State Wildlife Action Plan Aims to Keep Species from Declining

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Wisconsin has an impressive record in restoring and protecting endangered and threatened species like bald eagles and has been very successful managing game species, like turkeys and deer. But these are just a fraction of the wildlife that enrich Wisconsin’s landscape. About 85 percent of the wildlife species found in the state don’t fall into these categories.

Now, the state has a new plan for conserving wildlife species that are not so rare they are listed as endangered or threatened or are neither hunted, caught or trapped.

Taking nearly a year to research and write, Wisconsin’s Wildlife Action Plan, drafted by the Department of Natural Resources, endorsed by the Natural Resources Board and accepted by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, is a trove of information on the conservation needs of more than 700 species of state wildlife.

From butterflies and fish to warblers and frogs, and from water shrews to moose, the plan identifies those native species at risk with low or declining populations.

Most importantly, the plan lays out a menu of conservation actions designed to prevent declining species from being declared as endangered or threatened. If they already are listed, it outlines actions to get them off the lists.

“It’s many, many times more cost effective to keep a species off the endangered or threatened list,” said DNR Secretary Scott Hassett. “Taking steps to help these animals now could avoid having to make expensive and controversial decisions down the road.”

The plan also fulfills a requirement for Wisconsin to receive critical federal funding for these conservation efforts. This funding, known as State Wildlife Grants, has been called the “third leg” of a sort of the wildlife conservation funding stool.

Legs one and two are the longstanding Pittman-Robertson and Sportfish Restoration Acts, which aid states in managing mainly game species.

Through the Wildlife Grant Program, Wisconsin has received $6.6 million in federal dollars to aid the understanding, management and conservation of non-game animals. This is the only program in the federal budget that addresses the needs of these animals. A partial list of some projects funded by State Wildlife Grants is available on the DNR Web site.

“The job of conserving declining wildlife is challenging,” said Signe Holtz, director of the DNR Bureau of Endangered Resources, “but we know success is possible from our history with wildlife conservation triumphs like the wild turkey, bald eagle and trumpeter swan.”

Wisconsin’s Wildlife Action Plan and the conservation actions in the plan, are based on the identified species of greatest conservation need, according to Holtz.

“Conservation efforts focused on these animals will also benefit other wildlife,” she said. “Many species, both game and non-game, share habitat and face similar challenges. Restoring habitat for wildlife means protecting natural areas and clean waters for people too.”

The plan stresses the importance of habitat to protecting large groups of species rather than focusing efforts on individual animals, which is often what happens when a species lands on the endangered or threatened lists. “It’s a much more efficient use of funds and human energy,” she said.

Building partnerships with citizens and encouraging joint approaches to habitat conservation at the local level on both public and private lands is key to implementing the plan say DNR ecologists who stress that this is an action plan and not a regulatory, land use or land acquisition plan. Similar plans were drafted in all 50 states making it historic as nothing like this has been done before.

“Partnerships and cooperation were crucial to drafting the Wildlife Action Plan,” says Holtz. “It was a science-based process using input from biologists, scientists, birders, hunters, farmers and business people from around the state. Thanks to them we have a much better idea of the diversity and condition of our state wildlife. It’s solid base that helps to establish priorities, actions and opportunities for cooperative efforts.”