Unnatural Preservation

In the age of global warming, public-land managers face a stark choice: They can let national parks and other wildlands lose their most cherished wildlife. Or they can become gardeners and zookeepers.






Armored in a rain slicker and floppy hat against guano-bombing waterfowl, Russ Bradley pokes about for signs of life on a craggy island paradise just off the California shore. One might expect the search to be easy, given the hundreds of thousands of common murres, ashy storm petrels, Brandt's cormorants, Leach's storm petrels, Western gulls, double-crested cormorants, glaucous-winged gulls, black oystercatchers, pigeon guillemots, rhinocerous auklets, tufted puffins, bald eagles, peregrine falcons, and Cassin's auklets that summer on the Farallon Islands, 27 miles off San Francisco in the Pacific Ocean.

During the past three years, however, Bradley has been checking on the breeding sites of the black, burrow-nesting Cassin's auklet, and he's been finding abandoned eggs; dead, black, cue-ball-sized chicks; and skinny, faltering fledglings. "Most of the chicks have died," says Bradley, a research biologist with PRBO Conservation Science, a nonprofit, founded as the Point Reyes Bird Observatory, that has spent the last 40 years counting and observing the hundreds of thousands of birds that nest yearly on the Farallons. "This was as complete a failure response as we'd ever seen before. And we'd been following this species for 35 years."

The apparent culprit: Ocean currents, redirected by rising sea temperature, have swept out of range the millions of tiny krill that the adult birds scoop into their beaks, chew into purple smelly goo and then spit up for their young. In other words, this unprecedented starvation wave may be a result of global warming.

Bradley is one of the experts who knows most about the auklet die-off. Just the same, he's adamant in his belief that he should not attempt to save any of the dying chicks. To do so, he says, would be considered unnatural and unscientific. "You definitely grimace when you see the guy next door who hasn't done so well and has died at a very young age," Bradley says. "We try to maintain ourselves as scientists. But we really feel for the birds."

In the world of natural preservation, it's not just scientists who take Bradley's don't-mess-with-Mother-Nature stance. Since the 1960s, the idea that natural preservation consists mostly of letting nature take its course - absent manmade environmental disturbance - has been doctrine among public parks bureaucrats, biologists, environmentalists, rangers and other members of the vast landscape of individuals and organizations involved in preserving America's natural environment. When naturalists have intervened to save species, as in the 40-year struggle to save the bald eagle, their efforts have been driven by the goal of returning life to its wild state, so that a damaged ecosystem can tilt back into balance. For the most part, naturalists have not sought to save nature purely from itself. With global warming, however, this hands-off approach is rapidly becoming quaint and out-of-date.

As the planet grows hotter, and the consensus mounts that the temperature is not turning back down, there may be a lot less meaning in the idea of preserving "naturalness" than has been the case. After all, in the not-too-distant future, the state of nature will in many cases be something nobody's ever seen.

So far, however, public-land managers have responded by doing almost nothing, according to a new report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, the agency that evaluates federal programs. By and large, the GAO says, officials who manage U.S. public lands have simply ignored a 2001 Department of Interior directive ordering them to identify and protect resources that might be threatened by climate change.

This is no minor failure. An emerging scientific consensus says that unless the National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, state fish and game departments and private environmental organizations re-direct their missions to deal with climate change, they'll oversee the advance of nationwide environmental catastrophe. The character of public wildlands will be drastically - and permanently - altered.

So professional preservationists, and the environmental movement as a whole, are left with unnatural choices: They can intervene aggressively to maintain habitat threatened by planetary warming - installing sprinkler systems around California's giant sequoias, to name one suggestion floated by scientists. In the process they would become something akin to farmers and pet fanciers.

They can intervene aggressively to provide huge migration paths northward for heat-threatened plants and animals. Because this would require them to help dramatically change existing ecosystems, it would turn the current conservation ethic on its head.

Or they can decide to continue to use the traditional hands-off approach - and thereby allow millennia-old ecosystems to die off and be replaced in ways that would never have happened naturally, if not for global warming.

In January 2001, just as Bill Clinton handed the White House keys to George W. Bush, the Department of the Interior issued a broad order to the National Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the other agencies that manage one-third of the nation's surface land as well as numerous marine sanctuaries. The order was at once simple and fiendishly complex: The agencies should "consider and analyze potential climate change effects in their management plans and activities."

It was a reasonable directive. Trees on millions of acres of forests in Glacier National Park have fallen to a beetle infestation apparently linked to climate change. At the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, coral reef bleaching - a phenomenon that, if prolonged, would undermine the area's marine ecosystem - may be connected to warmer sea temperatures. On the 2.6 million acres of U.S. land managed by the BLM in northwestern Arizona, a recently intensified cycle of drought, wildfire and flooding has caused desert scrub and cactus to be replaced by grasslands.

Feb 01, 2008 03:28 PM

Thanks to High Country News for this piece.

We're engaged in stewardship work locally and decades ago realized that climate change and other global phenomena "trump" anything we do on the land. Our response has been to give more attention to stewardship as vehicle for communicating principles of ecology and assessments of ecosystem status and trends.

We perceive that details of these are less critical than is widespread understanding that continuing increases in human numbers and in the quantity and novelty of human-mediated matterenergy conversion are paths to collective impoverishment. We imagine that such understanding may prove basis for a global social contract sufficiently respectful of natural law to permit a long and satisfying human future.

Thanks again for bringing this issue to light. Keep up the good work.

With appreciation,

David Schrom

Feb 01, 2008 06:20 PM

Have we forgotten that the earth has survived changes in climate in the past.  Not during our recent history, but in the long history of the earth, "life" has survived.  The old adatage adapt, move or die, comes to mind.  Something to consider is nature does not need our help.  There are very few instances where humans have been truley successful at helping nature survive.  We need to leave alone what we have not yet screwed up.  Lets focus on how we can change our behavior to slowdown climate change before we starting messing with Mother Nature.  If there is anything we should have learned from geologic history and our own history is she can take care of herself. 

Feb 01, 2008 07:25 PM

Plainly lacking the ability the ability to imagine, much less predict or control the long term consequences (perhaps, the "subsequences") of our own activities certainly leaves humanity with a problem.  It is an old, old problem, the one that life on earth has always addressed the same way: adapt or die.

Everything that lives on the planet changes it a bit.  We change it a lot, sometimes at appalling cost.  That has actually been going on for centuries, and the process has irresistible momentum.It is now simply true that within a few generations, no place will be what it once was.  Whatever we do now, we're going to have to accept that we're in for an unpredictable ride, one that will include surprises good and bad.  But the old model of building fences around bits of "nature" and calling them saved is surely hopeless, unless we're willing to take a "come what may" approach and appreciate whatever makes its way into such "real estate"-based preserves.

There are some truly basic bright spots in the American west.  Gravity hasn't changed. We can say with some confidence that rivers and streams will always occupy the lowest ground, even if we can't say how dependably or how deeply they will flow.  Where water does flow, vegetation will follow, whether it be tamarisk and Russian olive or cottonwoods and sycamores.  Where plants grow, wildlife will follow.  Next time you frown at the arrival of an unexpected and uninvited life, remember that it is, in fact, an arrival, not a departure.  The world is certainly changing, but despite the truly deplorable losses that have occurred and will continue to occur, wherever life arrives, there is hope.  We'll just have to adapt, and after all, that's what humans do... second best.

Matt Chew 

Feb 01, 2008 11:05 PM

Actually, given our rather modest understanding of extraordinarily complex systems--the global and local ecosystems--further tampering seems to be a recipe for disaster. Yes, we have set these changes in motion but I suspect we will only exacerbate the problems if we meddle further. A better strategy might be to begin to withdraw from large parts of the natural world and let it regain its dynamic equilibrium as we end the behaviors driving these global changes. It's an unlikely scenario to be sure but the alternatives seem even less likely. By trying to salvage what is there now, we will be trying to sustain an imbalance that will ultimately be overwhelmed. By trying to adapt existing species to new habitat, we will discover we don't have the knowledge or dexterity to recreate a viable web of life. Humility is what we need now.

Feb 02, 2008 12:54 PM

This discussion is not all that useful or productive to me.. "should
we intervene" as a general principle. Each case is different. The costs
of doing something, the likelihood of any intervention working, and the
benefits to the environment and to people if it works, are  all
considerations. I wonder about the paper expended and the carbon
dioxide released from all the meetings and discussions about what we
should do in a generic sense.

I, for one am glad the feds aren't
traveling around and wasting gasoline, airplane fuel, tax dollars and
people's time on pontificating about what we should do generically in
the future. We have bugs- they are working on doing something to
protect communities. If we have more bugs- we will figure out what to
do then, depending on the bugs, what kind, where they attack. If there
are fires, we'll need more firefighters. The fact that climate change
causes effects that are the same effects but worse than today, doesn't mean
that the tools used to treat those effects will be any different than
today's tools we use to  treat the same effects not caused by climate change. A useful topic might be "what climate change effects would be so unusual that we don't already have tools to deal with it?"

Finally, it has been known for a long time in the scientific
community that life is not so simple as "if we leave it alone, it will
be good."  Dan Botkin wrote an excellent book "Discordant
Harmonies" that put this mythology to rest in 1992. Yet it has remained
in the our human thinking and in the implicit assumptions of
scientists, for 16 more years, before those question have arisen again.
Perhaps it was a "convenient untruth" for the scientific community.

PollyAnna Pragmatist 

Feb 02, 2008 07:02 PM

Bioshere II is closer to Tucson than it is to Phoenix

Feb 04, 2008 11:23 AM

A great, in-depth piece, especially on the issue of plant "migrations." IF, if, we do have more information to make wise decisions, I would be in favor of selectively helping plant migrations.

But, we must know that we have enough information. The banks of Western rivers are littered with tamarisks that were brought to the Southwest for reasons that seemed quite wise at the time.

Feb 04, 2008 11:23 AM

I am pleased to see High Country News tackle such a complex and important topic, one that is certain to become one of the most hotly debated environmental issues of the next decade. I commend the authors’ thoughtful coverage of the reasoned side of the debate. However, I am concerned by the way in which these two approaches to the issue are presented as a simplistic dichotomy as well as the overemphasis on the righteousness of those who feel we need to act now in some drastic (and arguably frantic) way. The following quote helps illustrate my point. “[T]hey can decide to continue to use the traditional hands-off approach - and thereby allow millennia-old ecosystems to die off and be replaced in ways that would never have happened naturally, if not for global warming. Suggesting that "nature will succumb to climate change" reveals poor understanding of a major tenant of modern ecological theory, that change is constant in natural systems. Not only do natural ecosystem conditions fluctuate around some central “baseline” in response to changing environmental factors over the short term, so does that “baseline” move over time in response to overarching changes in physical conditions, such as global climate, that occur either over thousands of years or just a few decades. Drastic changes in climate have happened in the past. Terrestrial ecosystems have dealt with these changes and can be expected to do so in the future, although it may result in undesirable conditions (from a human perspective), modification of current species assemblages, species extinction, species range alterations and so on. But something will remain. Many of these changes are likely to happen no matter what we do. This gets at the heart of the debate. What do we do in the meantime? We do need to act. But for starters, we need to incorporate the concept of climate change into land management and our worldview. This is yet to happen. Until then we need to tread lightly, practice what we know, experiment, and improve our understanding of what is going on before sending the legions of chainsaws out there to set things “right”. To suggest that what is needed is heavy handed management to facilitate as of yet unseen and poorly understood changes in native plant community condition, structure, species composition and distribution seems to me a case of ecological hubris. What is needed is humility. We need to avoid the temptation of getting caught in the fear driven urgency and act in big ways before fully understanding what we are dealing with. To do so is akin to us responding to terrorism by throwing out the constitution. There are principles of how nature works that we are only just beginning to understand, and this includes increased understanding of the role of climate change. These should continue to guide our management. Acting frantically could result in some unintended consequences, one the is most obvious being, in the west, the disturbance of native vegetation in the face of a warmer and drier climate in the effort to prepare these places for these new conditions and inadvertently causing the very conversion to the undesirable condition you where trying to avoid. This would most likely come in the form of creating sparser woody cover and increased domination by non-native annual grasses. We need to be prepared to act, perhaps in a drastic way. But such landscape level efforts have been tried before in the past one hundred years of federal lands management and have often resulted in what we consider to today to be ecological catastrophes. Cautious and calculated will be the way forward in this unpredictable future.

Thanks for presenting the topic.

Kind Regards,

Dominic DiPaolo


Feb 05, 2008 12:13 PM

This piece make as much sense as it might first appear.  One might argue that it is even morally flawed, yet perches itself as if it resides on the moral high ground.  Pure self-delusion. 

In lieu of the scale of climate change, there doesn't seem to be a whole lot that 'managers' can do.  They are not, for instance, going to be able to re-orientate ocean wind/current patterns, so whatever they may do for birds, to take one example, is just putting on band aids.  It is just chasing our tail.  But managers need to believe, or they wouldn't be managers.

Of course, the notion: lets not mess with nature, is pure rubbish.  The very presence of industrial/consuming humankind means nature is already being messed with, and standing aside thinking that one won't mess with nature only applies to wilderness, which are essentially museums anyway.  The idea that science and scientists are pure observers whose observations don't effect change in that which they observe is in error.

So, one can run around all they want placing band aids, but unless they get to the core, go to the roots of the problem - which is the definition of radical - no fundamental change will happen.  Getting to the radical root of the problem, means radical change.  I don't see that coming from human free will, for the will to do so is not free to us.  The surplus of humanity (over population), the scale of production/consumption, etc., is so insurmountable that it saving 'nature' just isn't going to happen, including saving humanity as nature.

This all echos back to the split between humanity and nature, with the implicit notion of domination . . . and manage.  

I understand that 'managers' want to manage, but seems to me the notion of manage has been part of the problem.  Now we're faced with a global situation of climate change that is far beyond any capability of humans to manage.  

We fowled the nest, now we're going to have to live in it.  At some point, nature really does bat last, and from nature the choice presented to us will be a forced choice: live within the means of nature . . . or civilization, as we know it, is a done deal.
Don S.

Feb 07, 2008 07:26 PM

Any practicing ecologist is already acting as an interventionist. We wittingly or unwittingly modify habitat, remix locally adapted plant types, introduce species or cultivars, and practice hundreds of other "experiments" with no baseline and no controls. There is no "standard" for action or inaction, and that premise is a fallacy.

