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Species priority list helps resource managers focus efforts



U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Great Lakes-Big Rivers Region


           NEWS RELEASE


Department of the Interior
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Bishop Henry Whipple Federal Bldg.
1 Federal Drive, Ft. Snelling, MN 55111
Contact External Affairs:
Telephone (612) 713-5360
TDD (612) 713-5318
Fax: (612) 713-5280
E-mail: r3_pao@fws.gov


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 28, 1999
EA 99-23

Contact: Charlie Blair, 612/389-3323
charles_blair@fws.gov
Susan Dreiband, 612/713-5360
susan_dreiband@fws.gov


SPECIES PRIORITY LIST HELPS RESOURCE
MANAGERS FOCUS EFFORTS

It is a familiar dilemma for anyone who owns a
home, is raising a family, or struggling with a
restricted budget.  Where do you focus your time
and money?  Do you wait to fix the roof so you can
replace the furnace?  Do you hold off on a new
vehicle in favor of a family vacation?  Tough choices
have to be made every day in running a household.

Imagine making those kinds of budget decisions in
managing fish and wildlife resources in an eight-state
area, a primary responsibility of the U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service's Great Lakes-Big Rivers Region.
Here, it is not fixing the roof or buying a minivan, it
is focusing federal money and effort where it is
needed the most.  Do we try to save endangered
species like the bald eagle and gray wolf?  Do we try
to cure some of the ills of contamination and
pollution?  Do we work to better the huge fishery
resources of the Great Lakes, or the Mississippi
River?

There are thousands of species in these eight states
(Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Indiana,
Illinois, Iowa, and Missouri), from American bitterns
to zebra mussels.  Some are sliding toward
extinction, some are treasured for recreational,
economic, or aesthetic values, some are nuisance
species, and there are many we still need to study.
There are also hundreds of resource problems to be
addressed, from managing public lands on national
wildlife refuges to surveying fish populations to
assessing contaminants and their effects on native
species.  Where should the limited amount of dollars
and time be spent to achieve the maximum benefit
for the American public?

The Great Lakes-Big Rivers Region has taken the
Service's first step in deciding how to prioritize the
spending of its limited budget.  In doing so, the
Region has given Service refuge managers, fisheries
biologists, wildlife biologists and scientists a
blueprint for making decisions about where to spend
time, effort, and money.  The Region recently
published 'Fish and Wildlife Resource Conservation
Priorities,' which lists approximately 160 species of
fish and wildlife on which the Region will focus its
resources.

The list was developed by a team of five Service
biologists with expertise ranging from migratory
birds to endangered species, from fisheries to land
management.  Initially, the effort was intended to
fulfill the Region's obligations under the
Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA)
which directed federal agencies to set clear goals
and monitor achievements.  As the team worked, the
effort became something more.

'We realized that what we were doing went beyond
GPRA,' said team facilitator Charlie Blair, manager
of Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge in Minnesota.
'We were developing something that our ecosystem
teams, refuge managers, and field supervisors could
use every day in making decisions about their
activities and funding.'

In developing the Region's priorities, the team had
to decide whether to focus on broad programs --
such as national wildlife refuges, fisheries
management, or habitat conservation -- or attempt
to be more specific.   Eventually it became clear that
the best way to implement priorities was to focus on
species.  Such an approach allows consideration of
the valuable biological and genetic resources of
individual species.  A secondary benefit is that by
focusing on species, you automatically incorporate
habitat, as you can not have one without the other.
Finally, considering groups of species and mapping
their needs allows managers to concentrate efforts in
key places where their work will be most effective.

With that decision out of the way, the team had the
daunting task of deciding which species should be
considered as the Region's priorities.  How is it
possible to whittle down a list of literally thousands
of species of plants, mammals, insects, fish, mussels,
birds, and crustaceans?  How does one decide
between a crayfish and a cormorant, a bat and a
bladderpod?  Blair said the team used several factors
to guide them.

The Service has a legal mandate for some fish and
wildlife, called trust species.  These include
migratory birds, federally listed endangered and
threatened species, and 'interjurisdictional fish,'
including those species for which the federal
government shares responsibility with states and
tribes.

