Tag Archive | "land conservation"

Graphium sarpedon

Paying the Price of Extinction Debt

The fact that species are being lost at an unprecedented rate is not in dispute, but how can conservation biologists who are trying to create protected areas account for extinctions which are occurring today because of events in the past?

Extinction is a natural process, but the current rate of species loss – at least 100 times what would be expected under normal conditions1 – is anything but natural. It is common knowledge that species are being lost as a result of human activities, but the fact that extinctions can occur because of historical events as well as contemporary pressures is less well known. This phenomenon is called extinction debt2 and has been documented by researchers working in a range of habitats3, 4, 5.

When an area of habitat becomes fragmented, the isolated patches which remain are not able to support the same array of species as the intact site due to a reduction in the amount of available resources. Over time, many of the species trapped within the patch will die off until, eventually, a new equilibrium is reached and the patch is only occupied by the species that it is able to support. The time taken for equilibrium to be reached is known as “relaxation time”3, because the habitat patch is relaxing back to equilibrium after a considerable disturbance.

In 2012, researchers from Japan studied the diversity of butterflies in a range of habitat patches scattered across Tokyo. They discovered that existing species richness was more closely correlated with the habitat conditions of 1971 than present day habitat conditions5, an indication of an extinction debt that has yet to be paid. They also mapped the predicted extinction debt of different habitat patches and found that the loss of species from large patches is likely to be lower than the loss from small patches5.

Graphium sarpedon

Graphium sarpedon, the blue triangle butterfly, is frequently found in Tokyo, where Soga and Koike (2012) mapped the potential extinction debt of butterfly species found in habitat patches in urban environments.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Maps which indicate where biodiversity is likely to decline in the future can be used to inform prioritization. Instead of focusing limited resources on the protection of areas that are projected to lose biodiversity, conservation practitioners can more optimally focus their efforts on areas where species are more likely to persist into the future. Prioritization can even be based around the newly emerging concept of “conservation credit”6, which accounts for the colonization of newly suitable habitat by species from other areas.

However, it is important to remember that the disturbances and fragmentation leading to species loss through extinction debt are, in the majority of cases, the result of human activities. Extinction debt doesn’t just illustrate the complexity of the current biodiversity crisis; it emphasizes the importance of protecting habitat in the present in order to secure biodiversity into the future.

References:

1. Pimm, S.L., and C.N. Jenkins. 2005. Sustaining the Variety of Life. Scientific American 293: 66 – 73
2. Tilman, D., R.M. May, C.L. Lehman, and M.A. Novak. 1994. Habitat destruction and the extinction debt. Nature 317: 65 – 66
3. Diamond, J.M. 1972. Biogeographic kinetics: estimation of relaxation times for avifaunas of southwest Pacific islands. PNAS 69: 3199 – 3203
4. Krauss, J., R. Bommarco, M. Guardiola, R.K. Heikkinen, A. Helm, M. Kuussaari, and R. Lindborg. 2010. Habitat fragmentation causes immediate and time‐delayed biodiversity loss at different trophic levels. Ecology Letters 13: 597 – 605
5. Soga, M. and S. Koike. 2012. Mapping the potential extinction debt of butterflies in a modern city: implications for conservation priorities in urban landscapes. Animal Conservation 16: 1 – 11
6. Vellend. M., and H.M. Kharouba. 2013. Setting conservation priorities when what you see is not what you get. Animal Conservation 16: 14 – 15

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chain for newsletter

Workshop Participants Build Their Land Trust’s Vision of Climate Change Adaptation

Workshop participants at Maryland's land trust conference build their situtation analysis for their target habitats.

In discussions about the role of land trusts in implementing climate change adaptation strategies, many have suggested that most of what land trusts do is already adaptation, while others have expressed the contrary opinion that adaptation is not “business as usual” for land trusts. Others worry that adaptation planning will take a lot of time and resources away from the day-to-day work of saving land. And others feel there is not yet enough information to start planning for how they will adapt their work to this new reality. These differing ideas can be confusing and discouraging.