When a practitioner transplants plant species from Utah to Western Nevada to "restore" native environments by playing genomic and microbiological lottery, and "save" frog species by interbreeding subspecies for ego gratification, we have already passed any threshold of gardening or zookeeping.

Resource managers are the last people who are going to come up with remedial approaches, and their decisions are controlled by many other factors (such as grazing fees, yields, Assistant Sec. and Congressional Staffers). The agencies follow the practitioners, and we have no concerted direction. 

The only logical way forward is to "save the parts" and apply basic approaches, including protecting entire gradients, and large matrix areas with internal complexity. This issue is not new to the conservation community (and found in most textbooks), and nothing revelatory has been brought forward in current discussion. Before we make a call to arms, maybe a re-reading of conservation biology is in order.


Feb 14, 2008 12:36 PM

I have to agree with Erik, the only defensible position is to do what we can given what we know.  And while we don't know the intracies of how ocean currents will shift, we know much more than we did even a decade ago.  We know that species distributions will shift, some areas will experience drought while others will get more rain.  We know that this will affect the structure of ecological communities and that there will be winners and losers.  We know that climate has shifted before, but that things are changing faster now, with respect to rising levels of CO2 in the atmosphere, then they have changed in the last 30 million years.  It would be silly to do nothing while the ecological titanic went down even if we risk making some mistakes.

Despite all of the non-interventionist sentiment expressed above, humans are a part of nature and we have been influencing ecosystems since the first Homo Sapiens walked the earth.  And we unwittingly continue to influence ecosystems today via anthropogenic effects including pollution, climate change, ozone depletion, habitat loss and fragmentation, invasive plant introduction and extinction.  Why given what we know about our effects on this planet would be choose to do nothing?  If you care at all you will realize that those who stand to gain through the current system of global capitalism are the only ones who benefit in the short term due to laissez faire attitudes.  Arguments that include: we don't know enough, we don't have enough information, we can't do anything because we will just mess things up, or we should just leave nature alone will only end up supporting the status quo, i.e. the destruction of our planet and way of life.

I would say that the article above is correct: we need to abandon our old ideas of "non-intervention" because we realize today that these ideas were merely another kind of intervention in disguise.  A state of nature devoid of humanity does not exist.  It is time to dive in, to get to work, and solve the issues surrounding global climate change becore it is too late for us.  Because one of the above posters was right- nature will find a way eventually, it just may be that if we do nothing nature will find a way without humans and without many of the creatures great and small that we hold dear.  But maybe we can start to do something about it today.


Apr 28, 2008 11:45 AM

   Climate change that pushes the curve beyond the plush 'balance' that allows such incredible diversity that we as humans so aesthetically enjoy, and the survival of life forms in and of themselves, and the niches they occupy, potentially holding up some somewhat critical link in the web, all this is as it may, being up for dislocation and bit by bit, extinction, and the making way for some long distant new semblance of balance need not, despite the impossible odds to preserve life 'as we know it', or, 'vignettes of primitive America', diminish the worthiness of preserving for future generations - as best we can - just such vignettes.

    It certainly does worry me that some members of the human community - likely not from the conservationist movement I presume - might capitalize on this so called debate : to intervene or not intervene , and make hay with our dark fears and good intentions, and declare all preservation a fiction for sorry hearts.

    I'm amazed that TNC and others do attempt such great feats. What we accomplish as a race, both good and bad, is a testament to our own nature. 

And all this is not to say that the small park, isolated and un-corridored need be shamed by it's presence of pre-European wonders. 

Quack Quack from California





The Importance of Pragmatism and Context
Miriam Johnston
Miriam Johnston
Apr 09, 2009 01:46 PM
     While theoretical discussions can be fascinating, the immediacy of the climate change crisis necessitates that we stop thinking about what we would do if we could, and instead start thinking about what we actually can do.
So what is the context in which we’re working?
1. The three possibilities presented -- intervening aggressively to maintain habitat, intervening aggressively to facilitate migration, and not intervening at all – require very different amounts of resources and are politically palatable to differing degrees.
2. As Americans and as people in general, we work in a well-entrenched political system, and history shows that regardless of how colossally important this particular issue is, government is slow, deliberative, and subject to many interests. Further, it would be next to impossible for radical conservation activity to exist without any government support (“saving” all the species that need it would take some serious budget boosts). Resources are not inexhaustible.
3. As this article acknowledges, “the character of public wildlands will be drastically – and permanently – altered.”
4. Science does not have all the information that would be nice, but conservation can’t be put off. Given where we’re headed, it is very unlikely that making a mistake will land us anywhere worse.
     Within this context, what courses of action make sense? It would take a tremendous amount of resources and be close to impossible, logistically and politically, to facilitate a migration. Ecosystems are sensitive and complicated, and there are many integral interactions that we can’t see. How could we be certain, for example, that the appropriate nitrogen-fixing bacteria migrated with the plant? Low-latitude species might wreak havoc in the higher latitudes. Alternatively, we could intervene to maintain habitat, but if it’s true that the situation is permanently altered, species that cannot survive where they currently are would have to be “maintained” indefinitely. Given our resources, that’s impossible. Instead of focusing on species that will never be able to survive without help, we should mobilize to help faltering and at-risk species for a time, while we stop climate change at its sources. We should choose the species that could live autonomously if their habitats are not further degraded by climate change. I’m sorry that this “solution” doesn’t fit into the traditional paradigm, but in an issue as immediate as climate change, tradition that hinders rather than helps must be discarded.
     I think that the article is incorrect in its suggestion that addressing the effects of climate change should be prioritized over addressing the causes. It doesn’t make sense to focus on conservation of particular species or habitats, yet continue to make the global situation worse by over-emitting, thereby creating more species and habitats in need. Instead, we should be pouring resources into development of ways to keep the climate from becoming further altered. Maybe green energy doesn’t pull on our heartstrings as much as an auklet chick, but letting our heartstrings be the driver in this situation is a mistake.
What have we done?
May 04, 2009 04:08 PM
Yes, humans have drastically changed the environment and in some cases have even driven animals to extinction. It is bad that we have lost some animals so that we might pursue our own agendas however we cannot fix everything that we have done, and it is folly to believe that we have that kind of power. Nature has survived many mass extinctions in the past and still retained the wide range of beauty and diversity which we are able to observe today. I believe that if human beings were to disappear Nature would take over and change everything back to "just as it should be". But humans are not going to disappear anytime soon and we are forced to live with our mistakes, and this is where the true problem arises. Not only do we have very little idea about how to live with our mistakes, we also have problems admitting that the mistakes were ours to begin with. The first step in living with global warming is admitting that it is largely our fault, and that now the ball is rolling it is going to be difficult to stop. The first step to dealing with the problems which we have created is to stop doing the things that got us in trouble in the first place. The globe is going to keep heating as we leave this current iceage, and there is nothing we can do about that except alter our actions so that we do not hurry the process. Animals and Plants have evolved for millions of years and they will be able to adapt to this change as well. I feel that we as a society need to turn inward and change our own practices and life styles before we can presume that we know enough to successfully help others.
Our responsibility
Lauren Sanchez
Lauren Sanchez
May 04, 2009 06:05 PM
Thanks for this excellent article that provides insight into one of the most significant issues facing conservationists and our society today.

In response to an earlier post: "We need to leave alone what we have not yet screwed up. Lets focus on how we can change our behavior to slowdown climate change before we starting messing with Mother Nature."

I think it's important to consider the question: what haven't we "screwed up"? There's a vast amount of scientific data and evidence that demonstrate the severe impacts that anthropogenic practices and activities have had on the natural world. These impacts are exemplified by several well-known examples: deforestation in the Amazon, hazardous waste disposal at Love Canal, and global species extinctions due to land-use/land-cover changes, among many others. Humans have already significantly altered many regions of our global ecosystem, and projected climate change will only increase our impact. I think that given the effects that climate change is having on features such as sea level, wind patterns, and air temperature, it is inherently affecting every area of our world. This in mind, it's hard to point to a region of the earth that isn't feeling the effects of climate change in one way or another. I agree that we need to change our behavior in an effort to mitigate the impacts of climate change, but in terms of the sense of urgency behind this issue, it's important to keep in mind that we've already started "messing with Mother Nature". We've already changed the cyclic nature of our global ecosystem and, in a sense, are playing a role much like Mother Nature. Bill McKibben's book, The End of Nature, delves into this idea much deeper, explaining that anthropogenic activities have significantly altered natural processes and functions.

Due to the role that humans now play in driving ecosystem changes, I don't think we can simply sit back and, as Bradley argues, let the auklet chicks die. Anthropogenic practices are now one of the driving forces behind the increased stress in the survival for auklets and many other species globally. Because of changes in habitat fragmentation and land-use patterns, many species of flora and fauna now face challenges that are present, in large part, because of human influence. The impact that our society's practices have on ecosystems and communities worldwide exemplifies our responsibility to preserve natural landscapes and make political and social efforts to mitigate the repercussions of our practices and decisions.

Virginia Shannon
Virginia Shannon
May 05, 2009 08:23 PM
Since Leopold first presented the idea of conservation in A Sand County Almanac, we have clung to the idea of naturalness as the guide to management. Before a move is made, like with reintroduction of bison, it must be proved to be "natural". Largely, we have seen that this is correct. Unanticipated consequences constantly remind us of the need to stay close to naturalness in our management decisions, particularly with introductions of alien species such as cane toads in Australia that were meant to be predators to cane pests and suddenly were an explosive generalist species without a natural predator.

However, I think it is time to dispose of these extreme views to either remain natural or aggressively intervene. There are times we may need to veer from naturalness to prevent potentially permanent extinction in the face of a global warming event of the scale we are causing as humans. As the National Park Service takes on the Task Force of Climate Change, I think it will be of upmost importance to define policy to have exceptions to naturalness. Because we are putting our planet through such a high degree of change, we must take on the responsibility to manage the consequences to the best of our ability. In my opinion, we should hold onto Leopold's naturalness concept until the final moment. We should continue to take the approach of preserving wild habitat instead of meddling in ecosystem but when it comes down the wire, when its a matter of extinction because of changing current patterns caused by global warming, we should evaluate all options and approaches. Potentially crossing over the naturalness guidelines.

With a balanced policy, Bradley's approach to auklet management would reflect a decision based on scientific evidence rather than a fundamental moral issue to remain natural. If the scientific evidence proves that the species will not be saved in the long run, then the intervention is not worthy of meddling but when there is potential for success, we should let go of the naturalness concept and correct the mistake of global warming that we have already caused.

Similarly it is important that our policy decisions continue to reflect a balance between management in response to climate change and prevention of further climate change. A contradiction of these two efforts is demonstrated in this article in the GAO report mentioned where the Park Service made renewable energy a "high priority". We should not be replacing one effort with the other but rathe reaching a balance between the two. The Park Service should have a responsibility to reach conservation goals in sustainable ways. The expectation to forgo one for the other will only perpetuate the issues at hand.
Let's focus on what we know...for now.
May 07, 2009 08:21 AM
One of the first steps in an ecological restoration effort is the establishment of a goal: what is it that we want to accomplish? When it comes to countering the effects of climate change in our ecosystems, our goal becomes unimaginably complex. We’re trying to “shoot” the right policy and solutions at a moving target, so to speak, and we have no way of predicting in which direction the target will move in the immediate or distant future. All we know is that the target—our dynamic ecosystem—will continue moving and we’ll continue shooting, hitting and missing along the way.

There is simply neither enough time nor money to continue shooting these moving targets. As conservation strategies, watering the sequoias and hand-feeding the chicks are pitiable solutions at best. Successful conservation strategies will restore ecosystem processes, not act as ecosystem babysitters. What we’re hearing from the field is that these managers are concerned about climate change, see its effects on their properties, but don’t know what to do. Because climate change effects are so location-specific, there isn’t a single toolbox that can be shipped via UPS to properties across the country that allows them to begin to tackle these challenges. In short, help is not on the way.

This does not mean that managers should sit around waiting on the world to change. We have a responsibility (and the ability to)clean up contamination, take appropriate regulatory steps to control exotics, establish buffer zones and corridors, and manage our land in ways that do not lead to fragmentation. We have the responsibility to work with--and professionally push-back against--government officials, citizens, and colleagues in ways that will establish a meaningful discourse with stakeholders and outsiders alike.

Just as the use of genetics and computer modeling were not in the toolboxes of property managers 100 years ago, the tools to work on solutions to climate-induced changes are not in our toolboxes today. In time, we will continue to improve our understanding of climate to a point where we begin to answer some questions of “What should we do?” Until then, managers can spend their resources tackling challenges at are better understood.

We must use the best science available today to meet our ecological goals within the cultural framework we’ve created. We must continue research and choose our battles--carefully and appropriately--based on what we learn.
Destroy the Binary!
May 10, 2009 03:59 PM
As has been repeatedly stated above, we must dispel the philosophical notion of a static, one-dimensional natural world. The myth of ‘environmental equilibrium’ is pure sensationalist fallacy. At the most basis cellular level, to be in ‘equilibrium’ means to be dead; only through disequilibrium can life persist. Nature persists through succession, adaptation, and evolution. The very geographic history of the world demands such malleability. The future of our surrounding realm (disregarding causation for a moment) will absolutely be inextricable different than what we see at the current moment. Our conceptions of the natural world are inchoate at best. We have had (at most) only a million years of observation as a species, and only a few thousand have been recorded. Thus it is essential that we come to terms with the fact that we cannot expect nature to remain static—nature will change regardless of our philosophical, aesthetic, social, and economic demands.

That being said, however, it is critical that conservationists, managers, and general society clearly distinguish between those changes that are anthropogenic and those that have and will occur independent of human existence. While humans are a part of nature, we for some strange reason have evolved the curious ability to dominate and destroy our biome. As has been repeatedly proven climate change is an anthropogenic phenomenon, and thus must be treated as such. Conservationists have built and intricate framework for dealing with anthropogenic threats and we must return to this framework when facing the enormity of climate change.

