Part A – Protected areas (PA):
This section we’ll be discussing PA management. Given that the field of conservation biology historically – and still currently – places so much emphasis on PA’s, this is an important topic!
In today’s world, conditions can change quickly that directly or indirectly affect PAs, and sometimes those changes are hard to address at the park level. PAs face a variety of threats – some local, such as poaching, introduced species, illegal grazing or land conversion, and some global, such as climate change and ocean acidification. Some threats are somewhere in the middle; for example, a river that is extremely polluted upstream of and in a different jurisdiction than the PA might make effective park management trickier because some of the threats the PA faces are not under the direct control of the park’s staff.
As you might imagine, PA management is a complex process, so care must be given to every decision. For example, unintended consequences from management decisions – killing off predators to protect game species, resulting in a trophic cascade, or fire suppression for ecosystems that require periodic fires to function, for example – can ultimately put the PA in jeopardy.
It’s also important to remember that parks are not all the same – as your book mentions, a smaller PA in a built-up area will require different management than a large PA in a remote area. No matter the type or size of a PA, however, adaptive management should be used to determine whether or not the management plan is working. As part of this, baseline data is needed to know what a park contains and how it is functioning before management plans are implemented. The problem, of course, is that all of this requires funding and other resources, and those are often severely lacking.
In some cases, parks have to be very actively managed. For example, in some places controlled fires are essential to ensure that all successional stages of an area are present in the park, as otherwise, key ecosystem functions and species might be missing. In other cases, managers might supplement keystone or otherwise important species by providing extra food, water, or shelter.
Like everything else in conservation, the human side of things cannot be neglected. The actions of humans can quite literally make or break a PA. Encroachment on parkland for grazing or development, poaching, dumping pollutants, or otherwise undermining the management goals of the park can result in the slow – or not-so-slow – demise of the park and its resources.
People can be advantaged or disadvantaged for living close to a PA, depending on the circumstances. For example, tourist dollars brought into areas close to National Parks in the United States allow for some communities to flourish, but in less developed countries sometimes people are pushed out of traditional hunting areas that they relied on for subsistence. (As a side note, this was true historically for many of our national parks as well. For example, the government displaced hundreds of families when Shenandoah NP was formed). As a result, some communities might be more or less supportive of a PA and its management goals. As we’ve seen all semester, working with human populations can be much trickier than working with species or ecosystems! Management options such as zoning (the UNESCO Biosphere Reserves Program is a good example) can help with this, but community outreach is vital.
PA’s often are conceived of as having multiple goals, uses, and users (e.g., biodiversity protection and tourism). The first article (Guiding Concepts) looks at how we might consider articulating those goals.
“Guiding concepts for park and wilderness stewardship in an era of global change.pdf”
The second article (Reexamining the Science of MPAs) discusses MPAs, but much of what the authors say can be applied to terrestrial and freshwater PA’s as well. The authors discuss the questions we still need to answer and advocate for treating MPA’s as “policy experiments.”
“Reexamining the science of MPAs- Linking knowledge to action.pdf”
Finally, the last article (African Great Apes) examines what factors increase the risk of extinction for African great apes.
“Lack of conservation effort rapidly increases African great ape extinction risk.pdf”
1. Keeping PAs running: A shortage of resources (mostly stemming from a lack of funding, but finding the right people, etc., can also be a problem) is a threat that almost every PA faces. Say that you’re the director of a PA that is facing this challenge. How would you go about finding adequate resources? Through what channels? What arguments might you make that your PA is important enough for various entities, including the government, individuals, and private foundations, to support? Are there programs you’d create to attract funding? Be creative!
2. PA management gaps: Based on your readings and your own experiences, what do you think are the most important gaps in our understanding of PA management? How might we go about resolving those gaps?
3. MPAs and other aquatic protected areas: What are the unique challenges aquatic PAs (for example, MPAs, coastal estuaries, islands, or lakes) face that terrestrial do not? How would you go about meeting those challenges?
Part B – Beyond protected areas
This time we’re going to take a look at conservation efforts outside of PAs. After all, the vast majority of both the land and the seas on this planet are not protected, so a substantial piece of protecting biodiversity needs to happen outside the boundaries of PAs if we want to sustainably maintain biodiversity and ecosystem functions. This is perhaps especially true of species that cannot find all the resources they need within the confines of a PA — for example, animals with long migrations, or mammals that require large territories. For example, we’ve already discussed the case of the Florida panther; much of the land these cats use is not protected.
Ecosystems are not limited to areas that are protected. Instead, protected areas are generally embedded in a larger landscape, and the ecosystem functions of this landscape are affected by both the protected and non-protected portions of the land. All in all, it’s important to recognize that biodiversity conservation cannot end at the gates of a park.