To help get past this confusion, Defenders’ Living Lands facilitated workshops at the most recent Southeast Regional, Virginia, and Maryland land trust conferences to help the land trust community and their partners define their own vision for helping their communities adapt in the face of climate change.

The goal of this facilitated workshop was to demonstrate a quick and inexpensive process by which land trusts can begin to envision how climate change adaptation fits into their land conservation mission.

In this participatory workshop, the Defenders’ facilitated an exercise to build a common understanding of the biological, social, economic, political, and institutional systems that affect their conservation priorities. This process, called a “situation analysis”, is described in Step 1 of the Open Standards for the Practice of Conservation. The Open Standards were developed by the Conservation Measures Partnership (CMP) to bring together common concepts, approaches, and terminology to help practitioners improve the practice of conservation.

Planning for climate change adaptation will require that land trusts assess the drivers (e.g. air and water temperature increases, precipitation changes, sea level rise, species shifts in ranges) and the indirect and direct threats (e.g. floods, human responses, drought, invasive species outbreaks) to their conservation values under climate change. A “situation analysis” is a useful tool for documenting the drivers and threats affecting a biodiversity target as well as for identifying conservation actions that can be applied to contributing factors, direct threats, or even biodiversity targets.

We began the exercise by identifying the biodiversity targets as the habitat types used in the State Wildlife Action Plans of the southeastern US. For each habitat type we identified direct threats (which we cross-walked with the Standardized Threats Taxonomy developed by the CMP).

Using the US Global Change Research Program, Regional Climate Impacts: Southeast report and the Classification of Climate-Change-Induced Stresses on Biological Diversity, we identified the contributing factors related to climate change (i.e. climate change drivers) that lead to the direct threats and stresses on the target habitats. Contributing factors are often the entry points for conservation action (although actions may work through direct threats or even the target in some cases).

Then we identified how altered climate conditions link to direct threats using intermediate contributing factors. The facilitators helped the participants think through the causal relationships linking the altered climate conditions to the direct threats. The following thought process was helpful: Altered climate conditions result in this contributing factor which results in this direct threat which affects [via a stress] this target.

We were sure to discuss interactions between the altered climate conditions and non-climate-related threats (e.g. urban development). We identified potential relationships between climate factors and impacts on biological systems such as species range shifts, seasonal shifts, and disrupted biotic interactions. Ultimately the process of building the conceptual model assisted the group in identifying intervention points, or adaptation strategies.

The conceptual model shows the state of the world before taking action; the next step is for participants to think about adaptation strategies and the anticipated outcomes that will ultimately impact the habitat target. Participants identified broad categories of climate change adaptation strategies (e.g., outreach, policy, land protection, stewardship) and then described specific strategies that would reduce the effects of a contributing factor or direct threat on the habitat target.

In the example causal-relationships chain, yellow hexigons show adaptation strategies that intervene on contributing factors (orange) or direct threats (pink) to reduce stress on target habitats (green).

We talked about which strategies participants felt were most likely to achieve the desired outcome and which they felt were the most relevant to their land conservation work. We found it useful to consider several factors when evaluating strategies including: the likelihood the strategy will be successful, the feasibility of the strategy, the cost of the strategy, and the gap the strategy would address. Participants also identified the sources of uncertainty associated with the strategies (e.g., uncertainty associated with the direction/magnitude of altered climate conditions, the biophysical impact, or the outcome of the strategy).

As a wrap-up exercise, the group discussed what they felt were the opportunities and barriers to implementing some of the adaptation strategies they had identified. Many felt that the public’s skepticism about climate change and lack of funding were the largest barriers. But they also felt that the issue of climate change was potentially an opportunity to reinforce community support for their land conservation activities. Many participants felt the exercise was helpful to their thinking about climate change adaptation and thought they would use this process to initiate discussions with their organizations and stakeholders about climate change adaptation.

 

References and Resources 

Foundations of Success (FOS). 2007. Using Results Chains to Improve Strategy Effectiveness. An FOS How-To Guide. Foundations of Success, Bethesda, MD.