While this may seem like a defense of Leopold’s ‘naturalness’, who’s to say ‘naturalness’ and protection against climate change are mutually exclusive as Smith and Gow suggest? If there is one thing that we have learned, it is that proactive management is far more successful than reactive. We must learn from our mistakes and act proactively, yet not hastily, and build off the knowledge of ecological processes that we currently have. It is well documented that the amount of land allocated as reserves is correlated to biodiversity and resistance to invasion by exotics. It is critical that we pursue goals that will be advantageous regardless of the exact implication of climate change. The Nature Conservancy’s intent to establish north-south “super-highways” seems like an apt place to start. By reducing fragmentation, allowing for increasing colonization of sub-populations, and increasing the ability for large-scale geographic habitat readjustment, we would be accounting for the variability sure to stem from climate change. Furthermore, it doesn’t have the risk of rash and unsupported decisions such as wide-scale tree thinning. There is no realistic way in which conserving more land could have a detrimental effect.

Feeding starving chicks in the Farallons or setting up sprinkler systems for the Sequoias is, as has already been stated, “hubris”. Assuming climate change persists at its current rate there will be no way to continue to protect the auklets. While they may survive to adulthood, it is probable that they would be out-competed by exotic species. If climate change is allowed to continue their niche will disappear. We have enough trouble protecting species whose niches are still intact, nevermind attempt to protect species without a viable niche—it is simply an ecological impossibility.
It's time to take responsibility
May 10, 2009 06:59 PM
Although U.S. agencies describe the “natural” condition of landscapes to be that which existed before European settlement, the truth is that the landscape was being altered for million of years prior to that. The fear that has been mounting in recent decades is not due to changing landscapes in and of themselves, but of humans’ involvement and accountability for the rapid changes that we have been seeing. It would be great to be able to sit back with our hands up and say, “Sorry, changes are changes and Mother Nature will do as she pleases,” but that’s just not acceptable in this case. The truth is, we as humans are responsible. We must take on the task of mitigating the anticipated destruction because we are stewards of the land.

Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as putting up greenhouses of Sequoia seedlings or feeding pureed krill to hungry auklets. Cohen’s sentiment that the level of intervention in this scenario will be higher than ever before is likely true, and thus a daunting task. Scientists can do their part to predict changes and anticipate the level of impact climate change will have on communities, but a solution will ultimately come from collaboration and commitment of scientists, policy makers, and the general public around the world.

No program will succeed unless greenhouse gas emissions can net zero or below. As it is, global temperatures will continue to rise despite a complete elimination of emissions. Thus, it is up to us as concerned citizens to do our part to relieve some of the stress species and the earth will feel in the next few decades.

Although it sounds stupid to go out on the Farallon Islands and feed auklet chicks or to set up sprinklers around giant Sequoias, if we make any commitment to the preservation of the environment and to naturalism, measures like these must be taken. It is only after we have done everything we can to alleviate anthropogenic stresses on the environment that we will be able to sit back with our hands up in surrender to natural process.
Response to Smith 2008
Amanda Warren
Amanda Warren
May 12, 2009 12:45 PM
Clearly, the task of land-management in a changing climate is neither simple nor governed by pre-established biological procedures. Smith thoroughly outlines the technical and conceptual challenges land managers and citizens are faced with in this unique time. I disagree with Russ Bradley, however, that managing ecosystems in this unique context is inherently “unscientific.” Humans often disturb so-called naturalness under the pretense of science because “science” is not a single field with unified goals but rather an umbrella term—what is considered scientific to one field, is often considered disruptive in another. Medicine, for example, is considered a science yet humans often use pesticides to reduce insect populations in order to protect human health. These pesticides produce cascading negative effects for non-human species yet they are used in the name of science, nonetheless. Furthermore, by attempting to aid organisms through the changing climate system, we are not aiming to “save nature purely from itself” as Smith describes. Current climate changes are recognized as anthropogenic thus we are trying to save nature from human decisions, or, ourselves. This unnatural situation warrants unnatural and unprecedented scientific responses.

Because the task is daunting and frightening, it is easiest to claim that nature knows best and will regenerate. Climate change is human induced, however, thus we have an obligation to mitigate it. Attempting to mitigate human-induced ecosystem perturbation is already established as a precedent among the goals for conservation. Currently, scientists from a range of fields regularly attempt to lessen the effects of human-induced ecosystem changes through ecosystem restoration (see Cairns 1988). Invasive species are most often the fault of humans, for example, and have the capability to significantly alter the landscape they are introduced to. Humans spend billions of dollars annually attempting to mend the problem humans started (see Pimentel et al. 2000). In the broad sense of ecosystem manipulation, climate change is a similar issue though on a much larger scale. If ecosystem restoration is defined as “the full or partial replacement of compositional, structural, or functional characteristics of an ecosystem that have been diminished or extinguished through human actions,” than the ecosystem implications of climate change clearly fit into this goal and should be addressed in this way (adapted from Carins 1988 by Trombulak 2009).

Although establishing the theoretical precedent is the first step, specific goals are conceptually harder and seemingly less feasible. If one looks at the very basics of conservation biology, however, these fundamental concepts can lead scientists in the appropriate direction. Perhaps our biggest task is to effectively preserve diversity from destructive sources other than climate change. By removing unnatural stresses other than climate change, the cumulative stress will be less and organisms will be more likely to successfully survive the changing climate. I do not suggest the goal of preserving diversity simply for sociological reasons but for practical, genetic reasons. As genetic diversity is the raw material of evolution, we must maintain as much diversity as possible in hopes that a small subset of each species will possess the alleles that will allow them to survive in a new climate. This task involves taking pre-existing conservation legislation to protect species seriously and making it even more comprehensive. In reality, practically all species should be listed under the Endangered Species Act and this classification could increase funding for research and mitigation strategies and provide a legal precedent for ecosystem restoration.

A more effective strategy, however, demands new legislation specific to climate change. The Climate Change Safeguards for Natural Resources Conservation Act (U.S. Congress H.R. 2192), introduced in April 2009, is a step in the right direction as it provides a mechanism for funding for research and mitigation. This bill is unique as it is purposely coupled with the American Clean Energy and Security Act such that a cap and trade program provides a mechanism for funding for biological research and restoration. H.R. 2192, is additionally strong as it outlines a fast-paced timeline for which specific action plans to “protect, conserve, and restore natural resources to become more resilient, adapt to, and withstand the impacts of climate change and ocean acidification.” If passed, this act of legislation, will provide the legal framework and funding for research and mitigation necessary for science to ensue. The bill, however, does not outline specific actions or restoration plans.

So what, then, should these specific actions be? I think climate change demands the following actions (but should not be limited to):
1. Strengthened captive breeding programs.
2. Wetland restoration in order to mitigate the effects of saltwater intrusion and storm surges on coastal areas.
3. A united, philosophical shift to see the globe as a single landscape system and, subsequently, management practices based on this philosophy. Continental-scale habitat corridors, are necessary which means, yes, “habitat-choking urban sprawl” is “even more of an environmental calamity than is currently recognized.” (Smith 2008)

Climate change, finally, produces an even more stochastic environment, which means that the climate mitigation plan for one time period will not be appropriate in a different era. H.R. 2192 has one of the most important tasks built in: the bill “establishes performance measures for assessing the effectiveness of adaptation strategies” and to “update those strategies to respond to new information or changing conditions.”

Climate change projects are terrifying at best. This fear, however, is not a reason or an excuse to not attempt to mitigate its worst effects to the best of our abilities. Climate change is a challenge but an immense opportunity for science to expand beyond normal technical and philosophical frameworks. Although the task that Aldo Leopold set out on—to push the public to alter the moral code of our society—was a sociological task almost as insurmountable as climate change, Leopold did not throw up his hands but rather took direct action. Climate change, similarly, demands immediate action.

Cairns, J.J. 1998. Restoration ecology: the new frontier. Pp. 1-11 in Rehabilitating
damaged ecosystems (J.J. Cairns, ed.). CRC Press, Boca Raton.

Pimentel, D., Lach, L., Zuniga, R., and D. Morrison. 2000. Environmental and Economic
Costs of Nonindigenous Species in the United States. BioScience 50(1):53-65.
Out-dated practices
Connor Wood
Connor Wood
May 12, 2009 03:41 PM
As the article says, “Global warming undermines almost all the rules that environmental stewards have lived by,” so for managers to stick to those rules is foolish and irresponsible. Letting nature run its course is only appropriate when nature is running a natural course. Global climate change has upset the planetary equilibrium that generated the intricate systems we know today, making them increasingly dysfunctional. So as managers are discovering, letting nature run its course will today result in a loss of the very species of they’re hired to conserve.

While it may be unnatural, preservation is the best course of action at the moment. If we don’t act until we have a perfect understanding of each species, they will probably go extinct in the mean time. It is better to err on the side of preservation rather than watching species go extinct, because we can just let it go extinct later if that is that is the only feasible option, but we obviously cannot resurrect a species if we decide later that it should have been saved.

Beyond the practical reasons for conservation, I think we have a moral obligation to sustain immediately threatened species because their demise will be our fault. The scientific community is overwhelmingly convinced that climate change is driven in part by human actions, so we are all directly responsible for the emerging threats to both species and entire ecosystems. The climatic changes that are driving the threats discussed in the article are no doubt contributing what appears to be a sixth mass extinction. The difference between this one and the other five is that for the first time, a single species is directly responsible for the extinctions. We are the ones who’ve put the future of whole ecosystems into question; it is our job to do what we can to protect them. Simply watching them disappear because it that is what an out-dated policy calls for is blatantly negligent.
At what cost?
May 13, 2009 01:09 PM
How far are we willing to go to cling to the goal of conserving biodiversity? While it is a noble cause that may be beneficial and applicable in some cases, this is clearly an instance where, in attempting to right our wrong (climate change), we very well may be exacerbating current problems. Whether or not to keep a species on life support is an issue wrought with value and ethical dilemmas. As humans, we have problems sitting and watching something cute and cuddly like the baby auklets or awe-inspiring like the redwoods slowly waste away when we have to tools necessary to artificially keep them alive. (It is worth noting that these same headline controversies aren’t being sparked by the disappearance of fungus or moss due to the effects of climate change). Rather than giving a disproportionate amount of care and attention to a single species, it is time that we take a step back and consider the greater good in the context of the ecosystem.

Beyond our fascination with the charismatic megaflora/fauna are issues of control. The idea that we feel it necessary to bottle feed baby birds so that they can survive in a habitat that is (by our doing!) no longer hospitable for them is a belief steeped in hubris. It assumes that, as humans, we know what is best and have the entitlement to control nature. In fact, we have very little knowledge of how the climate will change and what effects that will have on ecosystems or individual species. And for that matter, we know little of what ramifications our interference with these auklet or redwood populations may have in the changing ecosystems. Thus, it does not make sense to continue blindly tampering. Hooking up species to life support because we do not know what else to do is not an acceptable justification or management plan.

Furthermore, these proposed management plans will have large consequences in resource use (or, more aptly, abuse). Setting up sprinklers to keep the redwoods properly watered is a blatant misuse of a precious resource that is scarce in much of the country and around the world. When water is no longer making it all the way down the Colorado River and aquifers are drying up (again, due to our misuse), is it really appropriate to abuse what we have left? When a species can no longer be autonomous or cope with the stresses which with it is presented, and it is living in an environment which cannot support it (and is not likely to revert to old dynamics anytime soon), that species makes no essential or sustainable contributions to the ecosystem. From an economic perspective, it is simply a drain on our time and resources to support its survival, when those resources could be put to effective use elsewhere.

Though the idea of naturalness and letting nature be left to its own devices seems agonizingly uncertain and hands-off, it is a better alternative in this situation where we have scant information to be able to predict future changes and don’t know how to proceed in a manner that could provide resilience to these unknown future changes. The authors dismiss the National Parks Service’s efforts to reduce their carbon footprint as too little too late; however, that is one of the only actions of which we are certain the result will be beneficial. Working on abating greenhouse gas emissions and understanding more about future effects of climate change would be a more worthwhile focus for our attention than bottlefeeding chicks or sprinkling redwoods. It would be arrogant and dangerous to continue altering the ecosystem with the intention of undoing our previous errors, having no idea if, in fact, we might be exacerbating them and wasting time and resources along the way.

Conservation Efforts Need to Be Dynamic
Stephen Heck
Stephen Heck
May 13, 2009 10:32 AM
As this article elucidates, the traditional approach to conservation of preserving what is natural has been met head on by the need to preserve species diversity even in areas that are not being directly affected by pollution, habitat destruction, and overuse of resources. This new slew of pending extirpations caused by the changing global climate presents a novel set of ethical dilemmas that have never been considered in the past. Traditional conservation principles have focused on restoring a habitat to its natural state prior to human intervention. This historic approach that has become ingrained in our society as the way to approach conservation focuses on sustaining species diversity and abundance through maintaining, restoring, and conserving what is natural.

The natural world, especially today, is much more dynamic than the static picture painted by those who initially developed the original conservation way of thought. Although some may argue that these warming temperatures are part of a natural temperature cycle of the globe, the climbing temperatures that we see today are increasing at a rate much higher than what would be occurring in the absence of human presence. Higher levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide are presumably the culprit of the human-catalyzed global change. These heightened levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide are contributing to higher temperatures, changes in precipitation patterns, and altered weather patterns. If this global change was occurring in the absence of human causation more conservationists might say that we simply let happen what is to happen, however the evidence pointing to human catalysis of this change prompts us to do something about it.

Although arguably catalyzed by humans, there are no straightforward solutions to the output of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere because it involves such a drastic change in the habits of the global community. The problem is being approached from a responsible social and economic standpoint with green energy and sustainable design at the top of the list. For many ecosystems and species change may come too late or never come and conservationists must respond to the circumstances that have presented themselves. The article describes how managers must approach their jobs differently than in the past, however on a fundamental level, we are still attempting to conserve what is natural.

Global change may adversely affect the diversity and abundance of species traditionally described as being endemic to an area, however there will be a wide range of degrees to which global change will affect species diversity and abundance. As the article delves into, some species may flourish in the presence of global change while others will die out. Migration and dispersal may cause range shifts of species and die-outs due to competition of new species to particular areas. Human involvement outside of the traditional conservation sense of restoring what is natural should be limited and well thought out. Anything natural will always be tainted by the influence of humans as long as we are in existence. This anthropogenic global change must be accepted and conservation principles redefined around it. Wildlife corridors to promote migration of species will be fundamentally important and the facilitation of migrating species may be necessary if we are to maintain life rather than static naturalness.

