Planning for Connectivity at the Landscape Scale In and Around Washington State

To address threats to the connectivity of wildlife populations from increasing development and other barriers to movement, the Washington Wildlife Habitat Connectivity Working Group (WHCWG) works to “promote the long-term viability of wildlife populations in Washington State through a science-based, collaborative approach that identifies opportunities and priorities to conserve and restore habitat connectivity.” Co-led by Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and Washington Department of Transportation, the WHCWG includes representatives from natural resource management agencies, private organizations, tribes, and universities.

Collaborative Science-based Habitat Connectivity Analyses and Tools

This map shows the connected habitat networks, which are composed of Habitat Concentration Areas (HCAs) and linkages that connect them, for sixteen focal species. Color is used to represent varying numbers of networks that overlap.

The WHCWG is developing habitat connectivity analyses and scientific tools to aid decision-makers and others involved in the conservation of Washington's wildlife. The analyses and tools are additionally part of Washington's contributions to the Western Governors' Association Wildlife Corridors Initiative.

The connectivity analyses are developed based on a framework of very broad (i.e., statewide and surrounding landscapes), ecoregional, and local scales. The WHCWG's first analysis was at the statewide “plus” extent. The purpose for this analysis was to identify the broad patterns of connectivity within Washington, as well as those that connect to neighboring jurisdictions. This statewide analysis now provides a foundation to which detail can be added at the ecoregional and local scales, including connectivity modeling relevant to climate change.

The modeling tools being developed to carry out these analyses are being released through the WHCWG website, and are available to be downloaded and used by others interested in modeling connectivity at landscape scales. These tools automate otherwise very time-consuming and expensive procedures, and take into account the breadth of discussion and connectivity science being included in the work of the WHCWG.

Field Research to Validate and Inform Connectivity Models

The WHCWG is participating in two research efforts that will produce information to validate and inform the connectivity modeling.

Greater sage-grouse were chosen as a focal species for the statewide analysis. Long-term monitoring of this species by Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife provides the opportunity to examine assumptions of this analysis. Movement data collected by radio telemetry, patterns of active and extinct lek locations, and genetic information from two relatively isolated breeding populations will provide insight for connectivity modeling of greater sage-grouse and other shrub-steppe species in Washington.

The Cascades Carnivore Connectivity Project, a collaborative project co-lead by Western Transportation Institute and the US Forest Service, is evaluating habitat connectivity for carnivores in the North Cascades Ecosystem of Washington. Genetic connectivity data from their work on American martens and black bears will be compared with the predicted connectivity results from the models. The group also plans to evaluate how well statewide connectivity models correspond with species locations by overlaying carnivore detection data on mapped linkages and habitat concentration areas.

Photos: USFWS

GNLCC Supports the Washington Wildlife Habitat Connectivity Working Group Efforts

The GNLCC provided funding in 2010 and 2011 towards multi-year endeavors of the WHCWG. This funding supports:

  • Completing a Washington Statewide connectivity analysis and publishing results (completed: view at WHCWG).
  • Conducting a Columbia Plateau ecoregional connectivity analysis and publishing results (report available spring 2012).
  • Identifying linkages most likely to sustain connectivity and facilitate species movements under climate change (initial report completed: view at WHCWG), and incorporating climate change into statewide and ecoregional connectivity analyses (in-progress).
  • Developing and sharing methods, protocols and spatial analysis tools for connectivity analysis and prioritization(see currently available methods and tools at WHCWG, and live GIS at Data Basin).
  • Validation of connectivity models: a) by comparing greater sage-grouse movement and genetic data; and b) assessing carnivore connectivity and barriers to carnivore movement and comparing with connectivity model predictions (in-progress).
Mule deer and wind turbines in the Columbia Hills of eastern Washington. Photo courtesy of Mike Schroeder

This article was contributed by Joanne Schuett-Hames, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, and Kelly McAllister, Washington Department of Transportation.

Visit Washington Wildlife Habitat Connectivity Working Group for more information about their work and tools and products. Products from the GNLCC-supported work will be available on the Landscape Conservation Management and Analysis Portal.

Webinar recording: Washington Connected Landscapes Project Statewide Analysis

Publication abstract: Toward Best Practices for Developing Regional Connectivity Maps