Foundations of Success (FOS). 2009. Using Conceptual Models to Document a Situation Analysis: An FOS How-To Guide. Foundations of Success Bethesda, MD.

Geyer, J. et al . 2011. Classification of Climate-Change-Induced Stresses on Biological Diversity.

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2007. Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – Synthesis Report

Salasfsky, N., D. Salzer, A. J. Stattersfield, C. Hilton-Taylor, R. Neugarten, S. H. M. Butchart, B. Collen, N. Cox, L. L. Master, S. O’Connor, and D. Wilkie. 2008. A standard lexicon for biodiversity conservation: Unified classifications of threats and actions. Conservation Biology 22: 897-911.

U.S. Global Change Research Program, Thomas R. Karl, Jerry M. Melillo, and Thomas C. Peterson, (eds.) 2009 Climate Change Effects from the U.S. Global Change Research Program, Regional Climate Impacts: Southeast.

US Global Change Research Program, Impacts of Climate Change on U.S. Regions and Sectors.

A full summary of the workshop with lists of strategies and the situation analyses is available here.

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Getting Off on the Right Foot with Conservation Planning Part III: How to Define the Problem

Conservation planning is a decision-making process to identify, prioritize, pursue, and protect conservation priorities in a way that will most effectively and efficiently achieve a goal.  (Third in a three part series).

Part 2 described why defining the problem is difficult, frequently overlooked, and yet important. Below is a list of questions that should help define the problem and develop a decision statement as the first step in the planning process.

How do we begin? We should start by evaluating our current decision-making processes. Ask why and how we need to improve the way we make decisions.

Who is the decision maker? This is a surprisingly difficult question and there are several scenarios – we may have single decision-maker, delegated authority, multiple decision-makers. Stakeholders, people outside the organization or agency that have interest or power in the decisions, have influence but they may not be decision makers.

What is our decision statement? At home it may be “My kid is acting up.” Our decision statement may be “How can we improve my kid’s behavior?”  At work it may be “We face competing interests between agricultural needs and habitat goals for riparian bird populations.” Our decision statement may be: “How can we optimize protection of riparian habitat for bird populations given competing needs for agriculture”.

Are we attempting to solve the right problem? Beware of decision frame blindness. Conservation issues are not simply technical or scientific, they reflect societal values – scientific, economic, political, and cultural values.  Are there other perspectives that aren’t being considered?  Are we framing the problem by earlier successes or failures? Are our assumptions false?   

Are we recognizing intractable problems? Intractable problems have already been decided, they are decisions that are out of our control, or they are decisions that require a greater level of investment of time, personnel, and resources than we have available. Failure is highly probable unless we re-define the problem so that it is within our ability to solve.

What is the scope of the decision? When & how often will the decision be made?  How large, broad, complicated is the decision?

What are our constraints for making the decision? Are there legal, financial, political constrains for making the decision. Are they perceived or real constraints?

A well-defined decision statement might take multiple attempts, but once you have a grasp on these questions, you can most likely develop a strong decision statement and get your conservation planning process off on the right foot.

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Getting Off on the Right Foot with Conservation Planning Part II: Why Identifying the Problem can be the Biggest Challenge

Conservation planning is a decision-making process to identify, prioritize, pursue, and protect conservation priorities in a way that will most effectively and efficiently achieve a goal.  (Part II of a three part series)

Defining your decision problem is the first, most important, but  often most difficult  and overlooked step in a conservation planning process. 

A decision is as an outcome of a thought process that leads to a course of actions (among many possible actions).  A decision is many times an irrevocable allocation of resources.

What decisions do we need to make during a planning process? Values and Visions: What do we care about, and what do we want the future to look like if we are successful in our mission?  Priorities: Are some conservation values are more important to us than others? Stakeholders: Who has power and interest in what decisions we make?  If our projects are land-based, where are our conservation values located on the landscape? Strategies: What actions are we going to take to reach our conservation goals? Implementation: Who is responsible for each action and by when do we want them to implement? Monitoring: How are we going to measure our success towards meeting our conservation goals? Adaptive Management: How do we learn from our projects and readjust our strategies as needed?