The status of conservation ideology is fragile at best and does not seem to be stable at any point in the foreseeable future. We do not know enough as of yet to make predictions about what global changes we will see in years to come but we are learning. Before making any rash decisions about ways to preserve species abundance all consequences should be considered. Most importantly the fundamental theories upon which conservation thought rests must be redefined with sustainability as one of the most important facets taken into consideration. If we are to nourish the health of the planet and restore natural processes there needs to be a shift towards a dynamic relationship between sustainable design, green energy, wildlife corridors, responsible resource consumption, and possible intervention after considering the ramifications of our actions. We do have the power to make the status of the biosphere worse through too much cavalier, extravagant, scientifically unfounded action. Unless we redefine our conservation ideology into a cohesive package of principles we may dilute our efforts to the point that management techniques conflict and become completely ineffectual in restoring any remnants of natural processes.
Accountability and Action
Jordan Valen
Jordan Valen
May 13, 2009 01:26 PM
U.S. policy regarding the conservation of wilderness has long focused on keeping human impact at an absolute minimum in those areas deemed most “pristine” by the government and land managers. There are multiple problems with this governing principle, one area of discordance being that native peoples once managed many of the landscapes we today “protect” from the destructive human hand. Another point of contention is the Bill McKibben argument, which says that the extent of human-induced change today is so far-reaching and extensive (affecting the very atmosphere we breathe) that there is no ecosystem on earth that humans have not altered. The ecosystems described in the article (and the countless others) are not suffering as a result of natural processes – this is our own doing and we need to have accountability.

At this point, it is almost clear that action must be taken. Species are going extinct at alarming rates far higher than the historical background rate of extinction. However, the problem with this reality is that there is no simple and inexpensive means of achieving successful management of all the imperiled species and ecosystems. Gruber (the Park service scientist from the article) says, “What we’re talking about is an order of intrusion greater than anything we’ve done in the past.” I believe that in order to achieve successful conservation, this is true.

What we are talking about is ecological restoration on a global scale. There are several major steps involved in ecological restoration (outlined by Trombulak 1996, Simberloff et al. 1999) that are going to apply to this massive undertaking. First, the social, political, and economic climate is going to need to support this undertaking. Socially, the general population needs to be aware of the gravity of this situation, and understand that their actions have a direct effect on the resilience of the earth’s ecosystems. Politically and economically, we need a commitment to good science and the funding to carry out these large-scale conservation efforts. Second, we need to clean up the contamination that is causing the environmental degradation. This restoration will not succeed unless greenhouse gases are severely reduced in the near future.

Overall, I believe that our romantically conceived ideals regarding our “wildernesses” are entirely outdated in a world that is almost everywhere affected by the human hand of global climate change. We need to commence management efforts immediately if we hope to save many of the ecosystems and species with which the United States identifies.
Keeping our options open
May 13, 2009 02:26 PM
As climate change continues to alter the environment we live in, it is going to be critical for conservationists to have a collection of solutions they can rely on for maintaining species. Pursuing a variety of conservation goals ranging from species diversity, naturalness and biological integrity to ecosystem health will help ensure that at least somewhere, a positive course of action is taken. Our understanding of climate science is limited, making it increasingly hard to pursue Leopold’s “vignette of primitive America,” as where and how today’s communities will migrate is unknown. In some instances, human intervention – through the creation of corridors, or the watering sequoias – will be necessary for certain species to survive. Maintaining populations of species, such as the auks, may be critical if we want to have the option of considering species reintroductions. Seeing as climate change (to the degree we are experiencing) is wholly our responsibility, it is also our responsibility to facilitate the survival of species which are crashing specifically due to human impacts. This may mean a reconstruction of the way we think about national parks or forests and conserved land in general, but we cannot just sit back and watch nature deal with climate change unless we’ve tried to at least mitigate the change. Conservationists need as many viable options to be pursued as possible because mistakes are going to be made and ultimately, we don’t know exactly how climate change is going to impact all of these species.
Faciliatating Autonomy
May 13, 2009 01:20 PM
This article highlights what will be one of the major conservation challenges of our time: how to deal with abiotic conditions that are changing more quickly than species can reasonably be expected to adapt to. Attempting to artificially preserve ecosystems as they are by installing sprinkling systems and feeding auklet chicks seems hubristic and would essentially create zoos in nature. Fostering reliance on humans for reproductive success and survival is risky—what would happen if severe drought led to water being diverted from redwoods to human consumption or funding to feed auklets was slashed from the budget? The political and financial decisions about conservation occur on a much shorter time scale than this sort of preservation work would need to be carried out at. Artificially creating better conditions also limits the ability of a species to adapt. If all individuals contribute to the next generation, regardless of their ability to persist independently in a post-climate change world, phenotypes better suited to climactically variable, warmer conditions may not widely emerge. The goal of ecological reserves should be to create viable, autonomous, populations—not snap shots of nature as it was or as we would like it to be.
The article states that unless agencies take action “the character of public wildlands will be drastically—and permanently—altered.” In reality, the phenomenon of climate change will occur at such a large scale that regardless of management decisions, our world will be altered. The question then becomes how will we ensure that this altered world is able to retain as much of the current ecological structure, function, and composition as possible? As the article highlights, predicting which areas will be important for conservation 100 years in the future is difficult given our limited knowledge about the effects of climate change. One approach should be to preserve areas with representative topography, soil types, and hydrology (as Matt Chew points out above) because these will presumably change much more slowly than climate and should provide the range of conditions necessary for life as species move north. Although this article also downplays the feasibility of creating north-south connectivity, establishing these corridors is a serious solution that must be considered. Yes corridors will have to encompass “broad swaths of wild land,” but given the vast amount of federally owned land in the West this may not be as costly or difficult as is suggested—the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative exemplifies how governments, conservation groups, and citizens can work together to enhance landscape connectivity. Corridors should also not necessarily be expected to facilitate movement of “entire habitats.” Nature is dynamic and many of the species assemblages we observe today are relatively recent.
Dealing with the implications of climate change is one of the most pressing biological issues of our time and hopefully something that our federal land management agencies will seriously and immediately consider.

Some Thoughts
May 13, 2009 02:38 PM
    In this article Smith and Gow highlight the most pressing questions conservation biologists face today. The disappearing birds of the Farallon Islands off the coast of California any many other biological anomalies mentioned are only a small portion of the multitude of issues facing the natural world today. For years, science has been content taking the passive approach to conservation – deciding that it would be best for the ideas of naturalness to speak for the scientific community. During much of that time science and the general public was content, but now that changes in worldwide ecosystems is taking place at alarming rates, an old flame in conservation biology has been lit again.
    When Russ Bradley is quoted as saying, “we try to maintain ourselves as scientists” in discussing his choice not to hand feed the struggling fledglings of the Farallon Islands, he is emphatically declaring his position with regard to the conservation debate. Bradley feels that humans should continue acting and responding towards nature as they have done for the past number of years. Unfortunately, the level to which biological diversity is currently being compromised far exceeds anything that has been witnessed in the past. Global warming has been implicated in a new laundry-list of biological abnormalities and scientists admit that they simply do not have the answer as to what will happen next. The lack of fundamental knowledge regarding this situation begs the question as to what science and humans should do as we wait for the Biosphere II to start producing answers.
    In their article Smith and Gow cite many scientists who speak to the effect of the earth’s natural cycles and that change has occurred over the broad history of the earth. Surely, these statements are true, but they seem to lack consideration for the fact that these natural cycles never included a pivotal factor – humans. Humans represent the axle turning the wheel of destruction on the natural world. Since our hands are already linked to the destruction, it is time to busy our hands in taking an active approach to conserve nature. I would not go so far as to advocate the hand-feeding of baby fledglings. Death is natural and must occur to keep balance, but I do support the idea of humans putting down the remote, stepping out of the office, and taking and making a difference in the world around us. Otherwise we can expect to lose what stands before us today and be left to compete with what may replace it tomorrow.
Unnatural Preservation?
Christine Han
Christine Han
May 15, 2009 03:57 PM
For the most part, the article offers some stances to take. I was intrigued by the concept of unnatural preservation and what that implies, concerning taking steps in response to climate change. Scientists are supposed to be objective and "scientific." But I found it puzzling that the article mentions that science does not have basic information such as how much heat or dryness it takes to kill a tree or whether foggy coastal and less foggy inland California will become warmer or cooler. Managers, officials, scientists, though less are taking the stance of rejecting unnatural preservation as an approach, are taking major steps to protect habitats and land and they do not have much information to even plan to take steps. I didn't realize that the realm of science could be so defeatist. It is agreed upon that global climate change is happening and is real. We have climate models that give us valuable information about how the future of the planet will be like. Perhaps, we are dwelling too much on preserving "naturalness" and how nature looked like in the past. The article states that "what managing nature would mean is a dramatic unknown." The unknown is no excuse for not taking steps to protect our national parks and habitats of endangered species. If the government, especially The Department of the Interior, which oversees the bureaucracies that manage land, focuses rather than overlooking the effects and impacts of climate change, I believe that science can do a great deal of healing.
The resource managers that were interviewed said that they are not aware of any guidance or requirements to address the effect of climate change, and that they have not received direction regarding how to incorporate climate change into their planning activities. Similarly, managers and conservationists could be doing more than sit around and let nature take its course, because without any implementation of plans or action, the future of the Earth will not be better. I understand that this stance of don't-mess-with-Mother-Nature is foggy and controversial but it will not be a good enough excuse when scientists will have to make rushed decisions because this rapidly changing environment will not allow time for meetings, management plans, and revised, alternate strategies.
Cohen's statement about ecologists and conservationists having to decide on a level of intervention higher than any level they have ever considered before makes me wonder whether we will decide to intervene after it is too late to make intelligent and well-thought out management plans. Also her open-ended question at the end of the article gives scientists as well as citizens something to consider. I, as a citizen, also assume my role as a steward of the land. I have read Aldo Leopold's A Sand County Almanac. With that said, I believe that as stewards of the land, we should not be primarily concerned with promoting "naturalness" because like the article said, we cannot be entirely sure anymore what nature is like and how it should look like. If scientists are supposed to stay objective, it does not necessarily mean that we, as citizens, have to. We can have an impact on how regulations and legislations are created to improve the state of our planet, especially with the looming issue of global climate change and its impacts.
Same Questions, Different Degree of Importance
Mar 13, 2010 08:03 AM
    Smith and Gow bring up interesting issues about the future of conservation policy and while perhaps these issues appear to have more significant problems, they really are nothing new in conservation. First, we have the question, should we intervene and to what extent? While specifics vary and beliefs can be situational, I think we need to return to the basic goals of conservation to answer this.
    If our main goal is biological diversity, this would encourage us to act no matter what, even if we may look like zookeepers. However, if our goal is naturalness, biological integrity, or ecological health, the answer is not as clear-cut and simple and eventually we have to look at another question: should we consider us humans a part of nature?
    Personally, I think that we do have to see humans as a part of nature and thus we should encourage action to address climate change and its consequences. To take out humans out of the picture is like all of the sudden eliminating any aid or intervention of “first-world countries” in “developing nations” (for lack of better terms): while intervention is highly controversial, we are stuck and to now change policy to a completely hands off approach would lead to devastating results. While maybe a hands-off approach would have been favorable before, we have to take the past into consideration—even if we are not proud of it—and realize that we are not starting on a blank slate. Instead, we have to deal with the consequences of history and understand that most of the world is interconnected and dependent on one another. We should not just remove relationships between countries, just like we should not eliminate the relationship between humans and nature in conclusion that this is more ethical or better.
    The argument that the dominant thinking has been to let nature takes its course in the past is useless in this situation. Management has not been based on this hands-off approach for long enough to eliminate a lot of the dependence that nature has on humans. We have to adapt our thinking to the major changes that are currently occurring and see that in this situation, the back-seat approach will not help us get toward our goals of biological diversity, naturalness, biological integrity, or ecological health. Instead, we could be left with extremely low diversity and habitats with conditions that we’ve never seen before that may only be called “natural” on the basis that there was no human intervention in the recent time. While a lack of action will not necessarily result in this way, it is a high possibility, one that I do not think we should risk.
    Secondly, we have another common conservation problem: once we have a common goal, how should we intervene? We deal with this question everyday. Climate change just makes this question is seriously consequential (arguably more than others). However, I do not think that we can let the scale and importance of this question stop us from trying to find an answer. Implementation and actually creating management policies will always been more difficult than deciding our end goal. As conservationists, we have to deal with uncertainty—uncertainty and chance just has to play a role in this field. We cannot let this stop us from acting. Instead, we should make a rational decision and pool together all the resources we have: past history of successes and failures in conservation, current scientific data, and people with innovative ideas and suggestions.

- Kate S.
Meghan B.
Meghan B.
Mar 17, 2010 02:21 PM
The article makes a good point, we cannot just sit back and allow climate change to alter everything we have. However, I can't ignore those that say "we don't know what we're doing and we're bound to screw things up". The future responses of species to climate change are largely unknown and unfortunately many of the outcomes of climate change will only be realized after the fact. This does not mean there is nothing we can do now though.

The world may have survived warming in the past, but the landscape then was far different then it is now. Human fragmentation compounded with climate change may be the greatest impediment to the future survival of many species. I think the Nature Conservancy has it right, the best thing we can do now is to expand the size and connectivity of protected land. Directly tampering with species is risky and probably not sustainable in the long run (ie. watering trees). Expansion of protected land allows species to shift habitats at their own rate. Connectivity also allows for greater gene flow among populations, increasing a species' chances for plasticity and adaption via evolution in a changing environment.

Thinking about conservation must expand beyond isolated parks and esoteric scientific communities. If greater connectivity is to be achieved, whole communities of people need to become involved at multiple scales. AS great as it would be to build millions of habitat corridors and conserve ALL land, this simply isn't possible. However, land-use can become more "bio-diversity" friendly. By involving people outside the realm of strict conservation, land management plans will be more accepted by the public in general and perhaps a greater willingness to participate in parks goal of connectivity will ensue.

