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Prioritizing restoration areas to conserve multiple sagebrush-associated wildlife species

June 17, 2021

Strategic restoration of altered habitat is one method for addressing worldwide biodiversity declines. Within the sagebrush steppe of western North America, habitat degradation has been linked to declines in many species, making restoration a priority for managers; however, limited funding, spatiotemporal variation in restoration success, and the need to manage for diverse wildlife species make decision-making regarding restoration actions challenging. To address the challenge of spatial conservation prioritization, we developed the Prioritizing Restoration of Sagebrush Ecosystems Tool (PReSET). This decision support tool utilizes the prioritizr package in program R and an integer linear programming algorithm to select parcels representing both high biodiversity value and high probability of restoration success. We tested PReSET on a sagebrush steppe system within southwestern Wyoming using distributional data for six species with diverse life histories and a spatial layer of predicted sagebrush recovery times to identify restoration targets at both broad and local scales. While the broad-scale portion of our tool outputs can inform policy, the local-scale results can be applied directly to on-the-ground restoration. We identified restoration priority areas with greater precision than existing spatial prioritizations and incorporated range differences among species. We noted tradeoffs, including that restoring for habitat connectivity may require restoration actions in areas with lower probability of success. Future applications of PReSET will draw from emerging datasets, including spatially-varying economic costs of restoration, animal movement data, and additional species, to further improve our ability to target effective sagebrush restoration.