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. 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.
The History of CHAT
When the Western Governors adopted their Wildlife Corridors Initiative Report in 2008, they created the Western Governors' Wildlife Council and tasked its members with developing policies and tools to identify and conserve crucial wildlife habitat and corridors across the region.
The Wildlife Council first approached the Governors' directive by launching regional pilot projects in 2010 with support from a grant from the Department of Energy. The year-long pilot projects allowed the Wildlife Council to test the framework outlined in their White Paper, helping to refine their vision.
In August 2011, the Wildlife Council established a plan to develop a West-wide tool with the goal of launching a public and regionally compatible crucial habitat GIS tool by 2013. All the while, the Wildlife Council has continued to support the development of state-specific CHATs in individual states.
Western Governors launched CHAT in December 2013 as the Western Governors’ Crucial Habitat Assessment Tool (CHAT) and managed it through 2014. In April 2015, Western Governors transferred full responsibility for CHAT to WAFWA ,and the tool was renamed the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies CHAT.
CHATs in Individual States
Arizona, California, Kansas, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Washington and Wyoming have already developed state-specific information on priority species and habitat. In addition, the Southern Great Plains CHAT provides information specific to the lesser-prairie chicken, a species with habitat ranging across five states. Other states are continuing to develop individual systems to provide additional state-specific information.
The Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies
The Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA) represents 23 states and Canadian provinces, spanning from Alaska to Texas and Saskatchewan to Hawaii - an area covering nearly 3.7 million square miles of some of North America's most wild and scenic country, inhabited by over 1500 premier wildlife species.
WAFWA is a strong advocate of the rights of states and provinces to manage fish and wildlife within their borders. The Association has been a key organization in promoting the principles of sound resource management and the building of partnerships at the regional, national and international levels in order to enhance wildlife conservation efforts and the protection of associated habitats in the public interest.