May 17, 2013
Nature Conservancy Chief Scientist Peter Kareiva recently gave an interview to Biodiverse Perspectives, a blog written by more than 100 graduate students in biodiversity science around the world. It’s an excellent Q&A, with one of the best distillations yet of Kareiva’s thinking on conservation’s focus on biodiversity versus the benefits of a broader focus on ecology.
Read the full interview here. But here’s a quote to whet your appetite:
“I have what some think is a heretical view of biodiversity. Look — I do want to prevent extinctions. But I think what should be a reasonable concern for biodiversity has turned into a numerological and narrow counting of species, and has led to an over-emphasis on research aimed at rationalizing why biodiversity should matter to the general public. Ecology matters to the general public because ecology is about water, pests and pestilence, recreation, food, resilience and so forth. Perturbations to ecosystems in the form of massive pollution, land conversion, harvest, species loss can all distort ecology. But focusing so narrowly on producing graphs that on the horizontal axis display number of species and on the vertical axis report some dependent ecological function (that is distantly related to human well-being) strikes me as not worth so much research. Let’s get back to ecology — understanding how systems work, what controls dynamics, the role of particular species as opposed to the number of species, to what extent do ecosystems compensate for species losses, what factors contribute to resilience, whether there really are thresholds — all those are terrific research questions. Counting species, and trying to produce what is, as far as I can tell, usually very weak evidence for the relationship between biodiversity per se and ecological function is off-track.
“Early on in my job at TNC I presented to business leaders some of the empirical data plots from classic biodiversity and ecological function studies. These are studies we all interpret as strong evidence for the importance of biodiversity. I can tell you unequivocally when they saw the actual data they were totally unimpressed and unconvinced. It caused me to look more objectively at the data.”
As always, let us know what you think in the comments.
May 14, 2013
Helping people and nature adapt to climate change is a hot topic in conservation.
But the science behind planning such adaptation — particularly for human communities — isn’t as clean as the rhetoric, and you can’t do it simply in a lab or on paper. Whether we’re talking about major developed world cities or small coastal villages, we have to run our theories by what we call the “test of people” — so they lead to strategies that work. That test often involves understanding how the world looks through the eyes of the people we are trying to help. Nothing like a good reality check.
Case in point: My recent trip to the Grenadines, where I was attending an “action planning meeting” with community members, my colleagues from The Nature Conservancy’s ‘At The Water’s Edge’ project team, and our local partners. Our aim: to identify specific actions that can be taken to help reduce the communities’ vulnerability to coastal hazards (i.e., flooding from sea level rise and storm surge). As conservationists, we hope nature might be a part of the equation — what we call “nature-based adaptation.”
April 23, 2013
Salt evaporation ponds formed by salt water impounded within levees in former tidelands on the shores of San Francisco Bay. (More on how the colors are formed below.) Image credit: dsearls/Flickr through a Creative Commons license.
Over the weekend, Toronto Globe and Mail columnist Margaret Wente sharply laid out what she and other journalists such as Keith Kloor have called the key philosophical battle of environmentalism today — between, as she puts it:
the purists and the pragmatists, the pessimists and the optimists – between the McKibbenists, who believe we’re on the brink of global catastrophe, and those who think human beings are more resourceful and the Earth is more resilient than the doom-mongers say they are.
Exhibit A of these eco-optimists for Wente? Peter Kareiva, chief scientist of The Nature Conservancy. Wente says that “Kareiva and his fellow enviro-optimists are the key to saving environmentalism from terminal irrelevance.”
As Wente puts it:
He argues that the purists have been terrible for environmentalism because they’ve alienated the public with their misanthropic, anti-growth, anti-technology, dogmatic, zealous, romantic, backward-looking message. (As a young scientist, he testified in favour of restricting logging to save the spotted owl. Then he saw the loggers sitting at the back of the room, with their children on their shoulders. After that, he became convinced that environmentalism wouldn’t work so long as it was framed in terms of either/or.)
Read Wente’s full column and let us know what you think.
April 16, 2013
Maasai milking a cow, Tanzania. Credit: mar is sea Y/Flickr through a Creative Commons license.
The recent move by Tanzania’s government to seal off 30,000 Maasai people from access to 1,500 square kilometers adjacent to the Serengeti in the name of wildlife conservation has drawn intense protests from both the Maasai and non-governmental organizations working in the country. The government will prevent the Maasai from grazing their cattle on a choice grazing area in the Loliondo Highlands — which the Maasai consider ancestral lands — but will allow a “Dubai-based luxury hunting and safari company” access to the land, reports The Guardian. The argument is that Maasai grazing practices are harming wildlife.
Eddie Game, conservation planning specialist at The Nature Conservancy, has written a blog post for the Australian site The Conversation arguing that the Tanzanian government’s tack is an example of “fortress” conservation that is “unnecessarily blunt and crude.” While Maasai grazing practices have reduced long-lived grass species prevalence in Tanzania in favor of seasonal species with deleterious effects for wildlife, Game says northern Kenya provides a shining example of “how pastoral livelihoods and wildlife conservation can be compatible.” Money quote:”
Through the agreement of community-run conservancies, sections of communal pastoral lands in northern Kenya are set aside as grass banks. These areas are reserved for wildlife to graze but can be used by traditional pastoralists as emergency grazing lands for cattle in times of drought.
The grass banks are complimented by establishing rotational grazing practices that encourage pastoralists to graze their animals together and in a systematic fashion, allowing land to rest ungrazed for a period each year. Regular treatment of cattle for disease (a concern also in the Maasai lands) is provided as an incentive for collective grazing. A guaranteed price and safe transport of livestock to markets gives pastoralists the security to reduce their herd sizes. And the rapid spread of mobile connectivity and mobile banking technology is providing an alternative avenue for savings in remote rural areas.
Tourism is also thriving in these community-run conservancies, notes Game — with tourists clamoring to see both wildlife and pastoralists at work. “It is sad indictment of the Tanzanian government that the international public are being presented with an overly simplistic and unnecessary choice between wildlife and the traditional lifestyle of the Maasai,” Game concludes.
Read his full post here.