A recent paper co-authored by Defenders President and CEO Jamie Clark highlights the conflicting and complex aspects of managed relocation, a conservation measure where species, populations, or genotypes are intentionally introduced outside of their historical range for the purpose of maintaining biological diversity or ecosystem functioning. In the context of the paper, it is considered as an adaptation strategy to climate change, but it could also be a strategy for other types of conservation planning.
This is a valuable paper, especially because it summarizes very well the many potential problems and the conflicting issues with managed relocation, and how they relate to a possible and much needed future policy to guide such process. The authors state that, while managed relocation has been happening intentionally and non-intentionally around the world, many issues exist that would need to be addressed once this strategy starts being considered more often. Problems and conflicts span the ethical, scientific, and cultural fields, and the authors stress the point that evidence to support managed relocation decisions is essential. They mention the need of using decision theory to weigh such scientific, ethical, and cultural, as well as cost considerations, and call for collaborative efforts involving specialists that can effectively address the full range of said considerations. They also bring up the issue of the accuracy of species distribution models under climate change, and their usefulness (or lack thereof) in predicting future ranges and habitats. Climate change is expected to affect the future range of many species due to its effects not only on the species themselves, but also on their habitats and essential interactions. However, species distribution models do not account for the complexity of species interactions and needs, or for the maintenance of essential ecosystem services and processes in which each species is involved. Caution is needed when using that type of data to inform managed relocation.
The question remains of what “appropriate managed relocation actions” (and/or “efforts”) are, but the paper cites some general criteria to help determine the appropriateness of a managed relocation action (e.g., when data suggest that the extinction risk of a species without relocation is high, relocation is feasible, and the relocation is unlikely to cause substantial harm to the proposed site). The paper includes a list of key ethical, ecological, legal and policy, and integrated questions to base a decision framework on managed relocation. Questions such as “which conservation goals take ethical precedence over others and why?”, “what are the limits of less dramatic alternatives to managed relocation, such as increasing habitat connectivity?”, and “what constitutes an acceptable risk of harm and what are adequate measures for the protection of recipient ecosystems?” can effectively help guide the decision making process. Together with their recommendations, these questions provide very good guidance for a future policy regulating managed relocation.