Something else we can do now is monitor species to further piece together the puzzle of what will happen in the future and how we can potentially help them. Although it may not immediately save species, the more information we have, the better able we are to create effective management.

I think parks across the world should start formulating coherent management plans to deal with the future. Smith and Gow are right, we cannot sit back and do nothing, the sooner we act, the greater the change we effect.
Impotence in the face of climate change
Mar 26, 2010 09:19 AM
    In this article, Smith and Gow highlight the incredible uncertainty surrounding the science of global climate change. Biologists have been caught in an incredible state of ignorance regarding the impact climate change will have on individual species, communities, ecosystems, and the biosphere. The only thing which seems to be certain, as demonstrated by Smith and Gow, is that change has already begun to negatively impact diversity around the world and that the change is likely to accelerate and intensify in the near future. Because of the massive lack of data, management solutions are not much more than educated guesses; biologists simply do not know what to do.
    The central point of this article regards the philosophical debate surrounding the appropriate management response to climate change. The traditional mantra of management has been to stick to what is natural; an ideal which is impotent and, perhaps, irrelevant through the lens of climate change. It is practically certain that the current warming trend is not natural in the slightest, being caused by the anthropogenic release of greenhouse gasses. Thus, the cascade of climate-induced changes in natural systems is not natural. It is my opinion that advocating for the hands-off management approach when dealing with the impacts of climate change represents a betrayal to the ethics conservation. While changing ocean currents is obviously outside the realm of reasonable management solutions, there are many situations where there are practical solutions, such as the assisted migration of plant communities mentioned by Smith and Gow. While these strategies will be expensive and difficult, I firmly believe it is our responsibility to give them our best shot.
    I find it interesting that Smith and Gow did not explicitly mention slowing and/or halting climate change as a management solution. While the park system is actively reducing their climate footprint, federal conservation agencies as a whole do not seem to be putting sufficient pressure on the government to do something real to fight climate change. The only effective way to manage the impacts of anthropogenic climate change is to remove the pressures which are forcing the change, to greatly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Treating symptoms will ultimately cure the disease
Kevin G
Kevin G
Mar 27, 2010 02:10 PM
Bart, I don't agree your equating spoon-feeding the auklet chicks to hubris. Spoon-feeding is certainly not a long-term solution to climate change issues (as you mentioned, other climate-related problems will still end up killing the birds). And it is fair to say that spoon-feeding auklet chicks is like putting a band-aid on a cut throat--some short-term good may be done, but the disease (climate change) behind the symptom (dead chicks) still persists.
 However, for a person like Ellie Cohen, whose livelihood revolves around the birds on a single group of islands, spoon-feeding is a feasible action to take. The woman can't singlehandedly cool down the planet, but she can mitigate the fever's effects until the real antibiotics kick in. I think it is fair to say that the only long-term solution to saving the auks, redwoods, etc. etc. is to shift global temperatures back down. But this will require fundamental changes in governmental policy, manufacturing codes, and the life habits of billions of humans. I believe such changes are possible, and that the conservation community should dedicate itself to effecting these changes (by lobbying, creating policy, spreading public awareness, etc.) But what's the harm in preserving biodiversity until the cavalry comes?
  Also, I think that focusing on short-term solutions to climate-related issues will hasten the arrival of long-term solutions. Public opinion and government policy will not be swayed by vague threats of climate change. Instead, we need to present specific data into the public sphere in order to effect these changes. Auklets may not be quite as cute as spotted owls, but they might help get the job done. If a government panel or group of citizens see Farrallon Island volunteers spoon-feeding dying baby birds, they will be more likely to become emotionally attached to the climate change issue. People act (and vote) with their hearts. It is hard to feel deeply about the concept of climate change. But the symptoms of climate change, if conveyed to the public and government effectively, will be what ultimately lead to long-term solutions.
Advantages and disadvantages of “symptom treatment”
Alex L-M
Alex L-M
Mar 28, 2010 09:37 PM
I agree with Kevin that in isolated cases, treating the “symptoms” of global climate change can be effective, and that management action, even if it is as simple and specific as spoon-feeding baby birds or setting up sprinklers around trees is sure to garner attention and reinvigorate the public about the consequences of global warming. This specific stimulus-response attitude towards conservation and management has been shown to be greatly successful in the past; species like Kirtland’s Warbler or and Peregrine Falcon have been brought back from the brink of extinction with the control of a specific effecter, and are now flagships for conservation and counter-climate change movements alike.
However, unlike DDT or brood parasites, global climate change presents an absolutely comprehensive threat to the world’s life. As the article states, current management practices, those developed over decades of counteracting individual problems, will do little in the long run to preserve the current natural equilibrium in the face of the consequences of global climate change. While spoon-feeding auklet chicks can establish the survival of more birds, it will not restore the local populations of krill or the currents moving around the island, problems that are at the root of the population crash. The mindset of “symptom treatment,” while effective in individual cases, could restore worldwide natural equilibria only through management of every single detail in every ecosystem. This, as the article states, would cause “an order of intrusion greater than anything we've done in the past" and is obviously not feasible. Furthermore, it does not further “naturalness,” instead reducing nature to a complex machine with parts that must be manufactured and modified.
The article states that we need to develop large-scale strategies that counter the general effects of global climate change, rather than specific symptoms. To do this, conservationists as a whole need to change their mindset on how to conserve. However, I think that even many of the actions proposed in the article, hypothetical solutions to the damage done by global climate change, reflect a “pre-climate change” conservation mindset. Thinning forests, while theoretically effective at countering certain consequences of climate change, opens the door for other threats, ones that, as the article and previous posters have asserted, we may not even know about yet. Since global climate change is so comprehensive, since it affects literally every facet of the natural world, we need to find a solution that inversely preserves everything, or we will wind up controlling nature, rather than restoring it. Of course it is difficult to change our view of conservation, especially because our current standpoint has resulted in many conservation success stories. But if we want to effectively conserve the stability of the natural world as the world’s climates shift, and, perhaps more importantly leave it in a state where it can develop independent of humanity, we may need to completely redefine conservation.
If all the information coming in regarding declines in species diversity is accurate, if trends in global temperature change and corresponding decreases in biodiversity continue, then in all likelihood it is too late to save many of the world’s species. As painful as it is to say, it may be time for us to stop focusing our conservation efforts on at risk groups, and start focusing on what systems or species we can feasibly save. Some ecologists have recommended that conservation efforts on coral reefs be halted, since the damage done to these systems is beyond our capacity to reverse. Hopefully we will not have to abandon these systems. Hopefully the world’s habitats, even its species, are resilient enough to survive the onslaught of global climate change and the myriad other threats that humanity poses. But the universality of global climate change indicates that, even though it grates against all the current morals and standards of conservation biology, we my need to allocate our resources to systems and species that still have the capacity to be saved by human intervention.
    I don’t want this to sound like I’m giving up hope that we still have the ability to conserve nature. I still think that, given the historic success of conservation practices, and the inherent resilience of nature to persist, we still have the potential to return to a state of “primitive” naturalness. But given the fact that we as a society do not still universally accept, let alone understand, global climate change, I think that right now it is nearly impossible to combat its effects in a purposeful or effective way. Until then, the best we can do is exactly what Kevin says: keep spoon-feeding the babies, and hope for the best.
Finding Mankind's Place and Role in Nature
Kelsey B
Kelsey B
Mar 28, 2010 05:31 PM
It is hard to know what we should manage, fix or change because humans are part of nature, and therefore our influences on the world are part of the natural cycle of life. However, there are a lot of artificial artifacts that further complicate a murky situation. Poaching and over-harvesting are human actions that should be stopped because they are so directly contrary to natural forces. On the other hand, it is possible that it is also unnatural to decide to maintain biological diversity or naturalness. If we decide to spoon feed the auklet chicks, we might be acting against nature, which though we have influenced the pattern of global warming, is ultimately a natural force.
Though conservation needs to occur, it is a very difficult task to accomplish due to the dynamic nature of the universe. It is possible that our goal of preserving biological diversity is actually preventing speciation and greater diversity in the future due to a naïve understanding of our ability to control nature. I think the article’s point about deciding the line between being conservationists and becoming gardeners and zookeepers is crucial for trying to decide how to act.
In order to fully reduce human effects, we must address human actions. This has been done to a certain extent, but more effort needs to be put on changing lifestyles and ways of viewing mankind’s place in nature. Perhaps more effort should be focused on deciding how to measure what influences are unnatural due to human artificial actions, and what is part of the stochaisticity of nature. Though attempts have been made to decide what is natural and what has been changed by society, a more universal, concrete line could help us decide how to protect nature without making it into a zoo. Protecting keystone species might be a good way to conserve nature without completely managing it. As much as I would like to protect all aspects of nature, it is not fiscally or physically possible, so guidelines must be established. To compensate for the drastic effects of humans on global warming, it might be necessary to act as gate keepers and guardians for some time, with the future goal of limiting our involvement.
Seeking a Balance
Nicole V
Nicole V
Mar 28, 2010 06:57 PM
In this article, Smith and Gow have done a good job of outlining the current situation in which wildlife managers find themselves. In order to deal with the effects of climate change, managers must change their pre-existing notions of conservation and preservation. The key to this shift is maintaining a balance between “natural” and “unnatural” preservation while keeping uncertainty in mind.
    While it is our responsibility as humans to protect the wildlife that we are hurting through climate change, we do not want to be caught in the trap of being long-term caregivers. A population in the wild that is not self-supporting and must be given long-term aid indefinitely is not ideal. A management plan that leads to this is resource intensive. In addition, we need not assume that without our interference, a certain population is doomed. An acceptable outcome may be achieved with little interference from humans. A middle ground must be found, a plan that involves support for the population without locking managers into the position of gardeners or zookeepers and that allows the populations to support themselves as much as possible on their own with as little interference from us as possible. It is important for conservationists to establish priorities, that way they can seek to help as much as possible without being bogged down in every small detail.
    The idea of uncertainty about the future is vastly important here. As Smith and Gow point out, we do not know what the effects of climate change will be. It is important for managers to adopt flexible plans, ones that can be altered if the expected effects begin to be misaligned with the actual effects of a changing climate. In the meantime, the most probable situations should be addressed first.
    Despite these difficulties, it is evident that we must do something to help the populations that we are hurting. Our actions have set in motion a shift in climate conditions that threaten to destroy much of the biodiversity on earth, a loss that would be devastating to both the entire earth as we know it and to ourselves as a species.
Leslie M.
Leslie M.
Mar 28, 2010 07:24 PM
It seems that the problem of how to handle species reactions to climate changes will have to be determined on a local scale. Even if overall priorities or goals were created for conserved areas in the United States, it seems that there would be desired exceptions to the overall priorities in each area. There would continually be species that fall outside the priorities that individual organizations would want to act to save, or try to save.

When it comes to my opinions, I’m not sure where I stand. I do believe in letting nature take its course, but I also know that the current global climate changes are not natural, and hence the species that are struggling with the changes would possibly not be in trouble if not for human actions. I also don’t believe that we have the knowledge to successfully transplant whole ecosystems, so I have trouble holding faith with the conservationalists who are in favor of assisted migrations. I also don’t believe that scientists shouldn’t try if they know they can make a difference. It seems that action to aid a species should be taken only if enough information has been gathered about the circumstances to guarantee that action would be successful in some way; although knowledge that thorough seems few and far between.

 And then, I also believe that the natural world can take care of itself to a certain extent, and that without scientific intervention biodiversity will prevail, perhaps not now, but at some point in the future, but much of the current biodiversity may be lost.
Amy P
Amy P
Mar 28, 2010 09:39 PM
Global climate change is enough of a serious and immediate threat that action taken to encourage the survival of certain species seems only reasonable. A completely hands-off approach to ecosystem management would be pretty much impossible at this point; there are so few locations on earth that are truly unaffected by human involvement that stepping away from a national park or another ecosystem that is currently protected or managed in some way would still not remove the influence humans have on it. Anthropogenic forces have tended to have negative environmental impacts, and the human decisions that led to climate change are no different. However, now is the chance to try and mitigate those negative influences. While some may adhere to the strict belief that nature should always be allowed to take its course and that any human involvement is an equally horrible form of unnaturalness, there are certainly differences among the degree to which proposed ideas to protect sequoias and other large, well-known tree species alter nature. Genetic engineering, selective breeding, or the use of herbicides and pesticides to protect sequoias from insects are all expensive and highly invasive and could have serious repercussions that have not even been considered at this point. I think the Nature Conservancy would be taking the right approach with buying land to create corridors for tree migration northward. This action would make it possible for the trees to continue to survive even as their local climate warms but would neither provide too much protection for a species that is no longer evolutionarily fit nor harm other species also trying to adapt to environmental changes. In this case, conservation should involve humans playing a passive role rather than trying to effect change through the use of modern techniques like genetic engineering. Nature probably knows what's best, and a little push in the right direction from humans could help an otherwise hardy species survive a particularly trying and unusual set of circumstances.
Mar 29, 2010 01:09 AM
I don’t want to appear as though I’m dodging the conservation issues at hand, but it is important to stress just how critical it is to combat the -source- of the problems discussed here. With this in mind, the widespread and urgent adoption of established renewables, the extensive research and development of new technologies (like this- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WWUeBSoEnRk&sn or this- http://vimeo.com/8194089), a reduction in consumption, and the introduction of meaningful global climate policies should be at the top of our priority list. By limiting future anthropogenic climate change, we can minimize the associated problems of conservation biology in the long-term. (Similarly, we must continue to alleviate the effects of anthropogenic stressors that are not directly related to climate-change--it may still be easiest and most effective to reduce the overall stress on a species by mitigating stressors like pollution and habitat destruction.)

What to do in the meantime though? I firmly support the widely discussed creation of new reserves and habitat corridors to assist species migration. However, what has not been mentioned is the importance of ranges other than the north-south ones discussed in the article. As noted in the Groom et al. text Principles of Conservation Biology, horizontal ranges from coasts-inland may also be important in facilitating the movement of species threatened by rising sea levels. Similarly, reserves that protect ranges in elevation, should also be considered. With an issue wrought with suchuncertainty, there is a value in Bart's observation that “there is no realistic way in which conserving more land could have a detrimental effect.”

