation” is Landscape Conservation Design, a partner-driven approach to identify shared conservation goals and prioritize on-the-ground action. The Desert Landscape Conservation Cooperative began Landscape Conservation Design in 2015 for three “pilot” geographies: the Eastern Mojave Desert, where undeveloped desertscrub speckled with isolated waters and mountaintops support iconic and endemic species, the Madrean Archipelago, where converging ecosystems support extreme biodiversity, and borderlands near the confluence of Rio Grande and Rio Conchos, where ranchlands and protected areas preserve some of the largest tracts of unfragmented land in North America. After identifying a shared vision and conservation goals, participants identified landscape-scale challenges requiring collaborative action before prioritizing which conservation actions are needed and where. A spatial analysis team compiled existing data on ecological indicators, conservation areas, and wildlife corridors. The data were used to build a framework to track the impacts of conservation over time. While this effort has resulted in useful tools and facilitated collaborative conservation, sustainability of the effort is uncertain. Partners continue to pursue long-term funding critical Landscape Conservation Design structure and functions.
9:00AM Chihuahuan Desert Native Fish Conservation Areas: A Multispecies and Watershed Approach to Preservation of Freshwater Fish Diversity
  Gary Garrett, Timothy Birdsong, Megan Bean
Native Fish Conservation Areas in the Chihuahuan Desert of Texas have been designated as part of a statewide network of focal watersheds uniquely valued for preservation of freshwater fish diversity. Native Fish Conservation Areas represent a holistic, multi-species, and habitat-based approach to conservation that encourages and facilitates coordination among land owners, NGOs, state and federal agencies, universities, and local governments to achieve landscape-scale conservation within focal watersheds. This approach provides an effective method for addressing the common nature and magnitude of threats facing species and their habitats in freshwater systems. Desert fishes are particularly susceptible to habitat alteration, especially anthropogenic land use and water consumption trends, which continue to create conservation challenges. The strategic and science-based conservation strategies embodied in the Native Fish Conservation Areas approach represent an innovative path forward for addressing the conservation needs of native desert fishes and their habitats. Six Native Fish Conservation Areas have been designated within the Chihuahuan Desert of Texas and 39 native fish species were identified as priorities for conservation. Multi-agency conservation planning and delivery has substantially increased the scope and scale of cooperation, collaboration, and conservation investments for restoration and protection of native fishes and their habitats in the region.
9:20AM Acheiving Recovery through Cooperation: Saving a Sucker through Partnerships
  Michael D. Mills
The June Sucker (Chasmistes liorus), a fish endemic to Utah Lake, has been listed as an endangered species for over 30 years. Numerous threats to the species’ survival exist, including the dewatering of tributaries, impacts from non-native species, and habitat destruction. In the 1990’s, the wild population of June Sucker was estimated at less than 1,000 individuals and extinction appeared likely. The June Sucker Recovery Implementation Program (JSRIP) was initiated in 2002 with the dual goals of recovering the species so that it no longer requires protection under the Endangered Species Act and allowing the continued use and development of water for human use. Today, thousands of adult June sucker migrate up tributaries of Utah Lake to spawn and produce millions of larval fish. While the JSRIP has celebrated the population increase, considerable threats to the species’ survival remain. Increasing demands for water present challenges in providing adequate water to support spawning fish, the introduction of non-native fish pose predatory threats on the species, and restoring adequate habitat requires large scale projects within an increasingly urban area. The JSRIP must maintain an adaptable approach to address the existing threats and prepare for future challenges in order to achieve its goals.
