Building resilience for food security in a changing climate
May23

Building resilience for food security in a changing climate

Climate change is bringing hotter temperatures, changing rainfall patterns, and more frequent natural disasters that could reduce global food production by 2 percent each decade for the rest of the century according to a report from The Chicago Council on Advancing Global Food Security in the Face of a Changing Climate (pdf). “Instead of treating climate change and food security as separate problems—we need to tackle these as one problem,” said USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah in a keynote address to Chicago Council’s Global Food Security Symposium 2014, convened to discuss the report on May 22 in Washington, D.C. More than 500 policymakers, corporate executives, scientists, and senior leaders from international and nongovernmental organizations gathered to discuss the report. U.S. National Security Advisor Susan E. Rice, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, and USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah delivered keynote addresses. Through tout the day, a diverse group of panelist shed light on their varying responses to climate change. There was no debate that effects climate change are happening now, but rather how people, businesses and governments are managing the effects. “Managing the risk of weather volatility is something we are thinking about a lot,” said panelist Patrick O’Toole, head of the Family Farm Alliance, and a 4th generation cattle and sheep rancher in the Little Snake River Valley on the Wyoming-Colorado border. “Three years ago we had the wettest year in our history with 350% of our normal snow pack and the next year was the driest year in the 130 years since my family has been working the ranch. This year, the rains came early, which we glad about, and we sheered our lambs. Then it snowed, and we lost 150 lambs in one night. So now, we are building a lambing shed.” Mr. O’Toole lives in a dynamic conservation district that brings together a wide-range of partners: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Trout Unlimited, local governments, businesses and residents. Managing water volatility caused by “white years” with storms and floods and “dry years” with drought is a top priority for the district. He noted that rather than holding a debate about the policy of climate change, “Local communities respond and buy in when asked, ‘How can we build vibrant systems using a resilient, holistic approach to our watershed management?’  Planning for weather volatility is par for the course now. We are in the middle of climate change now.” The report is broken down into four key recommendations calling for global food security to be a priority for U.S. economic and foreign policy. It also calls on the U.S. government to increase funding for climate research, adaptation and mitigation. “History...

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Nature, truth & reconcilliation
Jan21

Nature, truth & reconcilliation

“Can we expand Mandela’s vision of reconciliation to our own planet, to offer ourselves a shot at redemption from Nature, just as he offered his oppressors?”

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Sea otter voyeurs! a window on a Monterey Bay coastal research preserve
Oct25

Sea otter voyeurs! a window on a Monterey Bay coastal research preserve

Otter-cam peers into protected Elkhorn Slough.

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Is the world failing at conservation?

A #ScienceLive Chat on Thursday, 28 March at 3pm EDT Moderated by Erik Stokstad, a staff  journalist covering environmental research and policy, with a focus on natural resources and sustainability, for the Science Magazine news team. Obstreperous Peter Kareiva, chief scientist of the Nature Conservancy, who has ruffled feathers in the conservation community with his strong views on new directions for environmentalism, will be online and taking questions. We featured Kareiva in an EcoTone post about a year ago when he was making waves posing the question Do we love environmental horror stories too much? Kareiva has argued for less adherence to “purity,” less focus on protected parks and wilderness, and more consideration for the needs of disadvantaged people affected by conservation policy and projects. Joining Kareiva is zoologist John Robinson, executive vice president for conservation and science at the Wildlife Conservation Society (formerly known as the New York Zoological Society) and an adjunct professor of anthropology at the City University of New York.  He has a long interest in forest fragmentation and the effects of subsistence hunting on wildlife, especially primates, and has worked to secure protected zones for threatened charismatic megafauna like chimps, tigers, and elephants. But this strategy “is unlikely to be socially and economically sustainable,” he said during a symposium at the annual AAAS meeting in Boston last month. The Chat sprang from that AAAS symposium, “Is the Future of Conservation at a Crossroads?” Now they are opening the question to the online conservation community at large. They’ve posed a few interlinked questions to get the conversation started: What should be done to preserve biodiversity, especially as climate changes? Should some parks be sold to improve other protected areas? And how can the conservation of nature be reconciled with development in poor nations? Tune in here or at AAAS...

