Gulf Coastal Plains & Ozarks LCC News

GCPO LCC and the Southeastern Grasslands Initiative meet in Starkville

Exciting things are happening in the world of grassland conservation. Dwayne Estes and Theo Witsell have been traveling across the Southeast promoting their vision for a Southeastern Grassland Initiative. Three months ago, GCPO LCC communications specialist Gregg Elliott and I saw them present their ideas to Memphis area planners and conservationists at Shelby Farms Park Conservancy. On Monday, February 27th, they came to Starkville, Mississippi to network with a greater portion of the GCPO staff and a handful of Mississippi State University faculty members involved in the science of grassland ecology. The meeting was attended by representatives of Arkansas Heritage Commission; Central Hardwoods Joint Venture; Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks; Mississippi Natural Heritage Program; University of Central Florida; US Fish and Wildlife Service; and Wildlife Mississippi. Mississippi State University faculty attending included representatives from the Mississippi Entomological Museum; the Department of Landscape Architecture; the Department of Biological Sciences; and the Department of Wildlife, Fisheries & Aquaculture.

I kicked off the meeting with a presentation on the contribution of the GCPO LCC to grassland conservation. Last year we produced a Grassland Condition Index data layer for our 180-million-acre geography, and that layer was folded into the broader Conservation Blueprint, which addresses the condition of our nine priority systems in the context of threats such as climate change and urbanization as well as positive elements in the landscape such as the conservation estate and species distribution models. I shared the fact that our Conservation Blueprint is nested in a larger Southeastern Conservation Adaptation Strategy (SECAS) data product guiding landscape conservation across fifteen states and six Landscape Conservation Cooperatives.

Regional scale challenges to grassland conservation include a lack of consensus in the scientific community as to how to categorize them as ecological systems (chiefly because they tend to grade continuously into savanna, woodland, and forest in the landscape, but also due to regional variations in substrate, topography, hydrology, and vegetation), and the lack of a repeatable method for delineating the openings on the ground in our maps (different individuals and organizations include or exclude various zones of woody vegetation when drawing grassland boundaries). These issues frustrate our effort to obtain a baseline measure of how much grassland currently exists and the condition of the patches. We have numerous organizations working on grassland conservation across the region at multiple scales: some groups are focused on a single patch, some on a specific region (such as the Black Belt), and some address only those patches within a particular state. I made the point that at times it seems that these organizations are as disjunct as the patches themselves. Until the Southeastern Grassland Initiative (SGI) took shape last year, there was no organized effort to coordinate grassland conservation specifically across the entire Southeast. The network of partnerships already established by the LCCs is a natural complement to the vision and mission of the SGI.

The View of a Botanical Explorer

After I spoke, Dwayne Estes, professor of the Center of Excellence for Field Biology at Austin Peay State University in Tennessee and botanical explorer for the Botanical Research Institute of Texas (BRIT), described the recent and growing appreciation and acknowledgment of southeastern grasslands.  He recalled that, as an elementary school student, he was taught that at the time of the arrival of the first Europeans in North America, the eastern forests were so dense that a squirrel could travel tree-to-tree from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mississippi River. Multiple accounts of vast grasslands by early settlers and explorers indicate that such a squirrel probably would have had to have taken a very circuitous route, chiefly following the riparian zones. Dwayne’s overview of historical grasslands focused on Kentucky and Tennessee and was supported by many references to old parcel surveys and the journals and letters of early settlers. He described the development of the Southeastern Grassland Initiative last year, with early support by Austin Peay State University, philanthropic organizations, and corporate sponsors. The Initiative’s supported projects include preservation, restoration, re-creation, rescue, seedbanks, education, and market-based initiatives such as grass-fed cattle.

Theo Witsell, botanist with the Arkansas Heritage Commission, then elaborated on the SGI research priorities. The Initiative is planning to develop an inventory of grassland biodiversity by identifying all major grassland habitat types in the region, and also to conduct detailed studies both of current lands and of the historic records. These studies will improve the existing grassland fidelity index, which measures the degree to which each plant species is obligated to grassland habitats. Theo and Dwayne have discovered numerous undescribed plant species while conducting inventories on grasslands, and they expect to find more. High rates of endemism and biodiversity in southeastern grasslands contribute to the overall biodiversity of the region, which has been recognized recently as the world's 36th biodiversity hotspot by the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF). Theo also showed us examples of grassland habitat restoration guides he has published for landowners and the public.

Green roofs and Grasshoppers

Mississippi State faculty members shared their research related to grassland ecology and conservation. Tim Schauwecker, associate professor in the Department of Landscape Architecture, highlighted student work on green roofs (birds more frequently visit green roofs, both those planted with the traditional sedum cover and those planted with prairie grasses, than conventional roofs), the use of General Land Office survey notes to find prairie patches in the Jackson Prairie Belt, and the development of a biodiversity index for the city of Starkville. Tim also described recent work on a management plan for the Catalpa Creek watershed, which contains extensive agricultural research fields on the MSU campus, and a planned Wetland Education Theatre with a native grass component to be installed at his Department’s facilities.