Areas that are actively used by humans for multiple purposes can also still be managed with a goal of boosting biodiversity and maintaining healthy ecosystem services, for example, agricultural land, areas that are being managed for timber, and even urban areas. The tools and techniques that we can use vary, however, with the use of the land. For example, in a PA you might choose to not build any roads through certain parts of the park. In a non-protected area, you might not be able to prevent roads from being built or tear down existing roads, but if these roads are isolating populations, causing direct mortality, or otherwise harming a species of interest you can use tools such as under- and over-passes for wildlife crossings. (As an aside, you often hear of the large over-passes, like those at Banff in Canada. However, road crossings are also a big threat to smaller animals that can often be served by small culverts and other sorts of underpasses. Installing these can be manageable, especially if they are built into plans for new roads or road repairs).
We’ve discussed it, but you can’t take humans out of the equation, especially when you’re talking about lands that people use for other purposes. Generally speaking, when stakeholders have a sense of ownership in a conservation project, either because they’ve been included in the process or they’ve driven the process, conservation projects tend to have better outcomes. We’ve discussed why this is important when protected areas are involved, but it’s even arguably more important when you’re talking about the places that people live and work. The Malpai Borderlands Group in the American Southwest is a great example of a stakeholder-driven conservation initiative.
Linked to the concept of ecosystem management is what your book refers to as bioregional management, which often focuses on one large ecosystem or a series of linked ecosystems. Many of you did biome projects based on ecosystem management!
Although most agree that the best “fix” to degraded ecosystems is no fix — in other words, maintaining and protecting ecosystems that are already more-or-less healthy should be prioritized — sometimes it is necessary or desirable to restore land to some historic point where it was healthier or better-functioning. This is the process of ecological restoration, which is closely linked to the science of restoration, restoration ecology.
In order to undergo a restoration project, you need to choose to what you’re restoring the land. There are two ways to go about this: first, you can choose a reference site, which is an existing site whose characteristics you attempt to replicate at your restoration site; or second, you can choose a point in time to be the historical reference. A challenge for this second strategy is deciding what time period you’re restoring the land to and why. Ten years ago? Fifty? One hundred? Two hundred? More? What criteria are you using to select the time period, and why? Although choosing a reference site is arguably easier, there are times when you’re trying to recreate something that doesn’t have an exact reference site, or where for various reasons you can’t adequately access a relevant reference site. Your book describes one such project in box 19.1 on page 444.
One way that ecological restoration is utilized is by mitigating the loss of an ecosystem due, for example, to a development project. We often see this with wetlands, where wetlands are created in order to offset the loss of existing wetlands (this is often required under US law). While some wetlands are better than no wetlands, the cautionary point about the best fix still stands: restored or created ecosystems often lose some of their complexity, which lowers their value from a biodiversity perspective. For example, we don’t fully understand microbe systems in wetlands so they are not replicated. In the future, this should and likely will be a major goal of restoration ecologists.
Ecological restoration can also be done within the context of a larger intact ecosystem. For example, restoration might be necessary after targeted invasive species removal within a protected area. Finally, restoration in urban areas is sometimes referred to as reconciliation ecology, referring to the goal of creating areas where people and biodiversity can coexist.
read Agriculture and Nature, which discusses the partnerships — and lack thereof — that conservation organizations have with agricultural institutions and industries, and how a new type of partnership might benefit biodiversity conservation.
Agriculture and nature – trouble and strife?.pdf
Next, read Scaling up from Gardens. Many urban landscapes are split into many small parcels of land, each owned and maintained by different people and companies. This article makes the claim that we need to start thinking about all of these individual yards as being parts of larger landscapes, and to find ways to work with individual house and building owners to incorporate biodiversity into how they manage their yards and gardens.
Scaling up from gardens.pdf
Finally, read Reconciling Conflicting Perspectives, which takes a look at many of the strategies and ideas we’ve been discussing of late and builds a framework for biodiversity conservation in a human-dominated world.
Reconciling conflicting perspectives for biodiversity conservation in the Anthropocene.pdf
I’m also including an optional reading: Big Cats in Our Backyards. Although it is optional, I do recommend you at least skim through it — it’s a great example of why PAs aren’t going to be enough to protect many species. The lead author on it is also involved with a project that studies a remnant population of leopards in a large park in Mumbai, India (Sanjay Ghandi National Park). Many of the leopards in the area do live in the park, but many also spend at least part of their time outside of the Park’s walls. It’s a fascinating look at a complex human-wildlife interaction, and although this article isn’t about the Mumbai leopards it raises many of the same questions.
Big Cats in Our Backyards- Persistence of Large Carnivores in a Human Dominated Landscape.pdf
1. NGOs and agriculture: Do you agree with Baudron and Giller’s premise that environmental NGO’s need to partner more with agricultural institutions and industries — and in fact change the type of partnerships that they do have (from focusing on less intensive agriculture to higher intensity agriculture in the “land spare” model, for example)? If you do agree, do you foresee difficulties in forging these new partnerships? What might be the pros and cons of partnerships like this?