Western Governors roll out Crucial Hunting Habitat Assessment Tool

by Nevada Department of Wildlife

LAS VEGAS, Nev. (Dec. 12, 2013) - The Western Governors' Association (WGA) today unveiled its Crucial Habitat Assessment Tool (CHAT), a cooperative effort of 16 Western states to provide the public and industry a high-level overview of "crucial habitat" across the West.

The 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 (westgovchat.org) is designed to enable industry to reduce time, costs, conflicts and surprises, while also helping conservation groups, state and federal agencies ensure wildlife values are better incorporated into land use decision-making.

"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.

"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."

"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."

"CHAT creates a one-stop shop for environmental planning that did not previously exist," said Robert Veldman, Senior Environmental Advisor for Noble Energy. "It will be instrumental in supporting Noble Energy's commitment to protecting wildlife and their habitats, particularly during project planning, infrastructure route selection and in doing due diligence for acquisitions and divestitures."

Arizona, California, Kansas, Montana, Washington and Wyoming have developed state-specific CHATs; Nevada, New Mexico and Oregon will be launching CHATs in December, 2013. The Southern Great Plains CHAT depicts Lesser Prairie Chicken habitat across five states.

The Western Governors' Crucial Habitat Assessment Tool, which was unveiled at the conclusion of the WGA's 2013 Winter Meeting in Las Vegas, can be found at westgovchat.org