Archive for the ‘Biodiversity’ Category

Wolf Conservation in Greater Yellowstone

April 16th, 2009

Posted by: admin

In yesterday’s Daily Camera, columnist Clay Evans wrote an editorial criticizing Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar for delisting wolves from the Endangered Species Act in Idaho and Montana. My critique of Evans’ position was printed in today’s Letter to the Editor:

Clay Evans’ editorial “Delist Wolves: Not So Fast” (Camera, April 15) does a good job of summarizing the most recent incident in a more than 100-year struggle over how wolves should be managed in greater Yellowstone and who gets to decide. However, the focus on Ken Salazar’s decision to delist wolves from the Endangered Species Act is a distraction from the real issue.

It is often asserted — as Evans does — that there are two types of people: those for wolves and those against. While this dichotomy is a convenient explanation for storytelling, a number of studies demonstrate that the public holds a wide range of attitudes towards wolves. Framing the political debate as “yes” or “no” is inaccurate and serves to perpetuate this 100-year conflict.

The most promising long-term solution for wolves is not protection under the Endangered Species Act. Rather, we must reduce the political intensity of wolf management and develop co-existence strategies. Wolves deserve a future no matter who is in political power. The best place to start is where human-wolf conflict actually occurs on the ground. Hint: The real issue occurs far from Washington D.C.

Reintroducing ‘extinct’ species – Parallels with Geoengineering?

October 3rd, 2008

Posted by: admin

In the same issue of Wired that Steve Raymer appears in, there’s an interesting article about efforts to reintroduce species to areas where they (or their closest biological cousins) roamed thousands of years ago.  Granted, I’m not the Prometheus writer best suited to speak to this, but I think there are some interesting parallels between efforts like those described in “Pleistocene Park: Where the Auroxen Roam” and geoengineering proposals like those discussed in a Time article from last year: seeding the oceans with iron, placing mirrors in orbit, or other schemes worthy of science fiction (a Star Trek: The Next Generation episode did mention atmospheric scrubbers, but as a plot point and not a policy suggestion).

I want to know whether I have perceived something correctly about this issue.  While the article at best implies this, it would appear that these efforts to reintroduce long absent megafauna (such as bison and primitive horses) are somewhat different than the efforts to reintroduce other species (such as the recent reintroduction of wolves to the Yellowstone region), or the efforts to fight invasive species.  Given the size of the animals involved, the time gap between disappearance and re-introduction, and the significant travel distances involved, this appears to be a different scope of intervention than fighting the spread of snakefish in the Potomac or reintroducing various smaller species into the wild.  The level of potential impact, and the kind of control required, seem qualitatively different.  There is also a bit of presumption that these efforts would produce some natural/wild state – something hard to assess given the lack of records from when these animals roamed large and free.  The lack of engagement with policy implications is disappointing, but not surprising.

The reintroduction of megafauna reminds me of geoengineering proposals occasionally thrown about as ways to address various global ills, climate change being one of them.  Roger has some concerns with how geoengineering has been used in climate change discussions, and it seems to me that the lack of consideration of policy, scientific and technical considerations is very similar to what is going on with these efforts to shape or engineer ecosystems.  Both geoengineering and megafauna reintroduction – as currently handled – so both a lack of deep thinking and an unearned faith in technological fixes.  I am not suggesting that the ideas are without merit. I want to make the point that some experiments, by their very nature, cannot be held in laboratory conditions and require a lot more consideration beyond the proper experimental protocol.

Adaptation Policies for Biodiversity: Facilitated Dispersal

July 18th, 2008

Posted by: admin

Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg of Queensland University and colleagues have an important article on “Assisted Colonization and Rapid Climate Change” in this week’s issue of Science (pdf). The author’s argue:

Rapid climatic change has already caused changes to the distributions of many plants and animals, leading to severe range contractions and the extinction of some species (1, 2). The geographic ranges of many species are moving toward the poles or to higher altitudes in response to shifts in the habitats to which these species have adapted over relatively longer periods (1-4). It already appears that some species are unable to disperse or adapt fast enough to keep up with the high rates of climate change (5, 6). These organisms face increased extinction risk, and, as a result, whole ecosystems, such as cloud forests and coral reefs, may cease to function in their current form (7-9).

Current conservation practices may not be enough to avert species losses in the face of mid- to upper-level climate projections (>3°C) (10), because the extensive clearing and destruction of natural habitats by humans disrupts processes that underpin species dispersal and establishment. Therefore, resource managers and policy-makers must contemplate moving species to sites where they do not currently occur or have not been known to occur in recent history. This strategy flies in the face of conventional conservation approaches.

The strategy flies in the face of conventional conservation approaches due to the numerous risks associated with the introduction of invasive species. The authors fully acknowledge these risks.

The world is littered with examples where moving species beyond their current range into natural and agricultural landscapes has had negative impacts. Understandably, notions of deliberately moving species are regarded with suspicion. Our contrary view is that an increased understanding of the habitat requirements and distributions of some species allows us to identify low-risk situations where the benefits of such “assisted colonization’” can be realized and adverse outcomes minimized…

…One of the most serious risks associated with assisted colonization is the potential for creating new pest problems at the target site. Introduced organisms can also carry diseases and parasites or can alter the genetic structure and breeding systems of local populations…

…In addition to the ecological risks, socioeconomic concerns must be considered in decisions to move threatened species. Financial or human safety constraints, for example, may make a species’ introduction undesirable. It is likely to be unacceptable to move threatened large carnivores or toxic plants into regions that are important for grazing livestock…

These risks do not invalidate the authors’ major point. If we want to conserve current biodiversity in a changing climate, we will likely need creative alternatives to current conservation approaches. Facilitated dispersal of species is one option that deserves consideration in specific conservation contexts. However, it is far from a silver bullet.

Expertise in Biodiversity Governance

October 12th, 2006

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Last week I had the opportunity to participate in an excellent workshop on the role of expertise in biodiversity governance. The workshop was an exercise in the design of a new science-policy organization/institution. The workshop was titled “International Science-Policy Interfaces for Biodiversity Governance” and was held at the UFZ Centre for Environmental Research in Leipzig, Germany. At the workshop participants produced a set of consensus recommendations for the role of an institution that would provide expert advice in the international arena of biodiversity policy.

The main motivation for the workshop is a current consultation seeking such recommendations, called IMoSEB, organized by the French government. You can find our workshop recommendations here in PDF, and also below in HTML. Your comments on the recommendations and the more general challenge of exert advice in the area of biodiversity would be welcomed.