Why are decisions are hard? Uncertainty: We feel we don’t have all the information we need to make conservation decisions.  Complexity: We need to consider many interrelated factors. High-risk consequences: The impact of the decision may be significant and costly. Alternatives: We may have many alternative projects with each its own set of uncertainties and consequences to weigh. Controversy: It can be difficult to predict how other people will react to our decisions?

Part 3 will describe how to define the decision problem to get off on the right foot with conservation planning.

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Getting Off on the Right Foot with Conservation Planning Part I: Why plan?

Conservation planning is a decision-making process to identify, prioritize, pursue, and protect conservation priorities in a way that will most effectively and efficiently achieve a goal.  (First in a three part series)

Why plan? Just to name a few reasons: Planning builds organizational consensus over the selection of projects and allows the organization to be more proactive. Planning improves outreach to the community by stating the values of the organization or agency and by rigorously reviewing projects for public benefits.  Planning improves chances for success with funding programs that rely on criteria for selecting successful applicants. Planning helps with vetting conservation projects for their long-term suitability to meet the mission. Planning makes conservation decisions more defensible to withstand scrutiny by outside parties and the community in general.

Seems logical enough, no?  Then why is even the idea of undertaking a conservation planning process is a seemingly overwhelming task for both small and large conservation organizations and agencies alike?  Even though we know that we need conservation planning to move us from being opportunistic  (taking projects as they  come through the door) to being more strategic (figuring out a decision process for selecting actions that will be the most effective at meeting conservation goals), we can’t seem to muster the time, energy, or resources to begin the journey.  The notion of embarking on a lengthy and complicated process, taking time away from the “real work” of conservation, and stretching limited resources even further can be a strong deterrent from planning. 

So, it seems, if we are going to plan, we should make the process as useful as possible.  No one wants to think they are being more strategic because we have a plan, then to realize down the road that their plans are not useful in the end. We all know it is pointless to go through the process of developing plans that are not being used to guide our decisions, yet it happens all of the time.  Many times it happens because the process is flawed from the beginning.

Planning Parts 2 will describe why identifying a decision problem is the biggest challenge, but one of the most important initial steps in the planning process. Planning Part 3 will describe how to define the decision-problem.

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Chesapeake Bay tidal marsh, David Curson, Audubon MD/DC

Climate Change Adaptation in Maryland’s Somerset-Wicomico Marshes Important Bird Area

Chesapeake Bay tidal marsh, photo by David Curson, Audubon MD/DC

The State of Maryland is moving forward with critical climate change planning for coastal areas by figuring out how to protect lands into which soon-to-be-inundated wetlands and marshes can retreat. In response to the threat of sea level rise, these efforts are essential to maintaining the long-term ecological functions of storm surge buffering, carbon sequestration, water filtration, wildlife habitat, recreation and others that wetlands provide.

Defenders of Wildlife, Audubon Maryland/DC and the Lower Shore Land Trust have teamed up on a project focused on increasing the adaptive capacity of salt marshes and salt marsh obligate bird species in the Somerset-Wicomico Marshes Important Bird Area

View video on Climate Change Adaptation in Maryland’s Somerset-Wicomico Marshes Important Bird Area

The coastal wetlands in the Chesapeake Bay provide a range of “ecosystem services” that are critical for improving the water quality by helping to remove nutrients, chemicals, and sediment from urban and agricultural runoff before reaching the open water of the Bay. In addition, coastal wetlands provide a first line of defense against rising sea levels and increased storm damage, flooding and erosion.

These wetlands are habitat for ducks, geese and shorebirds and are home to unique flora and fauna, including two birds, the Seaside Sparrow and the Saltmarsh Sparrow, which are identified as Maryland species of greatest conservation concern in the Maryland Wildlife Diversity Conservation Plan. These species evolved in this tidal environment and are found only in salt marsh habitats along the U.S. Atlantic Coasts.

