Landscape connectivity is vital to the ecological health of many landscapes, and identification of linkages in working landscapes that are somewhat, but not irreversibly, degraded is needed. Assessment of the current ecological condition of habitat linkages can be used to determine appropriate management activities, including restoration. Forecasting the future ecological condition of identified linkages under multiple human-use scenarios can identify future patterns of vulnerability and degradation, and thus aid in prioritization of conservation and restoration actions. We forecast the ecological condition of a modeled conservation network of cores and habitat linkages in the San Joaquin Valley, California, a highly developed agricultural area. We assessed current and projected future impacts from modeled urban growth representing seven regional urban growth policy scenarios to determine conservation and restoration priorities. We characterized current ecological condition of the linkages using a clustering algorithm that compared vegetation type, length, and major road and canal crossings. The modeled urban growth forecasts were overlaid on the ecological network to identify expected impacts. A threat index was calculated for individual network components and for component clusters, and revealed significant impact differences between the various urban growth scenarios. The linkages most threatened by urban conversion were those that are currently the most ecologically degraded, suggesting that a significant future conservation issue in this working landscape will be the loss of restoration opportunities rather than loss of intact wildlife linkages. This study presents an approach for incorporating regional conservation design with urban growth policy analysis for working landscapes.
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Vol. 31 • No. 3