Tag Archive | "policy"

“Carrying capacity”: What Can Managed Relocation Do For Climate Adaptation?

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.

Posted in Climate ChangeComments (0)

Conservation in the Information Age Table

Conservation in the Information Age

Data.  We live in the information age.  Information is power.  Information and data can help us see problems and solve problems.

Just three days after his inauguration, President Obama issued a memorandum on open government and transparency.

“My Administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government.  We will work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration. Openness will strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in Government.”

In May, 2009, Federal Chief Information Officer, Vivek Kundra, launched Data.gov “to improve access to Federal data and expand creative use of those data beyond the walls of government by encouraging innovative ideas (e.g., web applications). Data.gov strives to make government more transparent and is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government. The openness derived from Data.gov will strengthen our Nation’s democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in Government.”

Data.gov is a surprisingly innovative and modern initiative by the federal government, and invites independent developers to develop “apps” for viewing and processing data, and invites the public to comment on, visualize and participate in an online community around the datasets and what they reveal. Data.gov launched with only 47 datasets and today boasts over 300,000.

But if you are looking for data and information to democratize federal natural resources agencies and help the public understand and solve our pressing conservation problems, well, look again.  Here are the number of datasets available on Data.gov for the major natural resources-related federal agencies:

That’s right: federal conservation agencies have posted a whopping 0.05% of all datasets on Data.gov.

Through our work on the Conservation Registry, we’ve found a fairly high level of resistance to the reality of sharing data, although there are bright spots at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  A related National Database of Conservation Easements has been successful in getting more information from federal sources.

In December of 2009, Office of Management and Budget Director, Peter Orszag, issued a directive to all agencies on implementing the President’s Open Government Initiative.  To speed the availability of government data to the public, the directive required:

“Within 45 days, each agency shall identify and publish online in an open format at least three high-value data sets (see attachment section 3.a.i) and register those data sets via Data.gov. These must be data sets not previously available online or in a downloadable format.”

Apparently these agencies thought the directive said they had 450 days to deliver more information to the public.

True, some of these agencies do have data available, albeit buried, on their agency web pages.  But imagine for a minute if these agencies had embraced the call for transparency and openness.  What connections could we see between agencies?

Posted in Public LandsComments (0)

Oregon Legislature Receives Report on Ecosystem Services and Markets

In 2009, Defenders of Wildlife and colleagues promoted a bill – likely the first of its kind in the country – to address the development of markets for ecosystem services. This bill, SB 513,  defines ecosystem services as the benefits human communities enjoy as a result of natural processes and biological diversity. It establishes a policy to protect ecosystem services across all land uses, encourages agencies to use market-based approaches to achieve conservation goals, and directed the Oregon Sustainability Board to convene a diverse group of stakeholders to address several thorny policy issues. The bill was based on policy recommendations contained in a report called Policy Cornerstones and Action Strategies for an Integrated Ecosystem Marketplace in Oregon.

The work group was supported by staff from the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board and included 28 people from diverse backgrounds. A policy-level ad hoc committee was formed to assist with political strategy and included another 17 people. Defenders staff was involved in managing the collaborative process and writing the report. Sara Vickerman was on the work group and is a member of the Oregon Sustainability Board.

The work group report was presented to the Oregon Legislature by the Sustainability Board in December 2010. It contained ten policy recommendations:

  1. Conservation and restoration goals need to be integrated across agencies to focus investment and priorities.
  2. More work is needed to address regulatory impediments to the application of market-based approaches.
  3. Public private partnerships are needed to develop more standardized tools for measuring ecosystem services.
  4. Agencies and local governments are encouraged to purchase ecological outcomes.
  5. Agencies should be able to sell ecosystem services under limited conditions.
  6. An adaptive management framework is needed to evaluate ecosystem service programs.
  7. State and local government are encouraged to use natural infrastructure in place of hard engineering.
  8. Planners should consider ecosystem services when making land use decisions.
  9. Pilot projects are needed to test the application of ecosystem service approaches.
  10. The policy dialogue needs to continue to address unresolved issues.