09:40AM Break
1:10PM The Virgin River Program: Cooperation, Conservation and Change
  Steve Meismer
Since 2001 the Virgin River Program (VRP) has worked to achieve two goals; to recover, conserve, enhance and protect native species in the Virgin River basin while enhancing the ability to provide adequate water supplies for sustaining human needs. The 18 intervening years have seen various challenges to native populations that have been met by a determined group of state, federal, local and private partners. Additional partners have been found in local communities, engineering firms and cooperators to further the goals of the Program. The VRP addresses factors limiting native populations through adaptive management and on the ground efforts through cooperation with the many different relationships that have been established. Issues currently being addressed include nonnative species, high summer water temperatures, irrigation and culinary water diversion impacts on species and community outreach. These issues along with growth, regulation, Mother Nature’s temper tantrums challenge the Program to be responsive to unexpected events. To address these issues, the VRP has worked with many cooperators to establish barriers to upstream movement, lower summer temperatures through a pumpback system, screen diversions to keep fish in the river and acquire properties critical to population persistence.
1:30PM Aquatic Biodiversity Conservation in the Context of Multiple Use Management of National Forest System Lands
  James Capurso, Brett Roper, Michael K. Young, Yvette Paroz
The USDA Forest Service manages 78.1 million hectares of public lands across 43 US states. The original concept behind reserving these lands was to secure favorable conditions of water flows and furnish a continuous supply of timber for the nation (1897 Organic Act). The reservation of these lands in combination with new federal laws, policies, and land designations resulted in the agency becoming a leader in aquatic biodiversity conservation. This role can be difficult as the Forest Service is not a single-purpose agency. Obligated to protect biodiversity (e.g., as mandated by the Endangered Species Act and National Forest Management Act), the agency does so while continuing to manage for permitted activities such as timber harvest, grazing, and other uses. Over the last few decades, the agency has placed additional emphasis on protecting and restoring aquatic systems by emphasizing conservation concepts in the forest planning process and developing an aquatic inventory and monitoring program. Looking forward, the agency must continue to address traditional challenges (such as minimizing the effects of roads, grazing, and mining on aquatic systems) while addressing contemporary challenges such as climate change and invasive species, if the agency is to succeed in protecting and restoring aquatic biodiversity.
1:50PM Little Tennessee River Basin Native Fish Conservation Partnership: Aquatic Conservation on a Landscape Scale
  Erin McCombs, Andrea Leslie, Fred A. Harris
In 2015, the Little Tennessee River basin became the nation’s first Native Fish Conservation Area (NFCA). NFCAs are managed for the conservation and restoration of native fish and other aquatic species, allowing compatible uses. The Little Tennessee River basin spans portions of Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee and features a diversity of aquatic habitats that include cold water trout streams, warm water rivers with rich fish and mussel assemblages, and human-made reservoirs. Although this basin is home to a biologically diverse aquatic community, streams have been impacted by a host of stressors, resulting in local extirpations of some species. Some of these streams now offer restoration opportunities, and numerous efforts are underway to restore native fauna to streams on public and private lands. The Little Tennessee Native Fish Conservation Partnership supports work already underway by partners by providing additional funding, technical and educational resources, and a mechanism for collaboration. It also provides a forum to plan and implement watershed conservation on a landscape scale. Partners developed an online conservation mapper, which houses data, maps threats, and serves as a platform to pinpoint focal areas for restoration and protection. Efforts to identify and implement habitat restoration and protection projects are underway.
2:10PM Using a Regional Priority Species List to Focus and Coordinate Collaborative Conservation across the Southeast
  Karen Terwilliger, Elizabeth Crisfield, John Kanter
States in the Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (SEAFWA) region collectively identified 6,682 Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN) in their 2015 Wildlife Action Plans. The objective was to develop a more targeted list of Regional SGCN to capture shared conservation values and stewardship responsibilities, encourage collaborative cross-state work on priority species, and contribute to the realization of important regional efforts (e.g. SECAS, SARP). Criteria for developing this priority list reflected the specific context and needs of the southeast. Criteria included regional stewardship responsibility; conservation concern and status; and ecological significance. The resulting regional list includes about 20% of the states’ total SGCN with both endemics and shared species of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, freshwater mussels, crayfish and bees. Experts across 15 states worked together to identify species that represent this unique regional biodiversity. The effort provides states and their partners a compiled 15-state conservation status data and a list of priority species by taxa on which to focus and coordinate conservation efforts across the region. Important conservation issues and new multi-state opportunities have emerged as some of the many uses and benefits of this effort.
