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Planning for Development and Wildlife

May 17, 2016

The Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies Crucial Habitat Assessment Tool (CHAT) was developed to bring greater certainty and predictability to planning efforts by establishing a common starting point for discussing the intersection of development and wildlife.

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The tool is managed by the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA). CHAT is designed to reduce conflicts and surprises while ensuring wildlife values are better incorporated into land use planning, particularly for large-scale linear projects. It is a non-regulatory tool and not intended for project-level approval.

Image: Northern Pintail Duck
A male northern pintail duck.

“CHAT” stands for Crucial Habitat Assessment Tool. CHAT is an online system of maps that displays crucial wildlife habitat based on commonly agreed upon definitions developed by the Western Governor’s Wildlife Council.  CHAT provides a high-level, coarse-scale overview of crucial habitat for pre-planning on a wide variety of projects across the West. At this coarse scale, CHAT provides a “first-look” at crucial wildlife habitat at the “30,000-foot level.”

The CHAT connects users with state-level CHATs, which provide more detailed and state-specific maps and information. No online planning tool, however, is a substitute for on-the-ground surveys or consultation with state wildlife experts. Both the regional and state-level CHATs aim to increase the efficiency and predictability of formal planning efforts by establishing a common starting point to discuss the intersection of development and wildlife.

PAD-US is used to indicate which critical habitat areas are provided what level of conservation protection (GAP Status), and which agencies manage different protected areas – see more at the CHAT map.