The Wild Connections Conservation Plan (WCCP) is a science-based management scenario for the Pike-San Isabel National Forest and adjacent public lands. It was published in 2006 after more than a decade of on-the-ground mapping, stakeholder workshops, and mapping. The WCCP is now almost thirteen years old. Now is the time to update the plan!
Wild Connections (then called the Upper Arkansas and South Platte Project) was formed in 1995 as part of a coalition of organizations that embraced the vision of a network of protected wildlands across North America. Wild Connections addressed that vision by mapping roadless areas in the Arkansas and South Platte mountain watersheds, where the USFS Pike-San Isabel National Forest (PSI) and the BLM Royal Gorge Field Office (RGFO) Resource Area are located.
From 1995 to 2001, the boundaries of more than 100 roadless areas were mapped, covering thousands of acres of wildlands. Written reports with photos and annotated topo maps became the basis of an extensive inventory repository. We also acquired Geographic Information Systems software so that digital data and maps could be produced. This was accomplished by 150 volunteers, and augmented in 2000 with paid inventory staff.
In parallel with the mapping Wild Connections began to create the Wild Connections Conservation Plan. The objective was to influence to the Pike San Isabel forest plan revision.
The WCCP was created based on input from seven stakeholder workshops. It was designed based on mapping and other biological data, the use of conservation biology principles, and reserve design methods. The plan consists of a management map and a document describing the land and how the areas should be managed. The map shows a series roadless core reserves, many of which are recommended for Wilderness designation, connected by wildlife linkages. The concept is applied both as forest-wide management recommendations and as place-based specific management. The WCCP was distributed in June 2006.
The Wild Connections Conservation Plan is now almost thirteen years old. Many changes to the upper Arkansas and South Platte region have occurred. In addition, changes to agency planning rules and new agency guidance have affected the Plan’s usefulness. The Wild Connections Conservation Plan needs to be updated to address new factors, most notably the increasing need to address climate change.
Right now is a decisive time for our wildlife, forests, canyons and meadows. Climate change is real. 2018 is trending to be one of the hottest years on record and the 2018 water year snowpack was well below average as of March. Wildlife and even plant life are on the move as changing climatic conditions force them to shift locations to maintain their preferred habitat. This movement is often impeded by manmade barriers: roads, commercial developments, areas that have been intensively logged, mined, or drilled for oil and natural gas; and simply by an intensified human presence on the land as our state population grows. However, central Colorado is fortunate to have many large roadless areas that are potential havens for nature, for biodiversity, for fully functional ecosystems, for our native plants and animals.
But here are the big questions...
Which of these areas will be the most resilient to withstand the changes in our climate?
Which will provide enough space unaffected by human activity for summer and winter range, for birthing and migration?
Which will provide enough time – decades and longer – for plants and animals to exercise their innate ability to adapt to changing conditions?
Where will rare species of wildlife, from lynx to butterflies, have the best chance to flourish?
Colorado Statewide Time Series Snowpack Summary as of Sept 2018. Image NRCS.
What Needs to be Done?
Wild Connections is working on an answer to that question. Wild Connections has a 23 year track record of creating detailed inventories of Forest Service roadless areas and Bureau of Land Management areas with wilderness qualities. We have been on the ground out there, and have achieved many striking successes using the Wild Connections Conservation Plan to advocate for taking good care of the public lands that belong to all of us. In addition, conservation biologists and land managers have developed methods for identifying areas that will be resilient in the face of climate change.
Because this is an effort which we intend to undertake in addition to our current wildlands restoration and advocacy activities, we are creating a special Wild Connections Conservation Plan Revision Fund. Donations to the Fund will be earmarked for development of the revised Plan.
We are excited and passionate about this chance to do something that will have long-range good effects. We hope you are too!