The lively, sometime contentious process included consideration of a series of case studies describing previous attempts, some successful, some frustrating and disappointing, to implement  wetland and conservation banking, water quality trading, and other programs. Common problems included conflicting agency missions, high transaction costs, and a lack of shared conservation goals.

Another bill has been drafted and will be introduced in the 2011 legislative session, which begins in February. Stay tuned for information on the next round of policy changes.

Posted in Pacific Northwest, Paying for ConservationComments (0)

Photo: NOAA

Administration to Launch Climate Adaptation Guidance

Photo: NOAA

The Obama administration is set to issue climate change adaptation guidance to all federal agencies in early February.  As highlighted in my previous post, the guidance was called for by the Interagency Climate Adaptation Task Force.

Climate change poses profound challenges to the missions and programs of many federal agencies.  Already, many of the federal natural resources agencies, which are currently dealing with the effects of prolonged drought, floods, fires, forest change, and species movements are taking a hard look at how climate change is affecting their programs.  It is vital that all federal agencies begin looking at these changes seriously, and planning response programs to reduce their risks.

As the administration finalizes agency climate adaptation guidance, it should consider:

  • Establishing a core climate change consultation team comprised of leading technical agencies like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration which provides “climate services”.  Most agencies do not have this expertise and won’t be able to adequately address climate change without the help of the experts within the federal government.
  • Gearing the guidance to the agency-level, not the Departmental level.  Unlike reducing greenhouse gas emissions which have common strategies applicable to all agencies (e.g. purchasing more efficient vehicles and other equipment), adapting to the impacts of climate change is dependent on an agency’s mission, goals and mandates.  For example, the risks posed by climate change, and thus the necessary response strategies, to the missions of the Food and Nutrition Service, which administers the federal School Lunch Program and other nutrition programs, and the U.S. Forest Service, both within the Department of Agriculture, are profoundly different.  The Food and Nutrition Service programs may be affected by higher food prices due to climate change-induced impacts to crops.  The agency may contemplate longer-term food contracts to average out greater year to year variation in food prices as an adaptation strategy.  The Forest Service on the other hand is more directly impacted by the impacts of climate change, which are changing the very nature of the forests they manage.  The Forest Service may have to consider large-scale habitat treatments to make forests more resilient to climate change, alter tree species composition when replanting forests, and restoring habitat connectivity to allow species to move in response to climate change.
  • Instructing agencies on the use of ecosystem-based approaches to climate adaptation in achieving their mission.  The Adaptation Task Force Report states: “Adaptation should, where relevant, take into account strategies to increase ecosystem resilience and protect critical ecosystem services on which humans depend to reduce vulnerability of human and natural systems to climate change.” Maintaining and restoring ecosystem services is often cheaper to achieve adaptation goals and has benefits far beyond adaptation.  For example, restoring natural flood plains to better absorb flood waters is a proven strategy to ameliorate the impacts of increased rain events and is a more sustainable strategy than engineering new or higher levees.  Agencies, in particular agencies that do not normally work on natural resource conservation, will need additional guidance on how to benefit from ecosystem-based adaptation.
  • Providing consistent data and sources of climate change information in designing individual adaptation strategies.  For instance, two agencies working on our coasts should be using similar estimates for sea level rise, based on the best available science.
  • Prioritizing programs and projects that are sensitive to the current climate and weather conditions (e.g.  agriculture programs), that make long-term commitments (e.g. new highways), or that have broad-reaching, system-level effects (e.g. decisions that affect land use planning).
  • Mainstreaming adaptation into existing programs.  Though there may be special needs that require new, focused adaptation programs, most strategies to ameliorate an agency’s climate change risks should be embedded into its existing programs.  In other words, normal planning process already employed by agency programs should start to integrate climate change.
  • Ensuring meaningful implementation of the guidance by establishing clear benchmarks, time tables, and accountability measures.
  • Ensuring agency adaptation strategies are sustainable.  Sustainable adaptation strategies do not increase greenhouse gas emissions, do not harm the environment, and do not impede the adaptation options of other agencies, sectors, or stakeholders.