Jovonn Hill and Richard Brown described work done at the Mississippi Entomological Museum, housed on the Mississippi State University campus. The GCPO LCC uses species habitat models based mostly on birds. Dwayne and Theo focus primarily on the rare and endemic plants. Insects play an important ecological role, both as pollinators and as a food source for other species. Those of us largely unfamiliar with the science learned a great deal. Many insects -- grasshoppers were a prominent example -- occur only in grasslands, some only in the Black Belt, and some only on particular single patches such as Osborn prairie, a relict patch under TVA power lines a couple of miles northeast of Starkville. Some occur in only one county in Mississippi and one county in Minnesota.

As with the relictual plant species mentioned in my description of the SePPCon conference, this pattern of very rare species occurring at locations very far apart indicates that the species is very old and that the particular location is a remnant of a larger ecological system that was intact long ago. Twenty thousand years ago states such as Illinois and Oklahoma, where tallgrass prairie was extensive at the time of European settlement, were occupied by coniferous forests, and the prairies of the Southeast were refugia for most of the grassland species that colonized the Midwest when the forests and glaciers receded northward. Information on just how these species migrated, whether they dispersed through the grasslands of Tennessee and Kentucky or whether they expanded into the Piedmont and Appalachian regions and then westward across present-day New York, is contained in the genetic markers of the species found on the relict sites.

Staying Genetically True and Other Challenges Ahead

Understanding of the genetics and the use of local genotypes in restoration is important, because success is more likely when species adapted to those local conditions are used. In practice, the local genotypes are difficult to obtain. Seed collection, germination, caring for and transporting the plugs, are all labor intensive processes. In many situations, a private landowner has no choice but to use plant stock from another state. Furthermore, so-called conservative plant species, those restricted to a very particular habitat, can be “uncooperative” when encouraged to expand. Simply expanding the size of the opening by thinning and removing the tree cover is not enough to expand the relict patch because the rare species have trouble competing against the more weedy early successional vegetation.

Above: Cara Joos, Science Coordinator for the Central Hardwoods Joint Venture, makes a point to the group.

In the follow-up discussion, three main challenges to a regional approach to grassland restoration and conservation were identified:

  1. The popularity of the field of science once known as “Natural History,” an integrated science that considers biotic and abiotic interactions (plants, animals, the physical environment), is declining. Biology departments are increasingly focused on specialized fields such as molecular biology. As current biologists with expertise in field-based research retire, fewer are coming along to take their place.
  2. Plants with local genetic characteristics are vital for quality restoration work. Companies exist that will collect seed and propagate plants from local stock, but at significant cost.
  3. A baseline assessment, a current inventory, requires a mapping methodology that can parse out warm season and cool season, or native and non-native grasslands, efficiently across large landscapes. This is a known issue in the geospatial science and conservation community, and we continue to seek solutions.

In the end, all partners came away with a better understanding of the current and potential state of regional scale grassland conservation. The staff of the GCPO LCC was very impressed with the depth of botanical knowledge that grounds the Southeastern Grassland Initiative and the possible applications of that knowledge, such as the on-going effort to digitize and geo-tag the thousands of grassland obligate specimens found in the many herbaria of our region. Dwayne and Theo of the SGI expressed appreciation for the geospatial science products developed by the LCC and their potential applications. And we were all impressed by the work done by the Department of Landscape Architecture and Entomological Museum here at Mississippi State University and how their projects can strengthen and enhance our conservation work. This meeting laid the groundwork for what we hope is a highly effective regional partnership as we move forward to conserve this ecologically important and highly imperiled feature of the southeastern landscape.

Dead Zone Redemption

A great post from The Nature Conservancy's Bryan Piazza, director of freshwater and marine science for TNC's Louisiana program on working smart to address Gulf hypoxia.  Bryan cites Landscape Conservation Cooperatives as important partners to in scientific targeting to "align along our shared nutrient reduction goals to ensure that our collective efforts have maximum impact in the primary focus states and throughout the Mississippi River Basin."

Read the full Dead Zone Redemption blog post.

Dead Zone Redemption

A great post from The Nature Conservancy's Bryan Piazza, director of freshwater and marine science for TNC's Louisiana program on working smart to address Gulf hypoxia.  Bryan cites Landscape Conservation Cooperatives as important partners to in scientific targeting to "align along our shared nutrient reduction goals to ensure that our collective efforts have maximum impact in the primary focus states and throughout the Mississippi River Basin."

Read the full Dead Zone Redemption blog post.

