Crucial Areas Planning System (CAPS) planned for Montana

Eleanor Guerrero
CCN Senior Reporter
Thursday, January 9, 2020
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Photo by Don Redfoot
Major predators and minor are some of the subjects of the CAPS program by FWP to study connectivity of species.

By Eleanor Guerrero

CCN Senior Reporter


Governors of Western states face many unique problems. The Western Governor’s Association (WGA)  has dealt with common problems affecting the states’ unique issues with economic development, energy, water, forest and rangeland management and species management, to name a few. They have invested in research and issued many reports in important areas. The WGA includes 17 states from Washington State to Texas and up to the Dakotas. 

In 2008, as a part of a  Western Governors’ Association initiative, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) took the lead in conducting a statewide Crucial Areas Assessment in Montana. 

The assessment evaluated the fish, wildlife and recreational resources of Montana in order to identify crucial areas and fish and wildlife corridors. The Assessment is part of a larger conservation effort that recognizes the importance of landscape scale management of species and habitats by fish and wildlife agencies.

The result, in part, is a Web-based Crucial Areas Planning System (CAPS), an FWP mapping application aimed at future planning for a variety of development and conservation purposes so fish, wildlife, and recreational resources can be considered earlier.

A CAPS Connectivity Working Group was tasked with assisting FWP in developing a list of focal species that could serve as a connectivity conservation umbrellaby encompassing the needs of all vertebrate species in the state.

The selection approach involved assembling a list of vertebrates based on state and global conservation status, socioeconomic value, and risk related to loss of habitat connectivity.

Species initially considered were: 80 birds, 61 mammals 12 reptiles, 8 amphibians, and 43 fish. Expert opinion was used to identify ecological processes, watersheds and types of movement related to connectivity for each species followed by ranking each species for its vulnerability to threats. Each species was then assigned to an ecological systems and a set of covering exercises was used to develop a list of species that represents all ecological processes and threats within a system or watershed. The list was then reviewed and refined based on additional expert input.

A finalized list of focal species was developed with the understanding that it will be adjusted as new data and information become available.

Current species include: Mammals: Wolverine, Canada Lynx; fisher; Bobcat; Swift Fox; Elk; Moose; Pronghorn; Mule Deer; Gray Wolf; Mountain Lion; Grizzly Bear; Black Bear; Hoary Marmot; Pika; Pygmy Rabbit; White-tailed Prairie Dog; Black-tailed Prairie Dog; Townsend’s Big-eared Bat; Hoary Bat; Pallid Bat; Fringed Myotis and Spotted Bat. Birds include: Sage Grouse; Trumpeter Swan; Bald Eagle; Sharp-tailed Grouse; Least Tern; Forster’s Tern; Black Tern; Dusky Flycatcher; Red-naped Sapsucker; Le Conte’s Sparrow; Piping Plover; Broad-tailed Hummingbird; Long-billed Curlew; Sprague’s Pipit; Lark Bunting; McCown’s Longspur; Flammulated Owl; Golden Eagle and Baird’s Sparrow. The list includes two amphibians, three reptiles, five fish and six semi-aquatics. (See AssessmentsConnectivity in site below.) 

The CAPS report released on June 10, 2019 presents five recommendations that include: protect the West from the introduction of new invasive species through enhanced biosecurity practices, preparedness and planning; improve cross-boundary collaboration and coordination for the management of established and emerging invasive species in the West; empower state and federal agencies to manage invasive species; support and utilize new biosecurity research, technology and planning tools and standardize and mobilize invasive species data.

Also released in June was a report entitled The Western Governors’ Biosecurity and Invasive Species Initiative Special Report highlights the work of Western Governors to confront the challenge of nuisance species and pests on western ecosystems. The past year’s workshops and webinars of the Initiative focused on the role of biosecurity in addressing the risks posed by invasive species.

The CAPS assessment has created digital GIS-layer maps depicting important species and habitat information; Assessed risks to fish, wildlife, and their habitats; 

Created management guidelines and examples for residential development, energy development, and transportation projects and Developed partnerships with government, industry, county planners and non-government organizations to develop implementation strategies and facilitate integration of CAPS into their planning processes.

Local, regional, and statewide decision-makers, developers, and FWP staff understand that it's important to have easy access to practical tools and information early in the planning process.

CAPS provides an easy-to-use and understandable way to help plan for development, conserve land, and protect the character and quality of life of Montana's communities; help developers know up front where to expect greater expense and potential mitigation costs and issues; and help make smarter development choices and pass on to future generations the quality of life Montanans enjoy today.

FWP notes, “CAPS is not a substitute for a site-specific evaluation of fish, wildlife, and recreational resources. There is still no substitute for consulting with local FWP biologists to gain a better understanding of conditions and management challenges in a particular area of the state—but CAPS will help you start smart.”

Past WGA initiatives include the Rangeland Management Initiative, Species Conservation and the Endangered Species Act Initiative and the Drought Forum. 

(See ninAction/crucial Areas).