Consideration of trust species was an important step
in setting the Region's priorities, but the team also
had to decide which trust species required higher
priority.  In effect, members had to look at which
species were in need of the most help.  For example,
among the species identified as priority species, 74
were described as rare or declining.  These are
species ranging from birds to plants to mussels that
were determined to be in need of management to
stem declines.  These are in addition to the 51
identified priority species already listed as federally
threatened, endangered, or candidates for listing.

Blair said another criterion used by the team to
determine species priorities was the amount of
energy the Service is expending to deal with
particular species.  A glance at the priority list shows
a handful of species designated 'Nuisance.'  They
include species such as the zebra mussel, double-
crested cormorant, and sea lamprey.  Managing
these species is a priority for the Service because
they have such a far-reaching impact on other
species, habitats, and ecosystems.

Other criteria include recreational or economic
value, such as hunted species, sport fish, and
commercially valuable mussels.  The global decline
in pollinating species -- birds, bats, and insects that
pollinate two-thirds of the world's plants -- was also
considered, and the list includes several such
species, including the Mitchell's satyr butterfly,
Karner blue butterfly, Indiana bat and gray bat.

In all, the Region's priority species include
mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles, fish, mussels,
snails, crustaceans, plants, arachnids, and insects.
Blair also points out that just because a species is
not currently designated as a priority does not mean
that it is not important nor that the Service will not
manage for it.  'A great number of plants and
animals not listed in our priorities document will
benefit from management practices aimed at some of
the priority species,' Blair said.

The priorities document is much more than a list of
species.  It is also a valuable resource and reference
tool.  The document identifies the ecosystems in
which priority species are found, their major
habitats, and what the Service hopes to achieve for
each species.  Lists of obstacles that must be
overcome to achieve management goals, as well as
Service strategies to deal with those obstacles, are
also outlined.

Great Lakes-Big Rivers Region Regional Director
William Hartwig said, 'This Region is incredibly
diverse.  We are dealing with ecosystems ranging
from the Great Lakes to the Ohio River, and all the
associated habitats, species needs, land uses,
economic factors, and resource demands.  Overlaid
on that is a mosaic of private, federal, state, tribal,
and municipal jurisdictions and priorities.  To
successfully manage fish and wildlife, our managers
and biologists must be able to make wise resource
decisions.  The conservation priorities document will
give us much-needed guidance to make the most
effective use of our people and funding to maximize
benefits to the resource and the public.'

The Region views this work as a 'living document,'
and will continue to review and refine its priorities.
In the meantime, the current priority list is already in
effect.  A database is being developed, and the
Service is sharing the document with state, tribal,
and local governments, with the aim of identifying
mutual interests and partnerships.  Field stations
throughout the region are already making use of the
guidance provided by the priority list in planning this
year's projects and activities, as well as in identifying
and prioritizing training and research needs.

'We gain from this effort a more efficient and
effective agency, working to maximize its efforts.
What at first seemed like a bureaucratic exercise
became a crucial step in helping us help the resource
at the most basic level,' Hartwig said.

The document listing the region's priority species
can be viewed on the Great Lakes-Big Rivers home
page at www.fws.gov/r3pao/pdf/priority.pdf.  The
list is organized by groups of species, but they are
not ranked in order of importance.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal
federal agency responsible for conserving,
protecting, and enhancing fish and wildlife and their
habitats for the continuing benefit of the American
people. The Service manages the 93-million-acre
National Wildlife Refuge System comprised of more
than 500 national wildlife refuges, thousands of
small wetlands, and other special management areas.
It also operates 66 national fish hatcheries, 64 fish
and wildlife Management Offices, and 78 ecological
services field stations.  The agency enforces federal
wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species
Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores
nationally significant fisheries, conserves and
restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps
foreign governments with their conservation efforts.
It also oversees the Federal Aid program that
distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise
taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state
wildlife agencies.  For further information about the
programs and activities of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service in the Great Lakes-Big Rivers Region,
please visit our home page at:
http://www.fws.gov/r3pao/.

-FWS-