SNAP is collaborating with the University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA) and BLM-Alaska to implement the science-based Rapid Ecoregional Assessment (REA) approach in several regions throughout Alaska. REAs are intended to address ecosystem issues and conservation planning across administrative boundaries.
Rapid Ecoregional Assessments help evaluate current conditions and predict future conditions of the landscape and the effects of environmental influences on an ecoregion, including:
- invasive species
- climate change
REAs are considered “rapid” because they use existing information and are finished within 18 months (compared with studies that conduct research or collect new data, which can take up to 2 years). REAs begin with developing management questions that evaluate landscape conditions and trends throughout the region. They encompass broad geographic regions, crossing administrative boundaries.
Ecoregions are large, connected areas that have similar environmental characteristics. Alaska ecoregions include:
The role of SNAP in REAs
SNAP is leading the climate change component of these assessments by producing, sharing, and interpreting pertinent datasets. SNAP is also helping to guide decision-making processes at every stage of the assessments, through close collaboration with partners at UAA and BLM.
Why assess an ecoregion?
Resource managers and decision-makers have questions about current and anticipated natural resource issues within an ecoregion. The REA process systematically addresses these questions. For planning purposes, most questions are treated in a spatial context at 20 and 50 year time steps.
Alaska REAs will create a suite of information on species and habitats of conservation concern, socio-economics, and ecological processes. Most importantly, we will gain information on the interactions between these elements and climate, wildfire, development, and invasive species over landscapes—all of which span administrative boundaries.
What’s in the assessment?
Conservation elements are the “what” that will be conserved and/or restored—the species, ecosystems, etc. that BLM will assess for status.
Change agents are key factors currently affecting or likely to affect (and potentially change) the status of conservation elements.
Conceptual ecological models will be developed to provide a science-based context as to how conservation elements interact with one another and how they may be driven to change. Models will capture the best available understanding about ecological functioning and essential ecological attributes for an ecoregion.
Goals of a rapid ecoregional assessment
REAs do not allocate resource uses or make management decisions. They provide science-based information and tools for land managers and stakeholders to consider in resource planning and decision-making processes by:
- identifying and answering management questions;
- documenting resource values, with a focus on regionally-significant terrestrial habitats, aquatic habitats, and species of concern;
- describing influences from climate change, wildfire, invasive species, and development;
- assessing the collective effects of projected trends;
- identifying and mapping opportunities for resource conservation, restoration, and development;
- identifying science gaps and data needs; and
- providing a baseline to evaluate and guide future management.