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Wildlife Connectivity Approaches and Best Practices in U.S. State Wildlife Action Plans

Conservation biology 2014 v.28 no.1 pp. 13-21
biodiversity, data collection, habitat destruction, interviews, parks, planning, professionals, recreation, researchers, vertebrates, wildlife, United States
As habitat loss and fragmentation threaten biodiversity on large geographic scales, creating and maintaining connectivity of wildlife populations is an increasingly common conservation objective. To assess the progress and success of large‐scale connectivity planning, conservation researchers need a set of plans that cover large geographic areas and can be analyzed as a single data set. The state wildlife action plans (SWAPs) fulfill these requirements. We examined 50 SWAPs to determine the extent to which wildlife connectivity planning, via linkages, is emphasized nationally. We defined linkage as connective land that enables wildlife movement. For our content analysis, we identified and quantified 6 keywords and 7 content criteria that ranged in specificity and were related to linkages for wide‐ranging terrestrial vertebrates and examined relations between content criteria and statewide data on focal wide‐ranging species, spending, revenue, and conserved land. Our results reflect nationwide disparities in linkage conservation priorities and highlight the continued need for wildlife linkage planning. Only 30% or less of the 50 SWAPs fulfilled highly specific content criteria (e.g., identifying geographic areas for linkage placement or management). We found positive correlations between our content criteria and statewide data on percent conserved land, total focal species, and spending on parks and recreation. We supplemented our content analysis with interviews with 17 conservation professionals to gain specific information about state‐specific context and future directions of linkage conservation. Based on our results, relevant literature, and interview responses, we suggest the following best practices for wildlife linkage conservation plans: collect ecologically meaningful background data; be specific; establish community‐wide partnerships; and incorporate sociopolitical and socioeconomic information.