I sincerely hope that efforts to create habitat corridors, combined with additional strategies (like an increase in captive breeding programs and wetland restoration as articulated by Amanda), can preserve levels of bio- and genetic diversity until anthropogenic climate change itself can be slowed. If the underlying problems of climate change are not ultimately addressed, however, I suspect that that the associated conservation issues will be too vast, temporally indefinite, and ancillary to be effectively resolved.
Elizabeth Davis
Elizabeth Davis
Mar 29, 2010 05:47 AM
    Ecosystems are too complex to be governed by one overarching policy; policy should be determined by management decisions made at the local level, on a case by case basis. This does not mean that we should ignore the problem, however, local governments should have incentives to promote cooperation on the larger scale of the potential future range of the species or ecosystem, and some overarching policies should be implemented. North-south and elevational habitat corridors should be developed to allow migration of species, and potentially ecosystems, in response to climate change, but hands-on migration assistance should be considered on an individual basis.
    The evolutionary forces behind our diverse planet will continue to act in response to climate change, even though the climate is changing at an unprecedented rate in response to unprecedented causes. In some cases, assisted migration and other interference may be crucial to conserve species, softening the blow of climate change. However, species should ultimately be self-sufficient, eventually adapting to change and not requiring such intensive care. Provision of habitat corridors, preserves, and intensive intervention are absolutely necessary, but the protection of wild places is hardly protection of the "wild" if the wild is a massive zoo. Thus, the challenge becomes, when do we decide and to what extent do we provide intensive intervention? I'd argue that we must provide assistance until populations are not of immediate conservation concern.
    Climate change is the most critical issue we face today. The impact of humans on the biodiversity of the earth demands our whole-hearted, immediate, and undivided resources and attention.
The Future
Ford Van Fossan
Ford Van Fossan
Mar 29, 2010 06:58 AM
The issue lies in what we desire to accomplish with national parks. If it is indeed to maintain "a vignette of primitive America" than the service must intervene if there is too be any hope of maintaining a historical slice of pre-European ecosystems. However would such intervention even be practical. The article describes many challenges to such attempts, most importantly an flawed underlying assumption of human understanding of natural forces. Those it seem efforts like purposed sprinklers in red wood forests that would turn many of our the parks into museums might not even be feasible. Therefore, it seems likely we will inadvertently choose to instead let current forces run there course. Thus whether or not these forces (climate change in particular) are philosophically natural may not prove significant in the long-term. Because of the myriad of problems in trying to maintain nature in its present form we will likely allow this goal to fade.
Realistic Conservation
Alison H.
Alison H.
Mar 29, 2010 07:45 AM
This article brings up some really tough questions about the future of conservation biology. With climate change becoming an increasingly powerful force in altering ecosystems, the question of what kind of (if any) intervention should take place. Conservation biology aims to preserve the environment in its natural state, but what if the abiotic conditions of that natural state change as a result of human activity? And what if these changes are unlikely to be reversed in the future?

Conservation biology should definitely strive to counteract and prevent the negative effects of human activity on ecosystems. At the same time, it is crucial to look far enough in the future to determine what the long-term benefits of conservation strategies are. In the case of climate change, the long-term benefits of conservation efforts may dwindle as the severity and duration of climate change increases. Therefore, conservation strategies need to be analyzed before being implemented in order to ensure that they are likely to realistically benefit the ecosystem and prevent the negative effects of climate change in the long run. For example, feeding auklet chicks for the rest of time does not seem like a realistic conservation practice. Rather, conservation strategies more similar to the Nature Conservancy's idea of corridors need to be used. While "moving" ecosystems is not ideal, it may be the most realistic solution for maintaining species diversity and the closest sense of the original ecosystem in the long run. While the world has recently begun to put a greater efforts towards preventing climate change, it is not likely that these efforts will pay off quickly enough to prevent unprecedented extinctions and ecosystem changes. It is crucial that sustainable and realistic solutions are found to climate change-induced environmental problems so that we can effectively preserve as much of naturalness and species diversity as possible.
Hedged Bets
Rowan Kelner
Rowan Kelner
Mar 29, 2010 08:24 AM
It seems to me that there are three different choices that we have in the face of climate change each with a varying degree of severity. The first is doing nothing, which is the least intrusive, and seems to follow Leopold's guidelines. However, climate change alters the "vignette of primitive America" that our parks must replicate so resource managers and wildlife conservationists have a duty to act, to preserve America in its primitive form. The real trouble with this issue, in my mind, is not the question of will we continue intervene (I think we always will and always should to some extent), but to what how intrusive should that intervention be? Do we just go from species to species hand feeding them krill so to speak, or do we create huge habitat corridors and uproot other ecosystems to make way for migrating ones? As pathetic as it might seem, I think that Eric Higgs was right in saying the only criteria we really have to meet is for future generations to say "hey, they kind of got this right". We do not have an answer for what is "kind of right" but I think it is important to remember how little we understand both about climate change and how it will influence the environment. Let's not go putting trees on flat bed trucks, instead let us figure out where and how we might replicate some threatened ecosystems further north, while still trying to preserve their current range. A sort of hedged bet on humanity's ability to control their excesses and the temperature of the earth. That way we can look back and say "we tried a measured even handed approach and made contingencies for the most likely eventualities". This is not an earth shattering expectation and some will think it too humble. However, in the face of our ignorance on climate change it is probably the highest standard we can realistically reach.
Attribution of climate change to ecological change
Andrew Piccirillo
Andrew Piccirillo
Mar 29, 2010 05:12 PM
Our ability to attribution of causes to ecological change determines the means taken by conservation efforts. It seems to me this article frequently implies causal relationships are known to be stronger than they actually are. For example:

"The apparent culprit: Ocean currents, redirected by rising sea temperature, have swept out of range the millions of tiny krill that the adult birds scoop into their beaks, chew into purple smelly goo and then spit up for their young. In other words, this unprecedented starvation wave may be a result of global warming."

The relationship to global warming is at best speculation. Modeling actually supports an acceleration of the California Current System in a warming world, which would lead to more nutrients and plankton but there is also more stratification which would lead to less nutrients (Auad 2006). The exact nature of changes are not known. Much of the changes in the California Current System during the last 30 years are attributed to the PDO and ENSO, not climate change (Checkley et al. 2009). Although the article mentions the disastrous breeding seasons of 2005 and 2006, it doesn't mention the recovery in breeding success 2007-2008, or that there was record high breeding success 1999-2003 (McClatchie et al. 2008; Miller et al. 2006).

The article suggests that we may need to intervene in ecosystems acting as gardeners or zookeepers because of climate change. However it doesn't provide conclusive evidence that the changes are occurring because of climate change or that traditional preservation approaches will not be effective. Preserving habitat and removing human influences are likely to greatly improve species tolerance to climate change. In the case of coral reefs most of the decline has been related to pollution and other human disturbance not climate change. In areas of the Pacific and Indian Oceans where human disturbance is much less coral species have survived much better than in the Caribbean where human pollution and other disturbance is much greater. Much of the pine beetle damage (not all) is related to decadal climate indices and not long term warming.

Given the uncertanties in attributing the causes of ecological change, it is prudent to continue with traditional conservation efforts to preserve habitat and minimize human influence. Only in cases where climate change can be definitively shown to cause change should intervention be considered. Even in these cases it may be more effective to maintain ecological integrity and create migration corridors than to spoon feed chicks. The abundance of birds including Auklets on the Fallaron Islands is a result of their protection designation over 40 years ago. Intervention should be approached with the utmost care and only utilized when extinction(s) are imminent or widespread preventable economic loss is occurring, and humans are the demonstrated cause of the change.

The more the merrier
Mar 30, 2010 10:45 AM
Since taking a completely naturalistic approach is projected to lead to extinction, it seems obvious that doing nothing to save the aukrets is unreasonable. The truest testable reflection of a species value, however, is in its removal. Moreover, we must also keep in mind that a major goal of conservation biology is to maintain ecosystem health, or the ability to sustain itself over a period of time. Such a dependency of the aukret population, or any endangered species, on conservationist action will likely lead to more dead-end roads; realistically speaking, there are simply not enough environmentalists to support them all. On the other hand, maintenance of projects advocated by Smith and Gow comes at a high monetary cost. And in the midst of an economic crisis, decisions on financial allocations are even moreso focused on human benefit, putting conservationist goals on the Wall Street back burners. Regardless, determining conservation strategies in the context of human culture is essential for coinciding with the goals of conservation to provide a more realistic framework for addressing the presented issues.

One thing I noted while reading this article is that the disputed strategies in this article confront conservation issues with an absolute polarization, which, in my opinion, greatly restricts our understanding of natural processes. The complexities of ecosystem structure and function extend far beyond a simple black and white definition, such that applying said tactics in attempt to fix the underlying problem is unrealistic. In other words, we must learn to apply the synthetic and holistic elements of conservation biology in order to learn as much as possible about the environment under the constant time crunch. In the case of the aukrets, for example, perhaps a more creative and balanced approach needs to be taken, applying several strategies as opposed to one. Who’s to say that environmentalists only have two options anyway?

Therefore, I propose a mere compromise of the two opposing scenarios, applying several conservation techniques: to remove, add, and not act as simultaneous measures. Rather than choosing one strategy over the other, we can hopefully save the aukrets from extinction under a limited amount of time, while learning more about its role as a component of nature.
Andrew Piccirillo
Andrew Piccirillo
Mar 30, 2010 07:27 PM
I just wanted to point out that Cassin's Auklet is not actually projected to go extinct. There are between 2.5 and 5 million individuals living, and the population trend is not known but may be decreasing slightly. It is listed as Least Concern by the IUCN. While the Fallaron Island population did experience a crash in 2005 and 2006, its breeding success has shown a lot of variation over the last 30 years and they are projected to potentially recover if the PDO goes negative the next 30 years.
Andrew Piccirillo
Andrew Piccirillo
Mar 30, 2010 07:28 PM
I just wanted to point out that Cassin's Auklet is not actually projected to go extinct. There are between 2.5 and 5 million individuals living, and the population trend is not known but may be decreasing slightly. It is listed as Least Concern by the IUCN. While the Fallaron Island population did experience a crash in 2005 and 2006, its breeding success has shown a lot of variation over the last 30 years and they are projected to potentially recover if the PDO goes negative the next 30 years.
Middle Ground
Janet Bering
Janet Bering
Jan 10, 2011 09:56 AM
One of the central tenants of conservation and environmental policy is the precautionary principle, stating that action needs to be taken to ensure against environmental destruction, even in the face of lacking information. Therefore in this current situation a middle ground needs to be found in between total environmental intervention and a hands off preservationist approach. Creating migration pathways to accommodate changing species ranges without actually replanting species would anticipate the climate change without preempting environmental processes. Even if the species do not migrate in the way predicted, more conserved land will be beneficial. Since we do not fully understand the ways ecosystems operate, we should not try to recreate them on a large scale, just give them space to change and adapt in response to pressures.
Response for Biol392
Alyssa Kronen
Alyssa Kronen
Jan 12, 2011 09:43 AM
This article highlights an important, and often subtle, component of conservation biology- the goal. If the aim is to maintain biological diversity, then going to extreme measures to protect endangered or declining species in the face of climate change is perhaps more justified. However, if we mean to conserve biological integrity and ecosystem functioning and interactions, manipulating systems and attempting to forcefully induce migration is unlikely to have successful outcomes. Similarly, if we believe that the naturalness, or the independence of ecological landscapes from human influence, is most important, efforts to "save" nature are futile. While the fact that climate change is at least in part induced by human action clouds the concept of "naturalness," that is not to say that nature is otherwise stable and at equilibrium. Paleoecological evidence shows that climates and their communities have been drastically altered throughout history without the help of anthropogenic forces. Furthermore, attempting to combat the damages predicted by climate change by applying costly, often blind, measures to ecological systems is both dangerous and ineffective, treating only the effect. The fact is that resources might better be directed towards the cause of climate change- increases in greenhouse gases- in which extensive research has been done and in which the outlook may be more promising. In the meantime, I am not saying we should do absolutely nothing. Creating large north-south reserves would not only provide for species migration in the future but also is important to conservation efforts in the present. For example, it would reduce fragmentation of habitat- another threat to biological diversity and integrity that has been affecting ecosystems ever since the introduction of humans to the environment. Furthermore, attention to rare or at-risk species independent of cause has always been a conservation priority. Nevertheless, one point that future studies should converge on is the effectiveness and practicability of trying to protect species that, in the warmer climate of the predicted future, would not otherwise exist.
"The character of public wildlands will be drastically - and permanently - altered."
Avery Shawler
Avery Shawler
Jan 17, 2011 03:13 PM
This article describes one of the biggest challenges of our environment today. Combining the issue of global warming with the loss of species diversity brings everything to a new level that we are not prepared to face. It is difficult already to solve these issues separately.

I believe one of the biggest disputes has to do with people’s differing conservation goals. Some want to preserve the naturalness of the ecosystem, whereas others want to preserve species diversity. This is where most of the conflict comes in. It is difficult to decide what is more important, since defining naturalness and diversity is not so clear-cut anymore. Climate change is changing our ecosystems and our definition of natural.

The hands-off conservation approach is something that is not applicable to today’s environmental crisis and certainly not an option. But aggressive intervention is not the answer either. Honestly I don’t see forced migrations or installing sprinkler systems around California’s giant sequoias as something that is feasible, or worth funding. But something needs to be done. It would be ideal if we could treat the causes of global warming, but there is a lag between our actions as humans and the consequences of our actions, so something must be done during this in-between time. Besides we already have enough difficulty getting legislation to curb global warming to pass. We must simultaneously push for climate change legislation to go through and figure out how to conserve environments and species affected by climate change. A challenge that people face when it comes to planning on how to conserve is that we’re dealing with a lot of uncertainty. Climate change is unpredictable, so it is difficult to decide what to plan for. That’s why we should probably stick to smaller-scale interventions like providing biological corridors for migrating animals, instead of some of the large-scale suggestions stated in the article.
We live in a changing world
Luke Elder
Luke Elder
Jan 17, 2011 06:45 PM
As noted in the beginning of the article, I believe that it would be both unnatural and unscientific to interfere with the course nature is taking due to climate change. I think that the question of either acting to rescue climate-imperiled species or watching them disappear leaves no option for a third choice- one in which we let species change their current habitats and adapt to the way the climate is fundamentally changing. While global warming means that the planet as we now know it is changing, it does not mean that all species will soon be extinct. In fact, we cannot say with any certainty what will happen to any species. Because there is such ambiguity surrounding what specific effects global warming will have, basing conservation efforts on what we expect to happen may make things worse.
Despite all these reasons, my main argument for not intervening is because the type of intervention necessary would be counterintuitive to the goal of conservation, to preserve naturalness. Because the climate is fundamentally changing, trying to keep natural order as we see it today would involve artificial infrastructure and permanent care. The article cites the examples of installing sprinkler systems around the great sequoias or feeding auklet chicks indefinitely, neither of which seem to me to be “natural” occurrences. The article also brings up altering the genetic make-up of certain tree species to better tolerate changes in climate, which seem like a more appropriate response because it does not require indefinite human support, but is still antithetical to the notion of preserving naturalness.