2:30PM Exploring the Importance of Hydrologic and Environmental Gradients and Thresholds on Patterns of Fish Biodiversity Composition Using a Gradient Forest Approach.
  J. Tyler Fox, Daniel Magoulick, Douglas Leasure
Riverine ecosystems face increasing pressures from human activities, climate non-stationarity and the growing demand for freshwater resources resulting in widespread alteration of the natural flow regimes of rivers and streams. Local and watershed-scale disturbance from dams, water diversions, withdrawals, roads and artificial canals can impact composition of aquatic communities by pushing stream flow variability outside of the bounds of normal function. To model nonlinear threshold responses and investigate the role of environmental factors driving patterns of fish biodiversity, turnover and community composition across different flow regimes, we applied a ‘gradient forest’ approach to examine species assemblages and identify environmental thresholds where changes in community composition occur. Using long-term, georeferenced species occurrence data compiled by the USGS Aquatic Gap and other sources, we quantified multi-species responses along environmental and hydrologic gradients in streams in the Ozark and Ouachita Highlands and Gulf Coastal Plains. The results of our analysis provide detailed information on important environmental and disturbance thresholds driving patterns in fish communities and support management and conservation of freshwater systems.
2:50PM Refreshment Break
3:20PM Connecting Land and Water through the Southeast Conservation Blueprint
  Rua Mordecai, D. Todd Jones-Farrand, Beth Stys, Paul Leonard, Jean Brennan, Brent Murray
The Southeast Conservation Blueprint is a living, spatial plan that identifies important areas for conservation and restoration across the Southeast and Caribbean. The Blueprint stitches together smaller subregional plans into one consistent map, incorporating the best available information about key species, ecosystems, and future threats. More than 1,700 people from 500 different organizations have actively participated in its development. So far, over 130 people from more than 50 organizations have used, or are in the process of using, the Blueprint to inform conservation decisions. Integrating terrestrial and aquatic priorities in a rapidly changing part of the U.S. is a core component of the subregional plans within the Blueprint. We will discuss how these spatial plans use modern approaches like irreplaceability, resilience, and connectivity to identify priority areas that will sustain fish and wildlife populations into the future.
3:40PM Why Does a Power Company Care about Mussels and Trees?
  Patrick O’Rouke, Anthony Dodd, James Ozier
Georgia Power’s Conservation Plan uses Georgia Wildlife Resources Division’s (WRD) State Wildlife Action Plan to help steer company activities in land and water management, generation, transmission, and other core company functions in a direction that promotes prioritized conservation of Georgia’s natural resources while also enhancing regulatory certainty for business. This strategic management of resources allows the opportunity to effect landscape-scale changes to benefit native wildlife and habitats, often in direct partnership with agencies and private conservation organizations. Through a 2017 Candidate Conservation Agreement, Georgia Power works with Georgia WRD and the US Fish and Wildlife Service to conserve five species of freshwater mollusks via a combination of best practices for land and reservoir management and cooperative research across the Altamaha River basin including the Oconee and Ocmulgee Rivers. Georgia Power is also contributing to state- and range-wide goals to restore the native longleaf pine ecosystem. To date, more than 1,000 acres of company lands are under various stages of restoration with a goal to reach 2000 acres by 2024. Longleaf-dependent species such as the gopher tortoise and federally threatened indigo snake rely on the unique ecosystems anchored by this tree.
