Wildlife need to move to survive: to find food, reproduce and escape wildfires and other hazards. Yet as soon as they leave protected areas like national forests or parks, they often wind up on a landscape that is very fragmented in terms of natural boundaries and human ones.

To help create more corridors for wildlife movement, a team led by Washington State University environmental studies graduate student Amanda Stahl has developed a way to map not only the vegetation but also the types of legal authority governing the landscape. In a paper published online in the journal Conservation Biology on Feb. 14, the researchers apply their new mapping system to the areas next to streams in Okanogan County in northeastern Washington.

Alex Fremier.
Amanda Stahl.

Stahl and her co-authors, Alexander Fremier, WSU associate professor for the School of the Environment, and University of Idaho Law Professor Barbara Cosens, studied habitat maps and dozens of legal documents applying to Okanogan County stream areas. They developed two weighted scales for each area of land, giving them a rating based on the naturalness and another based on the strength of the legal authority governing it. For example, if there were only voluntary recommendations in place to restore the habitat next to the stream that would be a weaker legal authority rating in comparison to wetlands that are protected through mandatory permitting and reporting under the Clean Water Act.

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