ESA Policy News: September 27
Sep27

ESA Policy News: September 27

WILDLIFE: letter of support for conservation programs
UNITED NATIONS: IPCC report released
HOUSE: testimony on climate action plan
EPA: new carbon standards for powerplants
SCIENCE: Golden Goose awards

Read More

Managing water with natural infrastructure: win-wins for people and wildlife

By Terence Houston, Science Policy Analyst The US Senate is moving forward with a new Water Resources Development Act, a comprehensive bill that authorizes funding for Army Corps of Engineers projects related to flood management, environmental restoration and other water resources infrastructure issues. The bipartisan legislation (S. 601) is sponsored by Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Ranking Member David Vitter (R-LA). In light of this, the Consortium for Aquatic Science Societies recently held a congressional briefing that highlighted problems with aquatic invasive species and “natural infrastructure” solutions. David Strayer, Senior Scientist at the Cary Institute for Ecosystem Studies discussed the varied ways in which invasive species can harm ecosystems, recreation and tourism for communities living alongside major waterways. Invasive species cost the US economy $100 billion a year and cause significant lasting ecological changes, often hindering  recreation and leading to proliferation of less desirable  wildlife. Among the most costly of these is the zebra mussel, which has cost industry and business billions since its initial introduction to the United States several decades ago. The mussels damage boats, invade water treatment and power plants and clog pipes. Strayer also highlighted nutria, plant-eating rodents that can severely erode river banks,  leaving surrounding communities more vulnerable to floods; Japanese knotweed, which crowds out native plants and damages existing infrastructure; and didymo (commonly known as “rock snot”), which – in addition to its obvious aesthetic damage to otherwise scenic landscapes – alters streambeds and cuts out food sources for native aquatic species such as trout. Strayer noted that reservoirs, alteration of water flows in rivers and streams and fish stoking (which can unintentionally include contaminants and undesirable wildlife) can buttress proliferation of invasive species. He praised language in the new WRDA legislation that would establish a program to mitigate invasive species in the Columbia River Basin and manage invasive plants in the northern Rockies and urged support for an amendment recently incorporated into the bill from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) that would seek to restrict invasive species from dispersing into the Great Lakes. Emma Rosi-Marshall, also with the Cary Institute on Ecosystem Services, focused her presentation on the general ecology of rivers. Many animals, including salmon and sturgeon, adapt their migration and breeding patterns on the dynamics of rivers. She also expanded on the important role of natural infrastructure such as wetlands and floodplains in mitigating floods and controlling erosion. Dams, while providing services such as water storage and power generation, can also disrupt wildlife migration and alter the manner in which sediment and nutrients are delivered along waterways. These alterations can impact fish abundance as well as...

Read More
Zeal to ensure clean leafy greens takes bite out of riverside habitat in California
May06

Zeal to ensure clean leafy greens takes bite out of riverside habitat in California

Perceived food safety risk from wildlife drives expensive and unnecessary habitat destruction around farm fields By Liza Lester, ESA communications officer Meticulous attention to food safety is a good thing. As consumers, we like to hear that produce growers and distributers go above and beyond food safety mandates to ensure that healthy fresh fruits and vegetables do not carry bacteria or viruses that can make us sick. But in California’s Salinas Valley, some more vigorous interventions are cutting into the last corners of wildlife habitat and potentially threatening water quality, without evidence of food safety benefits. These policies create tensions between wildlife preservation and food safety where none need exist, say scientists for The Nature Conservancy, writing in the Ecological Society of America’s journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. The study will be published online ahead of print on Monday, May 6th, 2013. “Farming practices for food safety that target wildlife are damaging valuable ecological systems despite low risk from these animals,” said lead author Sasha Gennet. Check the back of your bag of spinach or prepackaged salad greens, and you’ll probably find that they came from the Salinas Valley. Salad is big business in California. In the aftermath of a deadly 2006 Escherichia coli serotype O157:H7 outbreak traced to California spinach, growers and distributers of leafy greens came together to create the California Leafy Green Handler Marketing Agreement (LGMA) on best practices for the industry, enforced by third-party auditors and inspectors. The LGMA established standards for farm work hygiene, produce processing and transport, and proximity to livestock. About 99 percent of California leafy greens now come from participating farms. But produce farmers in the Salinas Valley report pressure from some powerful buyers to take additional precautions not mandated by government or industry standards. These buyers insist that swathes of bare ground wider than a football field is long separate the leafy greens from rivers, wetlands and other wildlife habitat. Other precautions include treating irrigation water with chemicals toxic to fish and amphibians, and setting poisoned bait for rodents. “The California Leafy Green Hander agreement is transparent, flexible and science based,” said Gennet. “Going above and beyond it just creates costs for farmers and doesn’t improve safety.” It also creates costs for wildlife. Although scant evidence exists of risk of food-borne disease spread by wildlife, the risk of rejection of produce by major buyers is too much for most growers to bear, say Gennet and her co-authors. They measured changes in wetlands and riverside habitat in the Salinas Valley between 2005 and 2009, finding 13.3 percent converted to bare ground, crops or otherwise diminished. Widespread introduction of fencing...