The federal government is big and diverse.  Not every agency will be affected by climate change in the short term, but every agency should at least go through a formal process to see if it is at risk.  The above recommendations would provide a basis for doing that analysis in a meaningful way.

Posted in Climate ChangeComments (1)

Building a National Program to Help Save Wildlife from Climate Change

Climate change affects species and ecosystems at large scales.  It will become increasingly difficult, if not impossible, for wildlife and land managers to conserve natural resources within the boundaries of any particular land unit alone.  Coordinated, collaborative landscape-scale science and conservation is our best chance of safeguarding wildlife and ecosystems from the impacts of climate change.

For the past few years Defenders has been pressing policy makers to develop a national wildlife climate adaptation strategy that will begin addressing these challenges.  We, along with our coalition partners, have been successful in educating policy makers about the importance of this issue and all comprehensive climate change bills in the last two years included a natural resources adaptation title that provided direction for the government to develop a national wildlife, habitat and ecosystem climate adaptation strategy.  Unfortunately, comprehensive climate legislation was not adopted in the last Congress and no one expects it to be resurrected by the recently-convened Congress.

In federal appropriations bills enacted in 2009 and 2010, however, Congress directed the Department of the Interior and the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) to develop a national wildlife adaptation strategy.  The report accompanying the 2010 bill stated:

“The conferees note the previous direction provided within the fiscal year 2009 appropriations act directing the Secretary of the Interior to develop a national strategy to assist fish, wildlife, plants, and associated ecological processes in becoming more resilient, adapting to, and surviving the impacts of climate change. This conference agreement provides ample funds to accomplish substantial scientific and management activities, but this needs to be done within the context of an integrated approach among the various Federal departments, States, Tribes and other institutions. The conferees urge the Council on Environmental Quality, working closely with the Department of the Interior as the lead department, to develop a national, government-wide strategy to address climate impacts on fish, wildlife, plants, and associated ecological processes. It should provide that there is integration, coordination, and public accountability to ensure efficiency and avoid duplication. The conferees expect to receive a timeline and a blueprint for the completion of such a national strategic planning effort, as well as regular updates as progress is made.”

The Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) within the Department of the Interior, CEQ, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are now co-chairing an effort to get this strategy off the ground.  The FWS led an informal process over the last year to begin building support from a national strategy and soliciting feedback from the conservation professional and scientific communities.  But now the real work of developing the plan is underway.  There is a national Steering Committee comprised of over 20 federal, state, and tribal representatives leading the development of the plan.  Although a final national strategy is scheduled to be published by summer 2012, we are encouraging the Steering Committee to accelerate the timeline by 6 months to issue a final strategy by the winter of 2011-2012.

To assist the Steering Committee as it develops the national strategy, Defenders and our conservation partners* recently provided the following input:

The Goal

According to the Congressional direction provided in the FY 2010 federal appropriations bill mandating the development of the National Strategy, the goal is to “to assist fish, wildlife, and plants and associated ecological processes in becoming more resilient, adapting to, and surviving the impacts of climate change.”  The National Strategy should focus on two related, but distinct, sub-goals:

  • Providing guidance to natural resources agencies and conservation partners to achieve the above goal and advancing the field of wildlife and ecosystem adaptation;
  • Highlighting the benefits of ecosystem-based approaches to adaptation and providing guidance to non-natural resources-related agencies and partners to implementing ecosystem-based approaches.

These two sub-goals are vital to the success of the National Strategy.  We need to build the capacity of all conservation partners involved in direct conservation actions.  At the same time we need to harness the efforts of other sectors to assist in ecosystem adaptation to achieve landscape-scale success.

The Niche

When Congress first provided direction to the federal agencies to begin developing the National Strategy in the FY 2009 federal appropriations bill, there was little natural resources climate change adaptation policy development underway.  Today, there are myriad policies, programs, and activities underway in various federal, state, and local agencies as well as NGOs, universities, and the business sector.

The National Strategy should complement, add value, fill gaps, and assist in integrating and coordinating between these and other initiatives.  Two key aspects the National Strategy fills is its focus on biodiversity and its commitment to providing direction to all conservation partners.

