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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Jewell would bring multifaceted credentials to Interior Dept.

By Terence Houston, ESA science policy analyst President Obama’s second-term pick for Secretary of Interior sparked tempered optimism from both sides of the aisle this week. With a strong background in both conservation and the business industry, it is hoped that nominee Sally Jewell will be able to bridge the divide between constituencies that prioritize environmental stewardship with those that prioritize energy development. The Department of Interior encompasses a diverse set of bureaus including the Bureau of Land Management, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the National Park Service, US Fish and Wildlife Service and the United States Geological Survey. In addition to overseeing public lands, the new Interior Secretary is expected to be entrenched in policymaking regarding contentious issues involving mineral development, oil and gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing over the course of President Obama’s second term. Jewell is unconventional in the sense that she lacks the political background of many of her predecessors.  However, what she lacks in direct policymaking is made up for with a unique combination of high level professional industry savvy and a personal passion for the outdoors. Her business background includes two decades in corporate banking, having worked for Rainer Bank, Security Pacific, WestOne Bank and Washington Mutual from  1981-2000. She also spent time as an engineer for Exxon Mobile (1978-81). In 2005, she became CEO of  Recreational Equipment Incorporated (REI) after having been its chief operating officer since 2000. She also serves on the board of the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA). Jewell bikes to work every day and is an avid hiker, having once led a group of women to the top of Mt. Rainer, Washington.. She’s also spent a month climbing the mountains of Antarctica. Her outdoor exercise portfolio stands to make her the fittest high-profile member of the executive branch. (Lookout, Michelle Obama!) Jewell  has contributed to the Outdoor Industry Association’s Political Action Committee, which has supported environmentally-friendly Democrats and Republicans, including Reps. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ), Dave Reichert (R-WA) and Mike Simpson (R-ID), who notably serves as Chairman of the House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, which drafts the annual bill to fund the agency she would oversee. Past personal donations include President Obama’s re-election campaign, Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Patty Murray (D-WA) (her two Senators), Mark Udall (D-CO), Mark Begich (D-AK) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), ranking member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which will hold her confirmation hearing. Immediate reactions from key Senate leaders suggest Jewell will get a fair confirmation hearing. “Sally Jewell is an inspired choice to lead the Interior Department. Her experience leading a nearly $2 billion outdoor recreation company, combined with her years...

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Further discretionary spending cuts unnecessary to address federal debt

This post contributed by Terence Houston, ESA Science Policy Analyst While the taxation aspect of the fiscal cliff may have been averted, budget sequestration was merely punted until March 1, which means funding for federal agencies responsible for science and environmental  initiatives remain at risk unless Congress can come up with a plan to reduce the debt by $1.2 trillion before then. The across-the-board indiscriminate cuts to discretionary spending would have multifaceted impacts. There is also the issue of potentially defaulting on the national debt, the consequences of which could prove disastrous for the economy. Congress recently took action to temporarily avert these consequences until such time as a deal can be reached on sequestration (hopefully). Prior to the fiscal cliff deal, the White House had released a report outlining how funding levels for federal agencies (including science agencies) would be impacted under sequestration. As noted in a recent letter sent by scientific societies to the president and congressional leaders, hindering investment in science puts our nation’s overall global competitiveness at risk. Further, the Wilderness Society last year compiled a report outlining sequestration’s impacts on federal conservation efforts, which include endangering public safety at national public parks. Given that we will be five months into Fiscal Year 2013 (which started Oct. 1, 2012) by the time these cuts would be made, their impact would likely be even more severe than they would have been, had they been implemented in January. As numerous reports have relayed, discretionary spending is not the root cause of our national debt.  Indeed, these massive cuts to critical discretionary spending would do nothing to stem  the nation’s growing debt. The Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) notes that overall discretionary spending is already on the decline (partially attributable to the spending caps outlined in the Budget Control Act (BCA)) and that meaningful debt reduction must address “health care inflation, the retirement of the baby boomers, and an inefficient tax code that raises too little revenue.” BPC has even gone as far as stating that restraining defense and non-defense discretionary spending is “the one issue that Congress has fully addressed,” which could be taken to mean that further discretionary spending cuts would go further than BPC deems necessary (and with little impact on the debt). BPC also agrees that the initial discretionary spending savings of $840 billion ($920 billion with interest included) under the BCA are similar to what was recommended under the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, commonly known as Simpson-Bowles. According to a summary draft of the Simpson-Bowles plan, implementation of their recommendations for reducing tax expenditures ($751 billion) and cutting mandatory spending ($733...