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Reviving extinct genetic diversity #Resurrection Ecology

Is it time to define a new field? By Nadine Lymn, ESA public affairs director This is the first in a series of EcoTone posts on a recent TEDxDeExtinction event. You can watch the presentations, hosted by the National Geographic Society, here.  The talks will be edited and posted to YouTube in a few weeks.  NGS showcases de-extinction in the lead story of its April issue here.  “Maybe it’s time to coin a new term,” said Stanley Temple, a long-time conservation biologist who played key roles in preventing species such as the Peregrine Falcon and Whooping Crane from going extinct.  We were already well into the ‘Why & Why Not’ portion of TEDxDeExtinction on Friday, March 15, and it was clear that Temple, the man who occupied Aldo Leopold’s chair at the University of Wisconsin for 32 years, has deep reservations about reversing extinction through genetic engineering.  But he also clearly believes that conservation biologists need to be part of developments as the quest to revive extinct species inevitably moves forward.  Thus: “Resurrection Ecology.” Update [3/21/13, 4 PM] Temple told me he misspoke and meant to say “Resurrection BIOLOGY” since resurrection ecology has been applied to a different topic–limnologists who dredge up eggs from lake sediment to reconstruct past community structure. After listening to 6 hours of TEDxDeExtinction presentations last Friday, my head was spinning with gripping stories of charismatic and extinct species such as the Thylacine (a meat-eating marsupial—its name means dog-headed, pouched one), the biological, ethical and political dilemmas of “bringing back” species, and descriptions of the genetic techniques underway to make this is a reality. Several themes threaded throughout the event.  Here are two of them that are closely intertwined: 1. A strong concern that revival of extinct species could make current efforts to save endangered species even harder, and 2. The potential for gene technology to help save today’s endangered species. To the first theme: “We’ve got our hands full” trying to save what’s still here now, said Stanley Temple. Temple, a professor emeritus at the University of Wisconsin, is worried that de-extinction efforts could destabilize already difficult conservation efforts. We already have a tendency to rely on technological “fixes”, he said. If extinction isn’t forever, then the attitude could become, ‘let it go extinct, we can always bring it back later.’ But are too many of us already either unconcerned or feeling helpless about the many species slipping into extinction?  Would revival of extinct species give a green light to a more cavalier attitude towards loss of species? Rutgers University biology professor David Ehrenfeld wants people to consider this: While some are talking about...

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ConservationCorridor.org collects all things wildlife corridor-related
Dec20

ConservationCorridor.org collects all things wildlife corridor-related

A guest post by Heather Lessig, a ConservationCorridor moderator and research technician in Nick Haddad’s lab at NC State LANDSCAPE corridors are among the most important conservation strategies in the face of global changes such as habitat fragmentation, habitat destruction, and climate change.  Corridors are habitats that are typically long relative to their width, and they connect fragmented patches of habitat.  The main goal of corridors is to facilitate movement of individuals, through both dispersal and migration, so that genes can continuously be exchanged between different individuals and genetic diversity is maintained overall. This is critical for the survival of species, especially as habitat fragmentation results in isolated animals or plants disconnected from the rest of the population.  Corridors are able to provide a literal pathway, connecting these isolated individuals to the main group by making it easy for individuals to walk (or run or fly or glide or hop or blow in the wind) to other populated areas.  By linking populations throughout the landscape instead of leaving behind islands of good habitat in a sea of bad habitat, there is a lower chance for extinction and greater support for species richness. There are many examples of corridors. Corridors can exist naturally, such as streams and stream banks linking isolated wetlands. The endangered St. Francis’ satyr butterfly, on Ft. Bragg in North Carolina, uses stream corridors to fly between ephemeral wetlands created by abandoned beaver ponds.  Corridors can also be constructed through management practices, such as efforts to link national parks in Turkey and protect species such as the Caucasian lynx, brown bear, and Anatolian leopard.  They can be artificially constructed, such as overpasses or underpasses on highways, for the sole purpose of funneling animals or plants away from anthropogenic threat.  Banff National Park in Canada has been a leader in constructing corridors around highways, and has seen them used by numerous large mammals including grizzly bears, wolves, moose, elk and deer.  Corridors can be large, as is typical in large mountain ranges, or small, as is typical in urban landscapes. While recent years have seen a growth of scientific research on corridors, there is still a gap between what ecologists know about the science of corridors and its practical application in conservation management.  In an effort to bridge this gap, we have developed a new website, ConservationCorridor.org.  This website it based out of North Carolina State University, and is hosted by a team of scientists there with extensive experience in corridor planning and research.  Much of the content of the site is contributed by others outside of North Carolina State University, including managers, researchers, and students who all...

