Western Governors roll out Crucial Habitat Assessment Tool to ensure wildlife values incorporated into land use decision-making

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CHAT Rollout Press Conference

UPDATE, March 18: The state of Oregon’s Fish and Wildlife Department just rolled out its new online mapping system to identify crucial fish and wildlife habitats. Learn all about it and how it fits into the Western Governors' CHAT. Read more.

March 13: Directions Magazine just published an interview with Michael Terner, executive vice president at Applied Geographics, the company that developed and implemented CHAT. Learn more.

LISTEN: Learn more about the Crucial Habitat Assessment Tool by listening to an interview with WGA Policy Advisor Carlee Brown, who discusses the new tool with Nevada Public Radio. Listen.

DEC. 12, 2013: The Western Governors’ Association today (Dec. 12) unveiled its Crucial Habitat Assessment Tool (CHAT), a cooperative effort of 16 Western states to provide the public and industry an overview of “crucial habitat” across the West.

CHAT LogoThe CHAT provides a “30,000-foot view” of habitat for pre-planning that can be used for projects as varied as “macro-siting” energy corridors and transmission routes, to comparing fish and wildlife habitat across the West.

The free, online tool unveiled at a press conference at the conclusion of the WGA’s 2013 Winter Meeting in Las Vegas is designed to enable industry to reduce time, costs, conflicts and surprises. It also will help conservation groups, state and federal agencies ensure wildlife values are better incorporated into land use decision-making. (Download a four-page publication with CHAT highlights.)

“The public release of the Western Governors’ CHAT shows the Governors’ commitment to responsible development of Western resources, while at the same time protecting the environment,” said Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, WGA Chairman.  Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and Montana Gov. Steve Bullock (in photos below) also spoke about the tool's promise.

Sec Jewell Speaks at CHAT“The tool is an example of WGA’s ongoing work with federal agencies – including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service – to enable use of state fish and wildlife data and analyses to guide land use, planning and related natural resource decisions.”

“Crucial habitats” are places that are likely to provide the natural resources important to aquatic and terrestrial wildlife, including species of concern, as well as hunting and fishing species. States collaborated to ensure information is compatible across the region. 

“The CHAT is meant to provide a first look at wildlife habitat using the same framework across the West,” said John Harja, Chairman of the Western Governors’ Wildlife Council, which oversaw the project. “It will help planners be better informed about wildlife priorities early in the process, so they can be better prepared as they engage in actual permitting with state and federal agencies.”

Gov Bullock at CHAT Presser"The states have provided a great service in developing this West-wide Crucial Habitat tool,” said Pam Eaton, Senior Energy Advisor at The Wilderness Society.  “This tool will be invaluable as we work to guide development to appropriate areas while also protecting sensitive lands. The Western Governors' CHAT can help reduce conflict as the place to go for wildlife information for energy and transmission planning."

Arizona, California, Kansas, Montana, Washington and Wyoming have developed state-specific CHATs; Nevada also launched its CHAT on Dec. 12, while New Mexico and Oregon launched CHATs in December. The Southern Great Plains CHAT depicts Lesser Prairie Chicken habitat across five states.

The Western Governors' CHAT can be found at westgovchat.org.

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