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ESA Policy News: January 4

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. BUDGET: CONGRESS PASSES LEGISLATION TO DELAY SEQUESTRATION, EXTEND TAX CUTS After an extended period of partisan gridlock, Congress on Jan. 1 passed legislation to address “the fiscal cliff.” The term applied largely to automatic cuts to federal agencies that were set to kick in this month as well as a number of tax cuts and credits that were to expire Dec. 31, 2012. The American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 punts action on the sequestration (the automatic cuts to military and non-defense discretionary spending) by two months into March. This is paid for with $24 billion in offsets, half by lowering caps on overall defense and non-defense discretionary spending by $12 billion for the next two years and the other half by revenue changes to Individual Retirement Accounts that raise $12 billion in revenue. The bill makes permanent the Bush tax cuts for individuals making under $400,000 and families making under $450,000. It also permanently fixes the Alternative Minimum Tax by indexing for inflation, delays Medicare physician payment cuts for a year and extends unemployment benefits for a year in addition to extending other tax provisions. A wind energy tax credit is also extended for a full year under the agreement. The new law also includes a nine-month extension of the farm bill for several key provisions, including one to prevent milk prices from rising substantially. However, the law lacks an extension of mandatory funding for energy programs, its conservation title or research into organic crops, according to Senate leaders. While the fiscal deal resolves much of the immediate economic uncertainty related to taxes, the federal spending aspects of the fiscal cliff have yet to be resolved. Important Upcoming deadlines: Sequestration – Across-the-board cuts of eight percent to all federal agencies have been delayed to now go into effect on March 1 unless Congress can come up with a plan to reduce the federal deficit by $1.2 trillion. Debt ceiling – A deal on budget sequestration may now have to include provisions to address the federal debt limit. The existing spending limit was reached Dec. 31, but the US Department of Treasury has enacted “extraordinary measures” that will extend the federal government’s borrowing authority until roughly late February or early March, basically around the same time that legislation to address sequestration would be needed. Congressional Republicans are vowing to ensure that any increase in the debt limit be tied to significant cuts in federal spending. FY 2013 appropriations – Fiscal Year 2013 appropriations must also be addressed. The Continuing...

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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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A coordinated national strategy for wildlife conservation
Dec15

A coordinated national strategy for wildlife conservation

Meretsky and colleagues propose a national conservation-support program to help knit together state level efforts and larger federal programs, such as the recently established Landscape Conservation Cooperatives delineated here, and prevent species from falling through the gaps.

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When it comes to invasive species, can we learn from our mistakes?

This post contributed by ESA member Aviva Glaser, who works on agricultural policy for the National Wildlife Federation Seven years, my father decided to plant bamboo in his backyard, in an effort to improve the landscaping. A few years later, and sprouts can be seen creeping out from the bamboo grove in every direction. While my father keeps the bamboo stand under control for now, I wouldn’t be surprised if in another 20 years from now, bamboo begins popping up on some of the neighboring properties. The history of invasive species in this country has often started with good intentions. In the 1930s, for instance, the U.S. Department of Agriculture paid farmers to plant kudzu, promoting it as a “miracle vine” to combat erosion. Years later, this plant is more commonly referred to as “the vine that ate the South,” and is estimated to cover an astonishing seven million acres of land in the southeast.  Not only has it devastated wildlife habitat, but its estimated economic impact in the United States is between $100 and $500 million, and that’s not even considering the millions of dollars spent to control kudzu every year. While we cannot go back and change what has already been done, we can learn from the past and make sure that we are not making the same mistakes in the future. We have just that opportunity right now. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is currently in the final stages of approving a rule which would allow two known noxious weeds, giant reed (Arundo donax) and napier grass (Pennisetum purpureum), to qualify as renewable fuel sources under the Renewable Fuel Standard. If this rule passes, the U.S. government would once again be creating incentives for the planting of invasive species, this time for renewable fuel. Scientists, however, think that we should be learning from our mistakes – and not be incentivizing the next kudzu or purple loosestrife. Just over a month ago, more than 200 scientists from across the country sent a letter to the Obama administration urging them to take a “look before you leap” approach to potentially invasive plants grown for bioenergy and warning that some crops being considered for large-scale energy plantings may actually be highly invasive and potentially harmful to native species. “Many of today’s most problematic invasive plants – from kudzu to purple loosestrife – were intentionally imported and released into the environment for horticultural, agricultural, conservation, and forestry purposes. These invasive species already cost billions of dollars a year in the United States and are one of the primary threats to North America’s native species and ecosystems. It is imperative that...

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