Read More

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...

Read More

Predicting peak cropland

Can we control our destiny? by Liza Lester, ESA communications officer Population by Total Fertility (millions). The United Nations predicts 10.1 billion living humans will inhabit the Earth by 2100. Source: United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2011): World Population Prospects: The 2010 Revision. New York. Joe Fargione, lead scientist for The Nature Conservancy’s North American Region, wants to know how to feed 10 billion people. More specifically, he wants to know how much of the Earth’s land we will need to devote to crops to feed us all in the foreseeable future, for values of “foreseeable” converging on about one century hence. Ten billion and growing is the most recent UN global population projection for the year 2100. Fargione is a little more optimistic about reaching a population peak before the end of the century. Population has an intimate, complicated relationship to land use, and sparing wildlands from the plough is, of course, a topic close to TNC’s heart. “We currently crop an area equivalent to all of South America,” (about 1.5 billion hectares) Fargione said, explaining his (as yet unpublished, as far as I can discover) efforts to model “peak cropland” at World Wildlife Fund headquarters in Washington, D.C., on February 28. “We don’t have another South America to put into production.” As the human population continues to grow, and grow wealthier, more land will be converted to agriculture. But how much more, and when will it stop? Predicting peak cropland, the year when the greatest extent of Earth’s lands will be sown in crops, requires a metaprojection interpolating growth in population, food consumption, wealth, technology, and efficiency with the uncertain effects of a changing climate.  How many humans we will be, and how much and what kinds of food we will eat? Will we grow until we reach carrying capacity and world population is checked by the hard limits of starvation, or can we control our destiny? Fargione thinks it doesn’t have to come down to a Malthusian equation. He’s using predictions of a demographic transition from exponential population growth to static, stable numbers in the 21st century, counting on the non-compulsory drop in fertility observed in relatively wealthy nations to spread throughout the world. Japan and several European nations are currently below replacement rate (approximately 2.1 children per woman). Associated with the demographic transition is an uncertain tangle of influences: wealth, security, urbanization, and the education of girls. That last bit, the education of girls, is an angle Fargione thinks has been under appreciated and under emphasized by conservationists. A projection of straight numbers of humans is not sufficient to predict...

Read More

In ecology news: bats, antbirds, wildfire recriminations, and retractions

by Liza Lester, ESA communications officer Cheatgrass, Bromus tectorum, evolved in the old world, but has been very successful in the new, with a talent for colonizing disturbed rangeland. It fuels early season range fires. Credit, Prof. Dr. Otto Wilhelm Thomé “Flora von Deutschland, Österreich und der Schweiz,” 1885. http://www.biolib.de/ Bats & Birds (& Ants) The Nature Conservancy has built a bat bunker, a cleanable, climate-monitored refuge, near Bellamy Cave in TN. They’re hoping the clean cave can buy time for immunity or science to intervene in the deadly fungus outbreak sweeping through North America, attacking bats in their sleep. Awake, bats resist the infection. But in hibernation, slow metabolism, low body temperature, and the close press of companions make the bats vulnerable. James Gorman “Building a Bat Cave to Battle a Killer” NY Times – 24 Sep 2012 Antbirds trail after army ant swarms, stealing the ants’ hard earned harvest of grasshoppers, beetles, and spiders. Butterflies follow the birds to eat their poop. Natalie Angier talked to ecologist Janeene Touchton in Panama, and cited Touchton’s and James Smith’s 2010 paper in Ecology. Natalie Angier “Feathered Freeloaders at the Ant Parade.”  NY Times 24 Sep 2012 Species loss, delayed numerical responses, and functional compensation in an antbird guild. Janeene M. Touchton and James N. M. Smith. Ecology 2011 92:5, 1126-1136 Tempers ignite over wildfire management Bill Baker of the University of Wyoming says megafires predate fire suppression, logging, and other management interventions blamed for recent conflagrations in North America – contradicting current management practices and a larger body of research. In a podcast, intern Emily Guerin describes (unsympathetically) vitriol from wildfire ecologists toward Baker’s position on fire in the west. Nature told a more canonical story about how “Forests in the American west are under attack from giant fires, climate change and insect outbreaks. Some ecosystems will never be the same.” Emily Guerin “Fire scientists fight over what Western forests should look like.” High Country News 17 Sep 2012. Cally Carswell, Emily Guerin, Neil LaRubbio “West of 100: Fire & Brimstone.” (audio) High Country News 25 Sep 2012. Mark A. Williams and William L. Baker Testing the accuracy of new methods for reconstructing historical structure of forest landscapes using GLO survey data. Ecological Monographs 2011 81:1, 63-88 Michelle Niihuis “Forest fires: Burn out.” Nature News 19 Sep 2012 Ira Flatow, on location at Boise State University, was also talking about wildfire last week. “Nearly a million acres are burning in the West right now.” Range fires. Who’s to blame? Is this a new thing? Today, we’re blaming Cheatgrass. Flatow talks to Jen Pierce, a paleo fire ecologist, and Mike Pellant,...