Sea level rise is impacting low-lying coastal lands at twice the global average rate. Maryland Department of Natural Resources explains that the State has already seen a foot of relative sea level rise during the past 100 years, causing the disappearance of 13 barrier islands from the Chesapeake Bay. Within the Chesapeake Bay, additional sea level rise impacts are already evident, including wetland erosion and forest die-back as a result of saltwater intrusion.

Our work will focus on assisting the Lower Shore Land Trust to identify the highest priority marsh migration corridors so that they can protect these areas from future development. This project takes place within the context of Defender’s work with state wildlife agencies to update their wildlife action plans to consider the impacts of climate change, as well as Defender’s Living Lands program that enhances the capacity of land trusts and their partners in protecting biodiversity in the face of climate change.

For more information on sea level rise in the Chesapeake Bay, see the following online resources:

Maryland Commission on Climate Change  

Strategy for Reducing Maryland’s Vulnerability to Climate Change Phase I: Sea-level rise and coastal storms

National Wildlife Federation

U.S. Climate Change Science Program

North Atlantic Landscape Conservation Cooperative

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Osprey from New Jersey

Conservation Registry creates meeting ground between conservation and business

Defenders’ Conservation Registry recently teamed up with the Wildlife Habitat Council to create a portal dedicated to the Council’s mission to bring business and conservation together to restore and enhance wildlife habitat. The Wildlife Habitat Council’s corporate partners usually look within their own borders to find conservation and restoration opportunities. However, the Wildlife Habitat Council’s biodiversity and ecosystem-based approach stresses the importance of viewing efforts within the context of regional corridors, conservation priorities, and connectivity. They are using the Conservation Registry to help businesses find opportunities they may not have otherwise have found. In fact, the Council recently helped one of their business partners find a project area in New Jersey. An aggregates company – which provides raw materials for road development such as concrete – was looking for recommendations that would improve their habitat initiatives in the state.

Osprey from New JerseyThe Wildlife Habitat Council searched for opportunities for conservation that complemented other activities already taking place in the area, thus maximizing the positive impact of the biodiversity initiative. The Conservation Registry was able to provide visual context, identify nearby projects and present this data visually. Using the Registry’s mapping tool, the Wildlife Habitat Council commented on how they could click on different map layers to find out where the closest forest lands were, and who owned them, and also find other successful projects in the target area and see who managed them.

This is a prime example of how the Conservation Registry can be used to help find future opportunities for on-the-ground investment that is strategic and collaborative. Rather than accessing six web sites, the Wildlife Habitat Council accessed one, found the information they needed, and helped the company get connected to others in the conservation community.

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A Community on Ecosystem Services

Ecosystem services are generally thought to be benefits that nature provides to humans. Things like clean water from healthy watersheds, clean air, climate regulation and protection from floods. As these services are diminished through over-exploitation and poor management, people discover that they are valuable, perhaps when it’s too late to reverse the damage.

Interest in ecosystem services as a new approach to resource management has grown dramatically in recent years, especially in academic and government circles. In December, a conference was held in Phoenix, called A Community on Ecosystem Services. It attracted over 400 scientists, economists, lawyers, nonprofits, businesses and federal officials and included over a hundred sessions on everything from measurements to markets for ecosystem services. Participants promoted their research, programs and new ideas.

Community on Ecosystem Services highlights
Rock Salt (yes, his real name) solicited assistance from the group to help the Army Corps of Engineers incorporate ecosystem services into the Corps’ decision-making framework – what to build, where, and how, given lots of competing demands and limited resources.

Amanda DeSantis from DuPont chided the United States for being so far behind the rest of the world in tracking environmental quality and preparing for widespread resource scarcity in the face of a growing world population that desires to consume as we do.

The best idea came from Shiprock Partners investment company managing partner Paul Brown, who pointed out that a ½ of 1% tax on the 30 trillion dollars in financial investments in the United States every year would purchase all of the carbon and other eco assets in the country.