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40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act
Oct18

40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act

by Liza Lester, ESA communications officer “Help!” 1969. Cleveland State University Library Special Collections. Cleveland Press Collection. Bill Roberts Editorial Cartoon Collection. Roberts0706. By 1969, there had long been no fish left in the Cuyahoga to plead for help, according to a Time magazine article that ran that August, and commented, memorably,  “Some River! Chocolate-brown, oily, bubbling with subsurface gases, it oozes rather than flows.” ON the afternoon of June 22, 1969, the Cuyahoga River was on fire. It wasn’t the first time; the river had burned in Cleveland on 13 occasions over the previous century. This was just a little flare up, of no particular note, put out in less than half an hour by the local fire department. Nothing like the 1952 blaze that burned through three days, a bridge, and a fleet of fishing vessels, to the tune of $1.5 million. But people did notice. Time magazine noticed, and Washington noticed. Americans, seeing the costs of pollution, were mobilizing for change. The stage was set for the Clean Water Act. Though he supported the Clean Air Act and set up the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970, President Nixon vetoed the Clean Water Act when it arrived on his desk two years later, complaining of its bloated $24 billion price tag and retroactive payments to state and local governments for sewer upgrades already completed. The water quality bill he sent to Congress, he wrote, would get the job done in a fiscally responsible manner. “It would have committed $6 billion in Federal funds over a three-year period, enough to continue and accelerate the momentum toward that high standard of cleanliness which all of us want in America’s waters,” he told Congress in his veto statement. “I have nailed my colors to the mast on this issue. The political winds can blow where they may. I am prepared for the possibility that my action on this bill may be overridden.” Congress did overrule him, voting the Clean Water Act into law on October 18, 1972.  But it took the Impoundment Act of 1974 and a Supreme Court ruling to get him to spend all of the money Congress appropriated for the purpose. US rivers do not run thick with oil anymore, thanks to the Clean Water Act, the EPA, and other environmental policies of the 1970s. The Clean Water Act has been very effective at cleaning up point sources of pollution to the “navigable waters” in it’s purview, sources like municipal sewers and stormdrains, stockyards, and refineries (ephemeral water bodies like seasonal rivers, playa lakes, and wetlands disconnected from a “significant nexus” with a navigable waterway are not protected,...

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Watching the river flow – the complex effect of stream variability on Bristol Bay’s wildlife

Sylvia Fallon, a Senior Scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council, blogged about ecosystem dynamics and the key role of salmon in Alaska’s Bristol Bay watershed last week, in a post inspired by Peter Lisi’s presentation at ESA’s 2012 annual meeting in Portland. Peter is a postdoc in Fishery Sciences at the University of Washington in Seattle. Here’s an excerpt from Sylvia’s post: Bristol Bay in southwest Alaska supports the world’s greatest wild salmon fishery.  And now scientists have a new understanding why: water temperature and stream flow.   Variation in the temperature and flow of streams is key to supporting not just Bristol Bay’s prolific salmon populations, but also the area’s immense wildlife diversity from bears to birds to plants, according to new research presented this week at the Ecological Society of America meetings in Portland, Oregon.  Working in the Wood River watershed of Southwest Alaska, scientists found that the diversity of stream conditions results in salmon that spawn at different times throughout the season, thereby extending the time that predators and scavengers can feast on this important food supply. …continue reading “Watching the river flow – the complex effect of stream variability on Bristol Bay’s wildlife” on Sylvia’s NRDC blog. In addition to speaking in a symposium on “The Evolving Role of Environmental Scientists in Informing Sustainable Ecosystem Policy and Management” at ESA2012, Sylvia delivered a lunchtime address to ESA’s Rapid Response Team, advising them on her area of expertise, policy engagement. In the early 2000’s, ESA assembled a diverse group of ecologists from agencies, academia and other research environments, who agreed to be on call to reporters and policy makers for expert information on rapidly evolving events of with ecological ramifications — events like the 2010 BP oil spill and hurricane Katrina. But the Team is not just for breaking news. They are also on hand (or on the other end of a phone) to provide ecological context and background on biofuels, climate change, agriculture, forests and fisheries. The Team’s membership turns over every few years to bring in new blood and give longer functioning members a break. Rapid Response Team scientists, and ESA members at large, are also encouraged to reach out to media and legislators before being asked. Fish & Wildlife and other government agencies, for example, typically have public comment periods for policy proposals. Sylvia urged the Team not to underestimate the power of commentary from independent scientists. “In these situations, my association with an environmental advocacy group does tend to compromise my credentials,” she said. During comment periods she often reaches out to scientific community to submit comments, “begging, will you comment, have you...

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