The landscape that we see today is different than the landscape that we saw 100 years ago, 1,000 years ago, and 1,000,000 years ago. Instead of attempting to keep nature in the state that we arbitrarily decided was its “original” state, I think we should accept that the planet is growing hotter and work towards conservation and preservation in a dynamic, fluctuating world.
Anthropogenic Climate Change
Gillian Lui
Gillian Lui
Jan 22, 2011 01:12 PM
In my opinion, it is the duty of conservation biologists to not only study and better understand life on earth, but to further ensure that life on earth is conserved. To do nothing in the face of dying Cassin’s auklet fledglings and drying California giant sequoias, especially when these detrimental effects have been augmented specifically by accelerating rates of anthropogenic climate change, would be callous. Yes, climate change is a “natural” phenomena, but it is progressing now at unnatural rates largely because of humankind; we have long been "messing" with the so-called natural course of Mother Nature by increasing atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases, among other activities. So, shouldn’t we be doing *something* to help the poor ecosystems that we’ve contributed in large part to destroying, because isn’t a lot of this technically our fault?

I am a strong proponent of ecosystem health and integrity, and cannot bear to see ecosystems reach a point where they cannot function to support the processes and species that occur and live within them, especially if this failing health can be traced to anthropogenic causes. This is what seems to be the case on the Farallon Islands, and so I would strongly support some form of conservation efforts in the area.

And although I could not say what specific conservation measures need to be taken in the Farallon Islands, let alone in our approach to nature preserves in general, perhaps another way in which we need to approach this issue is through targeting the very source of all of these problems -- anthropogenic climate change itself. What we need now is to focus our attempts on mitigating its unnatural progression through investments in clean, renewable energies and environmental education.
Uncomfortable Change in Traditional Conservation Practices
Sam Beguin
Sam Beguin
Jan 24, 2011 06:23 PM
The human notion of permanence is one concept that seems to come forth in this article. While no modern day conservationist would agree that natural landscapes or ecosystem processes remain the same, historical nature reserve development in the U.S. seems to indicate a potentially unrealistic desire: to set aside “Monuments” and “Sanctuaries” where nature will be able to flourish in its own time and place.These two terms reflect the durability and strength that we like to associate with some of our most revered National Park lands.By delineating conserved land boundaries, agencies have hoped to physically and psychologically clarify that some areas in the U.S. will remain natural and relatively free from human influences. For better or for worse, however, nature knows no boundaries.

In the 21st century, it is clear that neither natural processes nor human impacts can be confined to the areas that we define. As Smith and Gow discuss in the article above, we have entered an era where our principles of environmental stewardship and our “let-it-be” practices are falling apart in the face of anthropogenic climate change. Conservation biology, a ‘crisis discipline’ centered on the preservation of the earth’s biological diversity (see Michael Soulé, 1985), is now challenged by crises that may be proceeding at rates too rapid for us to address. We humans must develop strategies to deal with broad-scale changes, which we have never been eager to embrace. With such daunting prospects of change, it is quite normal for us to fall back on the non-interventional conservation management dogma of the past.

I believe, however, that the argument for non-intervention – designating natural reserves that are then left to ‘natural’ processes regardless of changing climatic conditions – does not match our nation’s fundamental conservation goals. If we truly aim to preserve areas where native species and ecosystems may continue to function as they have in the past, we must be willing to change our traditional natural reserve design policies. As Malcolm Hunter et al. (1988) showed, we have known for a long time based on paleoecological and fossil records that the geographical ranges of species have shifted due to changes in climate. In other words, we have been able to see that no natural community has a truly permanent range or set of characterizes. Along this line of thought, I argue that developing flexible reserves that allow for community range expansion due to climate change is the only way that we can have any hope of preserving the natural communities that have historically graced our National Park lands.

In my opinion, making the risky (and potentially rash) choice to initiate management programs such as assisted species migration or the shifting of National Park boundaries is one of the only options that offers realistic prospects of survival for the species and natural communities that we decided to protect decades ago. This is not to say that new strategies should proceed without caution. The examples of interventional methods (genetic engineering, sequoia sprinklers) presented in the article above seem to miss the mark somewhat in that they suggest that future strategies to conserve biological diversity will be based mainly on species-level management approaches. These examples fail to give credit to the ecosystem and landscape-level conservation approaches that take into account broad spatial and temporal scales, and often include adaptive management and monitoring as critical parts of the process.
Overall, management efforts based on these broader-scale approaches can address shifting community ranges, long-term implications for ecological health, and socioeconomic concerns associated with climate change. While we can no longer retain our desire for nature reserves to be permanent sanctuaries, there is hope that we may be able to develop new ‘dynamic’ reserve systems. If our commitment to the preserve biological diversity and ecological health while remaining flexible and open-minded is what remains permanent in the face of future challenges is, then we may succeed.

Hunter, M. L., Jr., G. L. Jacobson, Jr., and T. Webb, III. 1988. Paleoecology and the coarse-filter approach to maintaining biological diversity. Conservation Biology 2: 375-385.

Soulé, M.E. 1985. What is conservation biology? BioScience 35: 727-734.
Natural vs. Unnatural Climate Change
Jess P
Jess P
Jan 25, 2011 09:32 AM
Multiple ecosystems will drastically change as the global temperature increases. Entire species will be lost or will begin to inhabit different ecosystems (which will interrupt current ecosystem dynamics). The question becomes, should we intervene as climate change alters the biodiversity of multiple habitats?
The ultimate goal of conservation biology is to maintain the world’s rich biodiversity. However, trying to maintain the existence of numerous species during periods of irreversible climate change remains a daunting task. Our world has experienced different climates, which were triggered by natural fluctuations in temperature. Different species and habitats were associated with each different climate period. However, today, human interactions with the environment have augmented and increased the rate of natural climate change. I consider previous climate changes part of the Earth’s natural cycle. On the other hand, today’s climate change is unnatural because our influences impacted its consequences. Therefore, I feel it is important to attempt to maintain the decreasing biodiversity, because in my eyes, this alteration in biodiversity is not “natural”.

I feel we need to evaluate what species have a chance of surviving in different environments. We should not put all of our conservation efforts into a species that will only grow in a certain region or in conjunction with another species. We should preserve the forms of biodiversity that will be resilient to different environmental conditions. Non-native and invasive species prove that this is possible. Several non-native species have successfully established themselves in multiple environments.
To assist or not to assist?
Jan 25, 2011 07:54 PM
Like many of those interviewed above, my gut reaction when talking about significant human intervention into natural ecosystems tends to be pretty negative. I have trouble justifying going in and deliberately altering a given ecosystem when we do not even come close to understanding the complex relationships between all of the species and abiotic factors at work. As E.O. Wilson once pointed out, we know more about the surface of the moon than we do about life on earth; interfering in systems that we do not fully understand is chancy at best. Given the fact that we also do not know exactly how global shifts in temperature and moisture patterns will affect communities, we cannot know for certain whether even well-understood systems will respond in expected ways when the abiotic factors upon which they depend will not remain constant.

However, as pointed out above, simply sitting back and doing nothing in the face of mass extinction is also an extremely uncomfortable option. Assisted migrations that involve physical transport of selected species do not appeal to me for various reasons: for one thing, we're choosing the species that we transport. As humans, we tend to gravitate towards large, charismatic vertebrates--if we were to focus on those species (which would undoubtedly be where the funding would go), we would be transporting a very lopsided selection of the ecosystem. As a result, many of the other species that the selected species rely on (whether we understand the relationships or not)would be left behind--making it very difficult for the chosen species to persist. Human-selected migration also derails the process of natural selection, decreasing the viability of the transplanted population. The idea of establishing corridors of protected landscape to allow for species to migrate to more favorable conditions to me is a relatively more comfortable notion even in the light of the drawbacks outlined in this article. Migratory corridors allow species to migrate in their own time and pattern, and allow strongly codependent species to migrate together. Natural selection would have a better chance of acting on the populations, as individuals better adapted to migrating with their preferred habitat conditions would contribute more to the next generation. Without these corridors, however, highly disturbed regions might prevent any migration from occurring at all, resulting in a much greater loss in biodiversity than making a risky attempt at intervention.
Should we give up?
Julia Gulka
Julia Gulka
Jan 25, 2011 08:00 PM
Global climate change is proving to be the greatest challenge to conservation biology for too many reasons than can be listed. The biggest problem is uncertainty. The absence of data, facts, and knowledge about the future is what makes planning and managing for the future so difficult. As scientists, we like to model, predict, and plan, but global warming and its subsequent problems do not allow for us to do so. Future changes will be unprecedented and the state of nature will be that which we have never encountered. So how do we manage a system that we know little to nothing about? Just because we have yet to find the cure for cancer, does that mean we stop looking and stop treating patients?

The idea of letting nature take its course would be applicable only if humans had not played such a large role in the problem. Anthropogenic causes are what are driving sea levels to rise and species ranges to shift, so how can we say we are going to sit back and do nothing? Doing nothing would be going against the idea of conservation since it was first created. Why try to recover damaged habitats or restore populations of endangered species if that is just ‘nature’ taking its course? Giving up would be saying that all of the damage that humans are doing to the environment worldwide is acceptable and can continue.

Regardless of whether the goal is biological diversity, naturalness, biotic integrity, or ecological health, all require that we continue to work to find ways in which we can preserve the current species, communities, ecosystems, landscapes, and biomes. However, we do need to come to terms with the idea that we cannot save every species and system, or even close to that. We need to accept that the landscape will change in the future, that we will need to redefine terms like ‘exotic species’ and ‘ecosystem health’. Conservation priorities will need to be established. We need to be realistic in determining management goals in the future and applying strategies to uncertainty. It is important to be aware that we are essentially applying Band-Aids to bullet wounds. But maybe, just maybe, if we put enough of them on the wound, it will stop the bleeding. Also, its equally if not more important that we stop carrying guns.
Only so much we can do
Travis Stoll
Travis Stoll
Jan 26, 2011 02:22 PM
Realistically speaking, how could we accomplish these management goals? The time and resources required to preserve natural communities where and how they are currently would be impossible. We talk about how our efforts today are restricted by available funds, so how can we expect to preserve a landscape that is several orders of magnitude larger? The other problem we run into is private land. Even if we could manage governmental lands and maintain them in their current state, it would be much harder to do on private lands. This would eventually lead to different landscapes adjacent to each other and influencing each other, which would compound the difficulties faced by managers. One effective strategy would be to try and guide the changes caused by global warming, rather than fight them directly, since there really is little we can do to stop them. Feeding auklet chicks indefinitely isn't practical, it would be easier to relocate as many of the species as possible to a more suitable habitat, solving the problem in one move. Removing species to prepare a habitat for migration is the extreme example, and might not be required. Global warming is a gradual process and species adjust their ranges; we're seeing it now. If we observe the natural process, and help facilitate it when required, then hopefully the majority of species will adjust their ranges accordingly and we can minimize the damage caused by global warming.
Giving Up; Or Knowing When You Are Beat?
Jan 26, 2011 04:16 PM
There's a line in a Cormac McCarthy novel I really like - it goes something like this: "There's a difference between giving up and knowing when you are beat." Land managers and conservationists have had their collective thumb in the dyke for years; but the size of the hole and (hence) the flow have increased to a point beyond anybody's capacity to stop or significantly alter it anymore. Global climate change is no longer something off in the nebulous future; it's here. Now! We are living with it and it will only get more interesting. If we stop burning all fossil fuels tomorrow (something that clearly is not going to happen), we will still be dealing with the effects of climate change for hundreds of years to come.