4:00PM The Weber River Partnership: How Fish Gained Relevance Through a Recently Formed Watershed Group
  Paul Thompson, Paul Burnett
The Weber River is primarily known as a blue ribbon Brown Trout fishery, however, this river also supports populations of two jeopardized fishes, Bonneville Cutthroat Trout and Bluehead Sucker. At least one population of Bonneville Cutthroat Trout in the Weber River expresses a fluvial life history where mainstem individuals grow large (300-500 mm TL) and migrate into small tributaries for spawning. Bluehead Sucker currently occur in the mainstem of the Weber River where they travel distances of at 20 km between spawning and overwintering habitats. The habitat for both species has been fragmented by more than 300 barriers composed of irrigation diversions, road crossings, and utility stream crossings. Beginning in 2010, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources and Trout Unlimited began prioritizing barrier removal for native fish as a priority conservation action. Initially, the effort to reconnect habitat was slow and the lack of relationships with stakeholders such as water users, government agencies, private landowners, and utility companies was hampering progress. To build these relationships, a steering committee was formed to secure a small grant, hire a consulting firm, organize meetings to identify broad stakeholder priorities, and write a watershed plan that identified these two fish as priority conservation targets.
4:20PM Condition of Stream Fish Habitats throughout the Mississippi River Basin
  Jared Ross, Dana Infante, Joanna Whittier, Jana Stewart, Arthur R. Cooper, Wesley Daniel, PhD, Nicholas Sievert, Kyle Herreman
The Mississippi River is the largest in North America, draining approximately 3.26 million km2 of the U.S. into the Gulf of Mexico. A multitude of current human stressors occur throughout the basin including agriculture, urbanization, nutrient loading, and stream network fragmentation by dams and road/stream crossings, affecting habitats of hundreds of ecologically- and socioeconomically-important stream fishes. Managing for both current stressors and future changes associated with a changing climate across large regions requires comprehensive and consistent information to support decision making on where and how to conserve stream fish habitats. To meet this need we are conducting a current condition assessment of stream habitats based on fish responses to human land use, nutrient loading, and fragmentation by dams and road/stream crossings. We present spatially-explicit results for three indices that integrate fish response to these discrete disturbance types for all stream reaches in the basin. The results of this work can be used with other types of information such as locations of conservation lands, or locations where air temperature and precipitation may change with a changing climate, to support decision-making on where and how to prioritize management actions to achieve outcomes to conserve stream fishes from current and future threats.
4:40PM Assessing Data Adequacy for Quantifying Spatial Patterns of Freshwater Biodiversity
  Mary Tate Bremigan, Katelyn King, Maggie Brown, Sophie Morin
Assessing spatial patterns of freshwater biodiversity, and identifying the multi-scaled natural and anthropogenic factors affecting those patterns, are vital components of conservation planning. However, the data requirements of such analyses are extensive. We used state agency standardized fish survey data of 455 Michigan lakes to demonstrate an approach for assessing the reliability of fish survey data for fish species composition assessment. Each of the 455 lakes was sampled once between 2003 – 2017, with 2-6 gears used per lake. We applied rarefaction curves to each unique lake-gear combination, concluding that sampling effort within each gear type was sufficient in 86% of the lake*gear combinations. From subsequent comparisons across gears, that evaluated redundancy of species captured with multiple gears, we conclude that 4 particular gears are needed for robust determination of the species composition of each surveyed lake. With the ~100 lakes that meet these sampling criteria, we will demonstrate our approach to assessing within- (alpha diversity) and among-lake (beta diversity) patterns of species composition across multiple spatial scales. Ultimately, applying these approaches across broad spatial scales will help fisheries managers utilize their time and resources most efficiently, providing a strong foundation for assessing how freshwater ecosystems respond to environmental change.

Organizers: Meredith Longoria, Daniel Dauwalter, Gary Garrett, Patrick O’Rouke, Timothy Birdsong
Supported by: AFS Fish Habitat Section

Location: Reno-Sparks CC Date: September 30, 2019 Time: 8:20 am - 5:00 pm