Read More

Do we love environmental horror stories too much?

Nature Conservancy chief scientist Peter Kareiva says conservation is failing, and must adapt or die. by Liza Lester, ESA Communications Officer, and Nadine Lymn, ESA Director of Public Affairs Anthropogenic biomes (anthromes): a classification of land ecosystems based on prolonged and abiding communion with people. Map scale = 1:160 000 000, Plate Carrée projection (geographic), 5 arc minute resolution (5′ = 0.0833°). From Figure 1 of EC Ellis and N Ramankutty (2008) Putting people in the map: anthropogenic biomes of the world. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment  6:8, 439-447. [click image to enlarge]   WRITING in the fall issue of Breakthrough Journal, Peter Kareiva, Robert Lalasz and Michelle Marvier attacked an environmentalist movement they described as self-righteous and puritanical, insisting “conservationists will have to jettison their idealized notions of nature, parks, and wilderness — ideas that have never been supported by good conservation science — and forge a more optimistic, human-friendly vision.” The essay largely retreads Kareiva’s talk for the National Academy of Sciences’ Distinctive Voices program, and it offers a few prescriptions for the future: deliberately integrate nature into urban and agricultural development: “development by design” stop “scolding capitalism” and work with corporations stop elevating biodiversity and choose a kind of environmental utilitarianism: “enhance those natural systems that benefit the widest number of people, especially the poor” give up the ideal of a pristine, pre-colonialist American landscape view nature as garden rather than a wilderness (which doesn’t exist) Last week, Greenwire profiled Kareiva with lengthy enthusiasm, and Andy Revkin summarized the argument over at his NY Times blog, Dot Earth, describing it as “a refreshing call for new approaches from a community stuck on what I’ve called a “woe is me, shame on you” tune for far too long.” Kareiva meant to rile people into debate, and he has succeeded: Breakthrough and Revkin have collected and published some of the responses from the conservation community (see links, below). Several are impassioned and irate. We at EcoTone are curious about how ecologists are responding to Kareiva’s challenge. ESA hosted a conference on “Emerging Issues in Ecology” at the end of February that raised many of the same concerns about a need for new strategies, and a new conservation paradigm — one that might be more open to ideas like assisted migration and urban ecology. It seems these ideas are in the air. Here are our initial, gut reactions. What’s yours?   Liza: Kareiva et al’s argument is stuffed with distracting hyperbole and I want to hurry past the temptation to nit pick through their long essay. For me, Kareiva’s talk is more persuasive than the essay, (which is...

Read More

Floodplains: A cost-effective complement to flood management

This post contributed by Terence Houston, ESA Science Policy Analyst On November 2, the Ecological Society of America sponsored a congressional briefing entitled “Using Science to Improve Flood Management.” Featured speakers were Emily Stanley (University of Wisconsin, Madison, Center for Limnology) and Jeff Opperman (Senior Freshwater Scientist, The Nature Conservancy, Ohio Field Office).  The briefing drew 40 attendees, including congressional staff and representatives of federal agencies, NGOs and private organizations. The speakers highlighted the multiple benefits—both ecological and economical—of increased investment in floodplains and their role in lessening the severity of floods. Stanley’s presentation touched on the many benefits floodplains have on flood attenuation, water quality, fish production, agriculture, aquaculture, groundwater recharge and maintaining ecosystem biodiversity. A striking visual showed that fish caught in a floodplain were remarkably larger than those of the same age, but from the main river channel. Stanley’s presentation also illuminated the potential cost savings and increased efficiency that would incur through more reliance on floodplains than on aging infrastructure, such as levees. Her presentation noted that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is estimating $750 million to $1.3 billion in damage to flood control structures alone for the Missouri River after the 2011 flooding, in addition to its annual operation/maintenance cost of $130 million. In his presentation, Opperman highlighted the detriments of flood control efforts that focus primarily on increasing infrastructural investment, the ‘levees only’ approach. He noted that despite massive investments in flood control infrastructure, flood-related damages continue to rise. He also referenced the Yolo Bypass in Sacramento, California as a prime example of an effective working floodplain. Opperman highlighted improvements in flood management along the Mississippi River since the flood of 1927. He contrasted the failed 1927 ‘levees only’ approach that managed the river in fragments with current efforts that manage the river as an entire system, relying more on the river’s floodplains natural ability to convey and store floodwater. While the death toll from the 1927 flood was at least in the  hundreds, and potentially thousands,, the 2011 Mississippi flood incurred no human deaths;  no land flooded that was not intended to be flooded. The Army Corps of Engineers’ post-1927 approach in managing the Mississippi River as a system is embodied in the formation of the Mississippi River and Tributaries Project. The project coordinates Corps activities, such as levee and infrastructure construction and maintenance with management of “floodways,” areas of historic floodplain that can be reconnected to the river during high flood events, relieving pressure on levees. Opperman contends this management technique proved critical in 2011 and likely provided significant cost savings for communities along the Mississippi. According to the Federal Emergency...

Read More