The Problem

Climate change is placing tremendous strain on our already stressed fish, wildlife, plants and ecosystems.  We have already seen the massive shrinking of Arctic sea ice, record drought conditions in the southwest, vast forest die-offs from warming-induced beetle infestations, and documented shifts in species phenology and ranges.  This has all occurred under only 1°C of average global warming.  We are fast approaching 2, 3, and even 4°C of global warming by the end of this century.  It is difficult to imagine what the world is going to look like in this context.

But the impacts of climate change themselves are not the problem.  The problems or barriers to alleviating the impacts are largely institutional, social, and political.  The main problems and barriers we have identified in achieving biodiversity conservation in the face of climate change include:

  • Lack of a priority/no shared priorities.  Ecosystem adaptation is not currently a high priority for most natural resources related agencies, and is not even considered by non-natural resources related agencies.
  • Lack of climate change literacy among agency staff, decision and policy makers, stakeholders and constituents.
  • Lack of coordination and collaboration at landscape scales, across jurisdictions.
  • Lack of concrete on-the-ground adaptation actions making it difficult for agency staff and partners to conceptualize solutions.
  • Lack of institutional mechanisms to address uncertainty in decision making.

The National Strategy does not have to attempt to solve all of these problems.  Other adaptation-related initiatives underway may be adequate to address some of these barriers. The National Strategy should, however, explicitly identify the problems it is trying to solve.  The Steering Committee should ask itself, “Why do we need a National Strategy?”

The National Strategy

Using the above goals, policy context and problem definitions, the following components and principles should be included in the National Strategy:

  • The National Strategy should be designed in phases.  The National Strategy being developed today is phase one.  It does not have to conserve wildlife for the next 100 years.  Rather it should set the goals and focus on actions to build institutional adaptive capacity over the next five years.  The National Strategy should explicitly include a process and time table for revision as we learn more about the impacts of climate change and adaptation strategies.  In addition, the National Strategy should include measures to foster implementation, such as such as annual progress reports.
  • The National Strategy should make it clear that wildlife and ecosystem adaptation is a priority for all agencies and partners, including agencies that are not traditionally classified as land and resource management agencies but that routinely impact wildlife and natural resources, such as the Department of Transportation and Department of Defense.
  • The National Strategy should define and provide objective criteria for determining what constitutes wildlife and ecosystem adaptation.  The National Strategy should also define and provide guidelines to those seeking to implement ecosystem-based approaches to adaptation.
  • The National Strategy should foster coordination and collaboration across jurisdictions.  Coordination and collaboration cannot be simply rhetoric in the Strategy.  The National Strategy should identify specific institutional mechanisms to ensure coordination and collaboration is successful, is prioritized, and is rewarded.  Coordination and collaboration are particularly important for science and restoring ecological connectivity to facilitate species movements in response to climate change.
  • The National Strategy should establish a process to address high-priority climate impacts.  For example, the National Strategy may commit to establishing blue ribbon science and management teams focused on providing guidance to managing coastal marshes under sea level rise, addressing drought in southwestern aquatic ecosystems, managing forest change, and managing the drying of lakes and ponds in Alaska due to permafrost melting.
  • The National Strategy should identify the baseline of science that partners should share.   The National Strategy should include guidance to provide consistent approaches and sources of information on climate change science and impacts.  For example, agencies that have missions relying on our coasts should be using consistent information about the projected threats of sea level rise.  This could be achieved by relying on products and services provided by the USGCRP.
  • The National Strategy should clearly outline how it will be implemented.  This should include specific commitments, performance measures, timelines, and reporting functions.

We think that by adopting the above recommendations, the National Fish, Wildlife, and Plants Climate Adaptation Strategy will provide a framework for common action to assist our wildlife, habitats, and ecosystems cope with the impacts of climate change.

* Our conservation partners include Earthjustice, National Parks and Conservation Association, National Wildlife Federation, The Nature Conservancy, Sierra Club, The Trust for Public Land, and The Wilderness Society.

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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.