What to connect: identifying potential linkages

Potential linkage areas must be defined in terms of the wildland blocks they connect. It makes no sense to conserve or restore a corridor without an explicit idea of what you want to connect.

Identifying potential linkages

A potential linkage is an area where connectivity between wildland areas is at risk. Some potential linkages allow free movement of plants and animals, others have been severely compromised, but all have some potential to maintain or restore connectivity.

Before you can prioritize a list of potential linkages, you must first identify the potential linkages in the landscape. Typically a region has many potential linkages at risk. Wouldn't it be great to immediately develop and implement conservation plans for all such areas? Sadly, resources are limited, and conservationists must prioritize, meaning we must select a few linkages as the first to be conserved.

Each stakeholder tends to feel that the wildland he or she knows and loves best should be the highest priority for a linkage design. Because conserving a linkage requires coordinated action by transportation agencies, owners of conservation lands, donors, and others, somehow the stakeholders must agree on a prioritized list. A rational and transparent prioritization helps all stakeholders work together.

California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado have undertaken statewide efforts to map and prioritize potential linkages. In our first California effort, when we proposed a “top twelve” list to a stakeholder group, we were bombarded with questions on why each stakeholder's pet area was not at the top of the list, and why some areas were not on the list at all. Big mistake, but we recovered from it.

Identifying stakeholders

Who develops the list of potential linkages, and how do they do it? We recommend allowing any interested party to put a linkage on the list at a workshop where they can talk face-to-face. Invitees to the workshop should include land management agencies (Forest Service, state and national parks, BLM, etc.), state and federal wildlife management agencies, conservation NGO's, transportation agencies, county and municipal planners, local land trusts and conservancies, Native American tribes, military bases, utility districts, developers, ranchers, universities and other research entities (like USGS), and biological consulting firms. Some states have held smaller regional meetings instead of or in addition to the statewide workshop. If any person or group asks to attend, invite them, but make the purpose of the meeting clear so they do not waste their time.

Invitees are more likely to attend if the invitation has the logo of major organizations (including their own). These same logos will appear on the cover of the report, so take time to assemble a diverse list of inviters. Of course, someone must first invite the inviters. If you are that someone, avoid the temptation to give top billing to your organization. Conservation success will be greatly enhanced if all the inviters are given equal prominence.

Developing a list of potential linkages

The workshop goal is to develop a comprehensive list and map of all potential linkages. At this point, do not exclude any potential linkage, even if the linkage area has been totally destroyed by urbanization and would link only to a small, degraded wildland. You want to honor everyone's participation. In the next step, the less-important or unrestorable linkages will fall to the bottom of the list, but there is no reason to exclude them entirely from the start. The only requirements are that nominators must explicitly state:

  • What wildland areas the linkage would connect. It makes no sense to conserve or restore a corridor without an explicit idea of what you want to connect. Some participants will come to the workshop keen to kill a proposed road or development project; they will want to list the area as a “corridor” to torpedo the project. But you need to make them focus on what to connect—not on barriers alone.
  • What wildlife species need to travel between those wildlands. This need not be a comprehensive list, but asking the question forces people to think about whether the two wildlands were ecologically connected before humans altered the landscape.
  • What activities threaten the linkage, and severity of each threat. Threat will be measured on a scale (such as 1-5). To ensure consistency among nominators, assign a verbal interpretation each score at the start of the workshop.