Dec 12, 2013 - The Associated PressThe database will connect 16 western states in a first-of-its-kind online system of colorful maps displaying wildlife habitat, wetlands and other valuable natural resources.
RENO, Nev. -- Governors in 16 states are unveiling a high-tech wildlife habitat mapping project they hope will encourage economic development across the West while protecting the region's environmental treasures from Puget Sound to the Rocky Mountains.
The Western Governors' Association wants to make it easier to chart paths across large landscapes where developers can expect the least regulatory resistance and threat of litigation as they draft plans to build highways, dig gold mines and erect power lines, pipelines or wind farms.
Five years in the making, the database will connect 16 western states from California and Alaska to Montana and Oklahoma with a first-of-its-kind online system of colorful GIS maps displaying wildlife habitat, wetlands and other valuable natural resources -- much of it detailed down to square-mile increments.
The Crucial Habitat Assessment Tool, or CHAT, provides layers of data that rate the resources on a scale of one to six, from most to least "crucial." Individual states determine those priorities based on their information about such things as the condition of the habitat and the individual species' economic and recreational importance.
"The governors intent back in 2008 really was to cater to industries within their states who need data while at the same time conserving the resources the states are blessed with and the governors are charged with preserving," said Carly Brown, policy manager for the Western Governors Association.
"It's going to provide that first look -- a 30,000-foot view of the situation on the ground. It's meant to be a starting point for states with different priorities and different resource needs to bring all their information together," she told The Associated Press before the WGA planned to announce details of the effort on Thursday at its two-day, annual gathering in Las Vegas.
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