Utah is a truly wild place, with a diversity of landscapes including the Mohave Desert, the Great Basin, the Colorado Plateau, and portions of the Rocky Mountains. Most of these landscapes are in some form of federal ownership with approximately 60% of the state protected as public land. All this protected land provides habitat for an amazing herpetofauna ranging from species such as Desert Tortoises and Gila Monsters in the Mohave to species such as Western Toads and Sonoran Mountain Kingsnakes in the mountains.
Despite the diversity of landscapes and the amount of public land there are still significant threats to reptile and amphibian populations. Residential growth in the Southwestern part of the state threatens the persistence of Desert Tortoises and Gila Monsters; overgrazing by domestic livestock, invasive grasses, and altered fire regimes threaten Night Snakes and Sagebrush Lizards in the Great Basin; and energy development threatens Midget Faded Rattlesnakes in the Colorado Plateau. If we hope to be able to conserve these important species it is critical that a strategic approach is taken to their conservation and management.
In 2001, Congress mandated that each state develop a Wildlife Action Plan (WAP) as a strategy for assessing the health of wildlife and habitats, identifying the problems they face, and outlining the actions needed to conserve them long-term. These plans were initially developed for Utah in 2005 and are required to be revised at least every 10 years. The Orianne Society recently joined the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources’ (UDWR) Wildlife Action Plan Joint Revision Team to help them revise the Utah WAP by 2015. Our interest and involvement grows from our recent work across the Colorado Plateau region to determine how energy development is impacting reptile populations and from our work to determine how changing fire regimes are impacting Great Basin Rattlesnakes. As part of the team, we are working with many partners to create a revised plan that will avoid, minimize or offset negative socioeconomic and/or ecological impacts in Utah, caused by degraded or precarious wildlife populations and habitats.
The Team consists of internal UDWR experts and external land management and wildlife experts including The Orianne Society, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Department of Defense, National Park Service, Hawkwatch International, The Nature Conservancy, Mule Deer Foundation, River Network, Round River Conservation Studies, and Wild Utah Project.
Polly Conrad from The Orianne Society participated in the first meeting, where the team discussed guiding principles to review and revise the 2005 version of Utah’s Wildlife Action Plan. It was determined that we will use the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies’ Best Practices for State Wildlife Action Plans: Voluntary Guidance to States for Revision and Implementation. We will work on eight elements required by Congress and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Elements 1 and 2 direct each state to provide information on at-risk wildlife species and describe key habitats essential to the conservation of those species. Elements 3 and 4 direct each state to describe threats and corresponding conservation actions to the priority species and habitats. Element 5 requires the states to propose a plan for monitoring species and habitats as well as the effectiveness of the conservation actions. Element 6 requires a review of the Wildlife Action Plans at least every 10 years. Elements 7 and 8 direct each state to develop, implement, review and revise Wildlife Action Plans in coordination with partners and with broad public participation. We also started a sub-team which Orianne is part of, to develop the structure and framework for reviewing the Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN) lists.
Successfully conserving reptiles and amphibians begins with a strategic approach. We are happy to be working with such a great team of wildlife professionals in an amazing place such as Utah to develop those strategies for reptiles and amphibians.