We need big bold visions to address climate change and biodiversity loss.
The bad news is that these two rapidly accelerating processes power each other. Climate change leads to loss of biodiversity which in turn leads to ecosystems that are less resilient to climate change. The good news is that if we address biodiversity loss it will help with the climate issue and vice versa.
A recent collaboration between NatureServe Esri, The Nature Conservancy, Microsoft's AI for Earth program and others has created a “Map of Biodiversity Importance.” This is the most precise modeling conducted to date and shows new and different patterns for what areas matter most for imperiled species in the US and could be a powerful tool to slowing mass extinction and biodiversity loss.
Past maps have focused on vertebrates and have been too coarse for use in a lot of policy discussions. This recent effort looked at imperiled species of all kinds including plants, birds, insects, animals, and amphibians and then used a rigorous process to weight species depending on size of their range and other factors. They then layered protected areas that are managed for diversity such as wilderness.
What we are left with is a map identifying unprotected lands with a high need for protection of their biodiversity values. The map shows that getting new public land protection matters. Federal lands designated for multiple uses, including resource extraction such as logging, mining, and fossil fuels, also provide habitat for many at-risk species. Of almost 300 imperiled species whose distributions occur almost entirely on federal lands, about half are found primarily on lands subject to extractive uses.
When we look at the Greater Hells Canyon Region, the public lands in between the Hells Canyon, Eagle Cap and North Fork Umatilla Wildernesses light up as having a high need for protection. This area, the focus of our Wild Connections program, has long been known to be an important connectivity corridor. This new data reinforced the importance of protecting the biodiversity of this area especially as plants and animals are looking to move north and upslope as the climate warms.
The authors of this large scale study are hoping that this can be used when the Forest Service and BLM update their planning documents, for identifying connectivity corridors, and to help the Biden administration to move forward with its 30x30 initiative, the goal of conserving and restoring 30 percent of US lands and waters by 2030. They see this map as a living entity, one that will evolve into an intelligent nervous system for conservation.