Category: Conservation Planning

Risky Conservation: How to Identify and Manage It

Conservation can be risky business. But analyzing the likelihood and consequences of those risks can provide a basis for conservationists to plan for, monitor and ameliorate them, says Conservancy scientist Eddie Game.

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How Green is Your Chainsaw?

Can a chainsaw be green? That may sound ridiculous, but in the forests of Borneo, loggers can be a critical ally in maintaining biodiversity and mitigating climate change.

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Quick Study: Why Conservation Science Needs to Get Interdisciplinary–and Why It Hasn’t

Being multidisciplinary isn’t enough for today’s conservation science, says a new study by Conservancy scientist Sheila Walsh Reddy and others–we need to get out of our siloes in order to help solve the world’s most pressing problems. But being truly interdisciplinary can be costly and difficult.

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Can Protecting Core Areas Help Imperiled Sage Grouse Populations?

Can protecting core sage grouse habitat while allowing energy and housing development in less-sensitive areas help conserve this declining bird? That’s the focus of a recent paper in PLoS One journal that measures the effectiveness of sage grouse conservation actions in Wyoming, the state with the largest population of these birds.

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Fishing for Clues: Investigating Fisher Behavior in a Tropical Purse-Seine Fishery

How do fishers decide when, where and how to fish? How does this influence fishery management and protection? Tim Davies presents his research on how tropical purse seine fishers make their decisions, and the implications for conservation. This is the second essay in a three-part series featuring blogs by the student prize winners at the University of Queensland’s Student Conference on Conservation Science,

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Cool Green Review: Spine of the Continent, Imperial Dreams

Welcome to Cool Green Review, our monthly look at notable conservation science books. This month: Mary Ellen Hannibal’s The Spine of the Continent and Tim Gallagher’s Imperial Dreams.

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New Study: Coastal Nature Reduces Risk from Storm Impacts for 1.3 Million U.S. Residents

Nature reduces risk from coastal storms for millions of U.S. residents and billions of dollars in property values, says a new study from scientists at the Natural Capital Project and The Nature Conservancy.

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Conservation Future: Announcing the 2013 NatureNet Fellows

Nine young scientists — with specialties ranging from energy infrastructure to urban ecology, Kenyan pastoral techniques to nanotechnology — inaugurate a program designed to help kick-start conservation toward addressing the challenges facing people and nature in the 21st century.

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Snakes on a Cliff: Rattler Research in Vermont

There could be a rattlesnake anywhere: Join researchers as they scamper up rocky slopes while tracking snakes in Vermont, all to gain a better understanding of the timber rattler’s movements, habits and health. Just watch where you put your hands.

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No Surprise: Protected Areas Work

Ferraro, P. et al. 2013. More strictly protected areas are not necessarily more protective: evidence from Bolivia, Costa Rica, Indonesia, and Thailand. Environ. Res. Lett. 8 025011 doi:10.1088/1748-9326/8/2/025011.

Do protected areas that are more strictly protected (IUCN category I-IV) have less deforestation than less strictly protected areas (IUCN category V-VI)?

The short answer is yes but not always.

This might sound like another we-just-proved-the-world-is-round analysis, but this recent study is authored by some of the more rigorous thinkers in conservation. It sets a new standard for accuracy and precision in estimating avoided deforestation from protected area status.

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Ocean Acidification: The Next Big Threat to Coral Reefs?

As if the long list of threats to coral reefs weren’t enough, we can now add ocean acidification to the list.

Perhaps you’ve seen the gloomy headlines likeOcean Acidification: ‘Evil Twin’ Threatens World’s Oceans, Scientists Warn.

Perhaps it is no wonder that folks think coral reef scientists are never finished “crying wolf” about the next global challenge threatening to wipe out coral reef ecosystems.

How serious is this threat and what can we do to address it? To answer these questions, we decided to enlist the help of some global acidification experts. But first, we have to understand the problem.

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Scientific Illustration: More than Pretty Pictures

Scientific illustration is more than just pretty pictures — a point made quite clearly in my own work at the Conservancy’s Silver Creek Preserve, as we tried to convey restoration plans to the general public.

For as long as I can remember I have enjoyed painting flowers, insects, and landscapes. There is something so enjoyable about capturing colors and textures in paintings.

In the last ten years this hobby has expanded into my work: illustration has become key in how I view the world, understand conservation and communicate ideas.

Science has always relied on visual representation to convey key concepts. While representation has varied from Audubon’s bird paintings to high-tech GPS imagery, illustration has at is core always been about conveying information.

However, while we have inarguably made amazing advancements in information technology, high-tech does not always mean “easy to understand.”

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Bristol Bay Blog, Part 3: A Future for Salmon?

Editor’s Note: This is the final installment in a three-part blog series on the Conservancy’s recent research at Bristol Bay, conducted to provide a risk assessment of the proposed Pebble Mine.

Can one of the world’s largest mines be built in the headwaters of the world’s largest salmon fishery without disrupting the ecosystem?

That’s a question that generates a lot of controversy for the Bristol Bay watershed.

“There is a lot of vilification and name calling, but we wanted to go past that and get the data,” says Dave Albert, director of conservation science for The Nature Conservancy in Alaska.

The Nature Conservancy in Alaska commissioned an ecological risk assessment to improve understanding of baseline conditions near the Pebble deposit as well as potential risks such a mine could pose to salmon.

The baseline studies showed that juvenile salmon are ubiquitous in headwaters near the Pebble deposit, including documentation of more than 100 miles of previously unknown salmon streams. It also documented the purity of the water. “This is about the cleanest water in the world,” says Albert. “It’s not distilled water, but it’s pretty darn close.”