I don't advocate giving up. Hopelessness is not something I care to choose. But I do think that we need to realize that changes are going to come rapidly (realtively speaking) and it is unrealistic to think that even big-brained mammals will be able to keep up with Mother Nature on a tear. You've all heard the saying that what goes around comes around? Well, this is where it comes around. Hold on tight.
Do or Die
Wenbo Zhang
Wenbo Zhang
Jan 27, 2011 05:34 AM
Just because we lack information on how to preserve nature in the current climate, does that mean we should stand by and watch as the species go extinct?
As climate change occurs, the traditional ecological reserves may not be as effective in preventing species extinction. The natural migration paths the species may travel when their old habitats become inhospitable are now blocked off my human development. While humans can mimic a natural condition, we cannot really offer the species a truly "natural" environment where their migrations would not be obstructed.
Therefore, not only do we need to carve out new plans for these migration paths, we are also responsible for facilitating their migrations. If we don't have adequate knowledge on this subject, then we should try and find out. Modelling, experimentation... there are many ways scientists can use to project the future migration trends of the species.
Just like humans would move to cooler places when they feel too warm, animals would do so as well. This is a part of nature. However, our development has killed this part of nature and now its our responsibility to get it back. Animals can be moved by creating stretches of preserved land between their old habitats and their possible new habitats. Plants can also be moved to better-suited habitats simply by reducing human stress on the edge of the forest. If all of the above measures fail, facilitation should be considered.
Additional comment
Wenbo Zhang
Wenbo Zhang
Jan 27, 2011 10:08 AM
I just want to add that by facilitation, I mean manually transporting the animals from one place to another. Nevertheless, if the animals fail to survive/ refuse to migrate even with all the new corridors and reserves established, there will not be much humans can do.
What is natural? Humans have been altering the environment for millions of years, and what we now consider as "natural" is really just an arbitrary definition. This definition has to change, when the world is changing. Climate change is human-induced and the natural environment becomes "unnatural" because of the effects of climate change. Therefore, old ideas of "exotic species" and "natural habitat" no longer apply to the new situation at hand.
Let us be as responsive to changes as the rest of the world.
Providing nature with the right tools
Santiago Zindel
Santiago Zindel
Jan 27, 2011 08:42 AM
        The two choices presented in this article seem to imply that there is no in between to our conservation efforts. Why must we either see species perish or have species become completely dependent on human aid? As I see it, we can help struggling species get back on their feet yet still keep our distance and conserve naturalness.
    The hands-off approach should continue to be used with the understanding that in some cases we must intervene to save some species. We should not physically move species to habitats we think would be more fitting but instead our conservation efforts should concentrate on giving the population the tools it needs to survive on its own. We could do this by providing protected areas and access corridors and by removing any unnatural blockages that inhibit the movement of plants and animals.
        On that note, once the animals do succeed in finding new habitats that will save them from the climate change, they should not be considered exotic simply because the reason for their migration was climate change which was human caused. These species are migrating to try to adapt to new conditions just like species have done for millions of years and that is a natural phenomenon. the idea of conserving plants and animals as they were before Europeans came is foolish and goes against the goal of naturalness. Nature changes and trying to conserve it as it was at once specific point in time will be fruitless. We should try to stop negatively affecting the course of nature not reversing what has already happened.
        If the only way to save a population from extinction is to supplement it in some way, we should most definitely help it as long as we expect the population to survive in the long-term but a strategy that provides no long-term solution is of no value. It is not economically feasible nor in any way advantageous to keep a population of auklets alive if they won’t ever be able to survive by themselves. Lets face the consequences of our actions letting the world follow its own course to balance and aiding it by providing the right conditions for adaptation and survival.
stem the tides...artificially!
austin ritter
austin ritter
Jan 27, 2011 03:16 PM
This article really hit close to home. I spent one summer working for the Fish and Wildlife Service monitoring Salt marsh sharp-tailed sparrow populations. Salt marsh sparrows have an unfortunate nesting strategy: they nest right on the line between the high marsh and low marsh habitats. High marsh habitats are flooded about once a month during the highest points in the tidal cycle. The females, therefore, have less than 30 days to successfully hatch and fledge their chicks or else the chicks will drown. As sea levels rise, it is predicted that greater amounts of marsh area will be flooded more frequently—salt marsh sparrow habitat will disappear.

I applaud the central thesis of the article: in the face of anthropogenic global warming wildlife managers should focus less on naturalness and more on preserving biodiversity and/or ecosystem health. Science does not dictate that wildlife managers need to watch thousands of these salt marsh sparrows drown—science is ambivalent on such normative affairs. If we intrinsically value salt marsh sparrows then lets stem the tides that are causing their extinction--literally, we should stem tides by artificially constructing diked salt marshes with reduced flooding frequencies.

My only caveat: solutions should aim to be cost effective. Cost effectiveness should also account for risk and uncertainty. In my opinion the most cost effective management strategies will be those that are landscape scale. For example, rather than artificially constructing diked marshes, some have suggested salt marsh sparrows might be saved from rising sea levels by elevating their nests off of the ground during flooding periods. Well first of all, speaking from experience, it is damn hard to find one of their nests (3 in a day = my record high!). Second of all, what about all the other species that nest on the marsh, surely they will be affected by the rising sea levels. Landscape scale conservation requires a higher down payment, but in the long run it is more cost effective in the face of climate change--the earlier we act the better.
...fairly unrelated, but if anyones looking for a job haha
austin ritter
austin ritter
Jan 27, 2011 03:26 PM
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Preservation of nature despite unnatural changes
A. Borah
A. Borah
Jan 27, 2011 09:30 PM
    “Do we rush to rescue climate-imperiled species before it's too late? Or do we let nature take its course, quietly watching the disappearance of species that we have spent decades restoring and protecting?” The authors would have you believe that saving species and letting nature take its course stand at odds with one another. The central goals of conservation biology should not bifurcate the field into those who advocate naturalness and those who advocate biodiversity. The concern should not be “Unnatural Preservation” as the title may suggest, but preservation of nature despite unnatural changes.
    Conservation biology is a unique discipline in that it incorporates ethical principles into a crisis-oriented field of science. Because of these ethical axioms, we must not stand witness to a crime of mass extinction without taking action. We cannot play bystanders to a permanently altering landscape, disappearing inhabitants, and depleting ecosystem functions. Increased beetle infestations, coral reef bleaching, drought, wildfire, flooding, spread of invasives, deforestation, change in migration patterns, and water salinization- this is not nature. This is human destruction. Conservation intervention balances (or at least, attempts to ameliorate) these impacts.
    I do not think conservation management stands counter to the ethic of “natural preservation.” In fact, I contend that it is central to this value. The conservation ethic and naturalness value does NOT change. We no longer live in a “natural” world, to be sure. But to save species from extinction is neither “unnatural” nor “unscientific,” but moreover, our duty to nature. In this way, the goal is the same. The implementation, however, is different. Conservation biologists can continue to promote goal of naturalness in concert with the preservation of biological diversity.
    “Do we rush to rescue climate-imperiled species before it's too late? Or do we let nature take its course, quietly watching the disappearance of species that we have spent decades restoring and protecting?” We should indeed let nature take its course. Unfortunately, humans have already dramatically disrupted this course through anthropogenic climate change. To facilitate naturalness then, we must combat our own actions by facilitating adaptation and addressing the drivers of global warming. Bureaucrats, biologists, environmentalists, and rangers must not be apathetic under the paralyzed guise of laissez-faire “naturalness” but instead must assume a hands-on approach given the climate. “Let it be” means letting nature be, not letting human destruction be. We need to focus efforts on assisted migration by securing corridors for species whose habitat is threatened. "What we're talking about is an order of intrusion greater than anything we've done in the past." The greatest intrusion on nature is not by ecologists and conservationists.
    “Or they can decide to continue to use the traditional hands-off approach - and thereby allow millennia-old ecosystems to die off and be replaced in ways that would never have happened naturally, if not for global warming.” Since when in our historical tradition have we used the “hands-off” approach? The author writes of “cowboy biology” of the past- adding bison when bison were desired. I do not think the legacy of land use is hands-off but contend that humans have historically managed for economic and social gain: timber, fishing, game, and tourism. I’m not arguing for continued land degradation but rather indicating that actively promoting biodiversity is consistent with a “hands-on” relationship between humans and their surroundings.
Mass facilitated igration seems like an unlikely solution
Terra Weiland
Terra Weiland
Jan 28, 2011 04:57 AM
Given the simple choice between fundamentally altering species’ ranges and ecosystems or watching a significant amount of them die off, an obvious gut response is to do everything possible to protect biological diversity, even at the cost of naturalness. However, is that even feasible? Economically mass migration seems impossible, especially when so much of the funds will be needed to address climate change directly and work towards a sustainable future , not its after effects on species. Also, if climate change is not addressed and continues to change, will another mass migration be necessary? Then there’s the possibility that facilitated migration could cause even more damage. Though conservation biologists often have to make life and death choices with little data, there is even less understanding of fundamental information in scenarios involving climate change. I am uncomfortable making such an extreme decision when so little is known and the solution is incredibly expensive. A mass migration should only be a last resort and we are not quite there yet. In the meantime, biologists should do everything they can to prevent extinctions and study what is happening around them.
Is it worth the risk?
Jesse Miller
Jesse Miller
Jan 28, 2011 06:44 AM
What is worse, losing one species or possibly losing an entire ecosystem because of the risks associated with the introduction of the exotic species? In fifty years or so we may not need to make the choice. Instead we will no longer have either option to choose from. As a result of global warming the ecosystems that we were so afraid of disrupting may no longer exist and the species that we could have saved may be long extinct.
While conservationists struggle with the idea of assisted management since it inherently goes against Leopold's naturalness statement, they must recognize that just as much as nature is a dynamic force so to must the ideology surrounding it be dynamic. They must be open to change. However, while I am suggesting the use of assisted migration as a management tool I am not suggesting that large African mammals, for example, be translocated into the American Midwest prairies. Instead I suggest using assisted management to facilitate movement that either could occur naturally but won't due to time restraints, and to remove barriers (whether natural or man made). This would undue the harm that humans have caused fragmenting the landscape by aiding in the movement of individuals over barriers that are man induced. We should transport plant seeds that could establish themselves but won't be able to reach a new habitat and thrive before the climate changes. We need to be proactive or we lose all of our options.
Lack of data, Lack of Certainty
Joel Feier
Joel Feier
Jan 28, 2011 09:19 AM
My gut reaction to this article was to say, "give up, let nature take its course." While this philosophy is admittedly fatalistic, the lack of current data that could be used to inform conservation action is nothing short of frightening.How can well informed decisions be made in the absence of reliable and conclusive data?

The answer is a complex one, and I'm not sure that I've deviated far from my initial reaction.Ecosystems have a rich history of being dynamic, and are temporary residents of the physical landscape (Hunter et al. 1988). In an ideal world, I would support the construction of corridors to facilitate the movement of ecosystems, but I fear the sociopolitical climate just won't support such intensive intervention. How will we change social climate regarding conservation when it has taken us so long to convince the public of the validity of current strategies?

Perhaps a strong push for more research is the first step. We should NOT intervene when the implications of our action are not fully understood. We simply need more funds, more data, and more certainty. Without these we could easily exacerbate the problem.

I do think that conservation effort should be made, but we should wait. Until good data helps us better understand the effects of global warming, intellectual speculation will continue to brew. The hope is that we will be able to make a well informed conservation decision, and not take a slip-shod approach spurred by hype. More data means more knowledge, and knowledge will inform the extent to which our intervention should play a role.

Facilitating Adaptations
Lindsay Becker
Lindsay Becker
Jan 28, 2011 12:14 PM

The global climate change, as discussed in this article, is a present and impending threat to the ecosystems around the world. While it is alarming to see the state of natural ecosystems changing and degrading before our eyes, the options for altering the climate change seem to be limited. Ideally, humans could mend the damages we’ve caused in creating global warming, and therefore eliminate the degradation of ecosystems as a whole. Although the world is making steps towards reducing its causes of climate change, it is nowhere close to eliminating its impact completely. Evidence has shown that the world and the ecosystems within it have been changing for millions of years, even without anthropogenic contributors. Drastic changes in ecosystems have happened before, and the world has adapted and evolved. Because humans are the main cause of the upcoming change, I think we have become more invested and concerned about it. Conserving every threatened species in the world would be impossible given the limitations of time, resources, and money, but we do need to take some action.
    I think we need to focus on lessening our impacts of global warming and do everything in our power to facilitate the adaptations of threatened ecosystems to the climate changes. This may include creating more linkages or corridors within populations to allow them to migrate and adapt to their changing conditions. Diminishing human impacts on global warming will be a long-term effort, so we need to take smaller actions to help the ecosystems adjust to the new climate. Our effects on the planet can never be fully removed, so we need to facilitate the evolution and adaptations of ecosystems to prevent them from diminishing completely.
Obligation to try
Max Odland
Max Odland
Jan 28, 2011 02:41 PM
    This article highlights one of the major challenges of conservation today: unspoken assumptions about the purpose of conservation. Preserving naturalness, allowing nature to take its own course in its own time, is a very important goal and one that it seems the park service is persistently engaged in. However, There is a philosophical hole in the argument that the park service should ‘just sit back and let species go extinct.’ Anthropogenic climate change basically throws the concept of naturalness on its head. We are fundamentally changing countless ecosystems, and none of them will be ‘natural’ in a purist sense afterward. The only way to allow nature to exist in its own way in its own time would be to reverse climate change now and then leave the auklets and sequoias to fend for themselves. As this seems unlikely to happen in the immediate future, I think it is time to reassess some of our conservation priorities.
    I believe that we do have an obligation to assist the species that we harming through climate change. To not do so would be an affront to our goal of preserving biological diversity. But we can’t spoon feed every single one. It is infeasible and it undermines two other important goals of conservation, biological integrity and ecosystem health. If we indefinitely support ecosystems and species that cannot persist on their own in their own habitats, we may have to start looking for ways to assist their migration to new, more suitable areas. Be it through large corridors, assisted migration, or some combination of the two, we have an obligation to give these species a fighting chance at survival.
    It will take some hard choices, yes. And of course decisions should be made on a case-by-case basis, we have to admit that we have already interfered in the survival of many, many ecosystems and species. Now it is time to make up for what humans have wrought as best we can figure out how.

Hard questions hard decisions
Carson Cornbrooks
Carson Cornbrooks
Jan 28, 2011 07:47 PM
Yikes. This article presented a debate I have heard so many times – how to alleviate the effects of climate change on ecosystems – at a scale beyond anything I had imagined. I think the debate over our responsibility for the disasters caused by climate change was easier a few years ago when evidence was growing but so many still denied it. It gave people peace of mind, I can ignore it if I want, because there’s still that chance it isn’t true. I think we are past that point now, and I am glad to see focus shifting to the question of what to actually do. I am all for taking responsibility for our actions and doing something to help nature rebound from changing climate, but this article disheartened me. There’s a difference between moving some species, protecting some species, and moving entire ecosystems northwards. I liked the paragraph that sarcastically suggested we buy a bunch of flatbeds and move our plant systems north – the complexity of ecosystems makes this almost impossible. The authors are right- what would we do about the microorganisms and the butterflies?
The idea that we let nature take its course is so appealing to me in many ways. So many things are our of our hands, and all those little things add up to make it a loosing situation to try to preserve nature, and also a let it work it out for itself. Why not just let it be, right? We’ll see some crazy new ecosystems, they may be ugly and recognizable but over time- a lot of time- they will be healthy again, right? But no this would be too easy. We can’t just sit on our butts and watch it, gathering data and marveling at how bad things are going.
The thing that kills me is that we really just can’t know what will happen. We gather data on plants and climate and soil and grizzlies and we think if we just gather a little more we might be able to do something about it but that’s just playing the waiting game. From what I took out of this class I would say that the best thing to do is to preserve. Keep as much natural land as we have now and let a lot of altered land be reclaimed, in some capacity, by wild things. The more we don’t touch, the better off we are until we can figure out this complex system. Lets prioritize, get together and figure out what the best places are to save, and start there. Its better than watching the show.