University of Idaho law professor Dale Goble cautioned the group against taking too utilitarian and anthropocentric view of ecosystem services, and to continue using ecological risk assessment to determine impacts to the environment without confounding the results by including people’s preferences.

Defenders organized a panel on national policy options that highlighted the importance of addressing ecosystem services at the proper scale, working across agency boundaries, using consistent measurements and establishing clear ecological goals. Speakers proposed engaging utilities in programs to finance the protection of ecosystem services through ratepayers, and creating eco-enterprise zones for pilot programs.

Many sessions summarized ongoing efforts to assign dollar values to ecosystem services, using a variety of methods. Studies comparing the costs and benefits of using natural systems (like protecting forests, restoring floodplains and wetlands) instead of concrete and steel structures to retain floodwaters and improve water quality are among the most compelling.

A town hall meeting was held to invite feedback on a proposal to establish a National Ecosystem Services Partnership, initially housed at Duke University at the Nicholas School.  I am on the steering committee, so share your ideas on the topic with me. View A Community on Ecosystem Services presentations and abstracts.

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A System of Conservation Lands for America?

Have you ever wondered why a rich country like the United States has not established a system of conservation lands designed to prevent species from becoming endangered? What do you think it would take to build one?

A network of conservation lands is being explored under a program sponsored by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, called the Wildlife Habitat Policy Research Program. The program was designed to support implementation of the state wildlife action plans, required by Congress before states qualify for State Wildlife Grant funding.  Our Nation’s Wildlife Habitats is a synthesis report on the research findings and their significance from the first four years of the program.

Research sponsored by the Wildlife Habitat Policy Research Program demonstrated that time is running out to create a viable network of conservation lands, but that we are already spending a significant portion of the funds needed to create such a network – if only the money were spent more strategically on priority lands.

A variety of existing approaches, like land acquisition and easements, will be necessary, along with new strategies. For example, a new approach to wetland mitigation could produce much better results for conservation by focusing investment where it will have the greatest ecological benefits.

Improved alignment of government programs could generate a much broader spectrum of benefits for wildlife. For example, when the Federal Emergency Management Administration addresses flooding problems, floodplain habitat can be protected and managed to allow floods to happen without endangering people and property.  State fish and wildlife agencies cannot do this alone, nor can any single organization.

A major research theme of the Wildlife Habitat Policy Research Program is climate change adaptation. Many of the actions necessary to make ecosystems more resilient would make sense whether the climate changes as predicted or not.

Completing a Wildlife Habitat System for the Nation is a brief summary of the vision and recommendations by the program committee based on research sponsored by the program.

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Settlement funds pay for land conservation in Oregon

The state of Oregon’s $150 million settlement with the Bonneville Power Administration for mitigation of wildlife habitat affected by the federal hydroelectric system in the Willamette Basin cleared the way for last-minute closing of two big land deals in late October.  The Nature Conservancy completed its $23.4 million purchase of the 1,270-acre Wildish property at the confluence of the Willamette River’s coast and middle forks,  long identified as one of the highest conservation priorities in the Willamette Valley.  BPA provided $20.8 million for the Wildish purchase, OWEB contributed $2.5 million through its Willamette Special Investments Partnership, and TNC tapped its Northwest Wildlife Conservation Initiative for $100,000 from the Doris Duke foundation.  The settlement agreement also included BPA’s $9.7 million purchase of a conservation easement on the 1,310-acre Trappist Abbey property near Lafayette, one of the valley’s largest remaining blocks of upland forest.

Under the terms of the settlement agreement, BPA will provide an additional $2.5 million a year in 2011-13 for projects recommended by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, increasing to $8 million per year from 2014 to 2025. BPA will also give ODFW $837,000per year in 2011 and 2012 to operate the mitigation program, including maintenance of conserved lands, increasing to $1.7 million per year starting in 2014.

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dotWild is the blog of scientists and policy experts at Defenders of Wildlife, a national, nonprofit membership organization dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities.

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