The ecological risk assessment used a cutting-edge stream modeling system to investigate potential effects of large-scale mining facilities including open pit mines, a tailings impoundment and waste rock dumps on stream headwaters.

The model results indicate potential for significant negative effects, including up to 60 percent reduction in stream flows near the pit and contamination from waste rock that could exceed Alaska water quality standards. The giant waste rock piles generated by mining would require active pumping and water treatment; if these systems failed, the levels of copper in the river could rapidly exceed lethal levels for salmon.

According to the researchers: “Our study shows that while some of the flow and water quality changes brought about by mining could be ameliorated by ambitious mitigation measures and water management plans, severe water quality effects could result from even a brief failure of these systems.”

The proposed mine dwarfs all other mines in Alaska combined; because the ore exists in low concentrations preliminary designs developed by the mining company show the mine covering twenty square miles with a massive tailings impoundment. From preliminary information released by the company, this tailings pond would require perpetual mediation in an area known for active earthquakes.

“We haven’t seen a detailed mine and water management plan, but it would be difficult to envision a project of this scale that does not require active management, basically forever, to avoid contamination,” says Albert.

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Bristol Bay Blog, Part 1: Understanding Remote, Wild Waters

No fishing hyperbole: We caught something every other cast. At least.

Huge king salmon spawned in the river, but these were not the fish we were seeking. It was the fish following the king salmon. A host of species lined up downstream as the kings spawned, picking off eggs as they drifted past. We cast little beads that imitated the eggs and bam! Fish on!

Maybe it was a grayling or a large rainbow trout or a char. It didn’t matter: it was the greatest fishing of my life.

That was my first afternoon in the Bristol Bay watershed. The ensuing days there seemed like a parade of wonders: volcanic mountaintops, bears roaming lakeshores, hooking silver salmon in the rain, more rainbow trout and grayling and char.

Here’s the thing: We weren’t even there for the main event—the largest sockeye salmon runs on earth that taken together produce more sockeye salmon than the rest of the world. Combined.

Just last evening, we baked one of our Bristol Bay silver salmon fillets, and the memories came rushing back—memories of one of my finest adventures in a life filled with the pursuit of outdoor experiences around the globe.

And so I understand well the passion, the emotion, people feel for this place, especially when a gigantic mine is proposed right in the midst of it.

The Bristol Bay watershed is located in southwestern Alaska, a mind-bogglingly wild expanse of rivers and streams that covers 58,000 square miles. It has always been best known for its salmon population and the subsistence, commercial and recreational fisheries it supports.

Lately, though, Bristol Bay has received even broader attention, with the proposed mine most commonly known as the Pebble Mine. As it happens, Bristol Bay also sits atop the largest copper and gold deposit on earth. By most estimates, Pebble Mine would be the largest copper mine in North America and one of the largest in the world.

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Quick Study: Six Common Mistakes in Conservation Planning

Quick Study is just what it says — a rapid-fire look at a new conservation science study that might turn some heads.    

Study: Game, E.T., P. Kareiva, and H.P. Possingham. 2013. Six common mistakes in conservation priority setting. Conservation Biology 44(4):1-6.

The Big Question: Environmental problems are big, but resources for conservation are tiny — so conservation groups are constantly prioritizing what they do and recommend so as to allocate those resources better. So why isn’t conservation making more of a dent?

Study Nuts and Bolts: In this think piece, Game and co-authors argue that, while conservation presents its priority setting as science-based, conservation planners too often ignore or misapply decision science — the combination of mathematics, economics, philosophy, and psychology that is used by engineers, health, the military and business to help them make better decisions. And that systemic lack of decision science, the authors say, leads to six big mistakes that blunt conservation’s impact.

The Findings: Here are the six big mistakes (which you might also group under the broad headers “Timidity in Language” and “Fuzzy Math”):

1) not acknowledging conservation plans are in fact prioritizations (and thus recommendations);
2) not being precise about the problem they’re trying to solve;
3) prioritizing not actions, but species, habitats or locations (thus leading to inaction);
4) using arbitrary numerical values to arrive at prioritization arithmetic;
5) allowing look-up tables to hide priority-setting value judgments; and
6) failing to acknowledge the risk of failure for some conservation actions, which leads to skewed cost/benefit analyses.

What’s It All Mean? While Game et al. do say that conservation is generally moving in the right direction in how it sets priorities, most individual planning makes at least one of the above mistakes — leading to misspending and declining public confidence in conservation when the public finds out that those priorities weren’t chosen all that scientifically.  So, time to bone up on those decision science skills, says Game.

“We conservation scientists prioritize a lot — but we’re not typically trained in the formal skills of prioritization that many other fields depend on,” he told me. “That’s a recipe for wasting our precious resources.”

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This Week on Cool Green Science: Change & The Eastern U.S. Forest

Too many deer. Logging one tree to save another. Beavers versus old growth. Welcome to forest conservation in the Anthropocene. Beginning Monday, July 21, join us for a provocative 5-part series exploring the full complexity facing forest conservation in the eastern United States.

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What is Cool Green Science?

noun 1. Blog where Nature Conservancy scientists, science writers and external experts discuss and debate how conservation can meet the challenges of a 9 billion + planet.

2. Blog with astonishing photos, videos and dispatches of Nature Conservancy science in the field.

3. Home of Weird Nature, The Cooler, Quick Study, Traveling Naturalist and other amazing features.

Cool Green Science is managed by Matt Miller, the Conservancy's deputy director for science communications, and edited by Bob Lalasz, its director of science communications. Email us your feedback.

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Creating a Climate-Smart Agriculture
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