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May 22, 2024

A research team from the U.S. Geological Survey and Bureau of Land Management recently published an article in Conservation Science and Practice titled "Accuracy, Accessibility, and Institutional Capacity Shape the Utility of Habitat Models for Managing and Conserving Rare Plants on Western Public Lands."

Habitat models can help resource managers conserve rare plants, but it is unclear how models are currently being used to inform management decisions. The goal of this study was to better understand how resource managers currently use habitat models in their work, and perceived challenges and benefits associated with that use.

To address this goal, researchers paired document analysis with semi-structured interviews. By examining litigation documents and National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) documents, researchers found that the Bureau of Land Management is not being litigated on their use of habitat models, and researchers found no clear citations of habitat models in the sampled NEPA analyses. Through interviews with agency staff, researchers identified top challenges that interviewees faced in using habitat models that related to data organization and access, model quality and accuracy, and institutional capacity. Interviewees believed models could be used more to inform decisions and actions to conserve rare plants and rare plant habitat on public lands and recommended improving staff access to models, creating models for additional species, and addressing staffing limitations.

Understanding the nuances of challenges described by data users can facilitate future collaborations between resource managers and the modeling community to develop habitat models that can better support conservation and management of rare plants on public lands.

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