Message from Dave Smith: Catalyzing Habitat Conservation

As this newsletter begins to describe, the Intermountain West is a region characterized by its ecological diversity. From the stunning alpine high country to the saline lakes of its vast deserts, it is a land of diverse topography, habitats, birds, and people.

The perennial challenge for the IWJV has been finding common threads that allow a bird conservation partnership with a small staff to effectively catalyze habitat conservation among hundreds of conservation partner organizations across 486 million acres. We can’t be everywhere and do everything, but the founders of the IWJV clearly laid down a principle of fostering strong conservation partnerships among diverse interests. So just how we do we address that double-edged sword of being focused and being relevant? The solution lies in the art of blending the biological and social sciences. Over the last four years we have narrowed our focus from 14 priority habitats and 382 focal landscapes to habitats and places with the greatest value to birds at a continental scale. This evolution has led us to two keystone habitats –wetlands and sagebrush– and key landscapes dominated by each habitat that, in many ways, define the Intermountain West. Wetlands are and will remain the lifeblood of the IWJV. They make up small amounts of the landscape but have enormous value to birds, including providing continentally significant habitat for many species.

The 2011 Implementation Plan that we will release towards the end of the year goes deep for wetland birds in a few key landscapes – the Great Salt Lake, Southern Oregon-Northeastern California, Columbia Basin, and San Luis Valley – with detailed bioenergetics modeling that steps down population objectives for priority species to the local scale and establishes habitat objectives to inform and inspire local habitat conservation delivery. It lays a foundation for wetland conservation planning that will ultimately touch successful community-based conservation efforts in other intermountain valleys across the West, strengthening these incredible partnerships. Learn more about a wetlands tracking partnership.

Sagebrush is the signature of the Intermountain West. This under-appreciated habitat is ground zero for the Greater Sage-Grouse, a species teetering on the brink of an Endangered Species Act listing that would have national, even global, implications to energy development, as well as ranching and the communities of the Intermountain West. Sagebrush, now more so than ever, matters to people. That’s why the IWJV recently entered into a major three-year partnership with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to build field delivery, science, communications, and partner capacity to help implement the Sage-Grouse Initiative (SGI), a landmark effort by NRCS, state fish and wildlife agencies, NGOs, and other conservation partners that is addressing threats to sage-grouse at unprecedented scales. SGI is truly re-writing the wildlife management textbooks. Learn more about SGI here.

The IWJV’s emphasis on wetlands and sagebrush brings an important level of focus to our day-to-day work in science, partnership-building, and linking partners to conservation program funding – but make no mistake about it, the reach of the IWJV will extend to all 11 states through our State Conservation Partnerships. We will continue to support the habitat conservation delivery of our partners relative to these and other key habitats.

Our most valued resource is inherently our people. Thanks for your involvement with the IWJV! If you’d like to become even more active in the IWJV partnership network, read our suggestions above for three ways to stay connected.


Dave Smith is Coordinator of the Intermountain West Joint Venture.