GCPO LCC solicits Statements of Interest for research projects

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The long-range vision for the GCPO LCC’s Conservation Blueprint is to develop a strategic framework for collaborative conservation. It is envisioned that the strategic framework will allow the proactive assessment of conservation or other land use change outcomes in terms of the objectives of the partnership (e.g. reversing declines of a particular species).  Currently, the GCPO LCC lacks objectives or species-habitat models for most of the species identified in its draft Integrated Science Agenda. The GCPO LCC’s Blueprint Development Team identified this need as its highest priority to address in 2017.  (The Team includes the GCPO LCC’s  Adaptation Science Management Team plus staff from Joint Ventures, the Southeastern Aquatic Resource Partnership, State Wildlife Action Plans, and the National Wildlife Refuge Inventory & Monitoring program.)

To meet this need, the GCPO LCC is soliciting Statements of Interest (SOIs) to identify potential investigators for one or more projects addressing the LCC’s need for models of species-habitat relationships. Funding for projects will be contingent upon sufficient appropriations. You can download the full request and submit an SOI at http://fwrc.msstate.edu/gcpolcc/.  

GCPO LCC solicits Statements of Interest for research projects

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The long-range vision for the GCPO LCC’s Conservation Blueprint is to develop a strategic framework for collaborative conservation. It is envisioned that the strategic framework will allow the proactive assessment of conservation or other land use change outcomes in terms of the objectives of the partnership (e.g. reversing declines of a particular species).  Currently, the GCPO LCC lacks objectives or species-habitat models for most of the species identified in its draft Integrated Science Agenda. The GCPO LCC’s Blueprint Development Team identified this need as its highest priority to address in 2017.  (The Team includes the GCPO LCC’s  Adaptation Science Management Team plus staff from Joint Ventures, the Southeastern Aquatic Resource Partnership, State Wildlife Action Plans, and the National Wildlife Refuge Inventory & Monitoring program.)

To meet this need, the GCPO LCC is soliciting Statements of Interest (SOIs) to identify potential investigators for one or more projects addressing the LCC’s need for models of species-habitat relationships. Funding for projects will be contingent upon sufficient appropriations. You can download the full request and submit an SOI at http://fwrc.msstate.edu/gcpolcc/.  

How to make local governments want more green infrastructure

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What if key communities and homeowners along the Gulf Coast knew they had an opportunity to save up to 20% per year on flood insurance premiums?  And what if that opportunity translated into a decreased risk of flooding?  Would they take steps to realize those savings?

The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and researchers at Texas A&M University are betting yes.  With support from a multi-LCC grant and funding from the Knobloch Foundation, their community resilience project has recently identified just such an opportunity.

Using open space protection to save on flood insurance and conserve nature

Using existing datasets, they developed a model that predicts lands with a high probability of flooding.  Next they used land cover data and maps to identify unprotected areas with high conservation value for land trusts across the region.  By combining these two sets of results, they were able to identify 421 watersheds out of ~2600 across the Gulf as the most effective for land conservation to protect communities from flooding and conserve open space for fish and wildlife.  A mapping platform that hosts these data is available at TNC’s Coastal Resilience 2.0 mapping tool

“Floods are a real and growing problem along the Gulf coast and land conservation is an effective way to reduce flood risk,” says Dr. Christine Shepard, Director of Science for the Conservancy’s Gulf of Mexico Program. “We have an opportunity in the Gulf of Mexico to increase community resilience by preserving open spaces in areas of high flood risk.  The science shows us where we can do this in a way that also benefits fish and wildlife.”

Why does land conservation lower insurance premiums?

As the TNC report Protecting Open Space & Ourselves states, “Open space enables the critical natural functions of wetlands to persist; the water storage capacity of the landscape is maximized and flooding beyond the extent of the actual protected area can be reduced.”  Not only that, but the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) voluntary Community Rating System (CRS) gives communities points for flood mitigation activities, including open space protection, which can earn their citizen’s an insurance discount of up to 20%.

These discounts are based on good science.  The 2012 study “Open space protection and flood mitigation: A national study” found that from 1999 to 2009, a point increase in the CRS system significantly decreased the observed amount of insured flood damage in floodplain areas.

To get a sense of the magnitude of the opportunity here, within (or partially within) the 421 high opportunity Gulf watersheds lie 343 municipalities, counties, and parishes.  Yet, as of 2014 only 100 of those communities were enrolled in the CRS program.  Even those 100 communities only earned an average of 131 out of a possible 2,020 points for open space preservation.  

Will communities take advantage of this new knowledge?

A hammer is only useful when someone picks it up to drive a nail.  Accordingly, the Gulf Coastal Plains & Ozarks LCC is providing additional support to ensure that Gulf communities can begin to use this new flood protection analysis.  The Nature Conservancy will be engaging the residents and officials of three or more localities through a series of workshops in the spring of 2017.  They are working with partners who will use the experience to engage additional communities elsewhere. (For more information or to nominate your community, email cshepard@tnc.org.)

This project will also be integrating information developed by the multi-LCC Tidal Wetland Migration project.  “Mike Osland has great information showing which open space areas are important for wetland migration as sea level rises,” says Shepard.  “We would also like to identify which watersheds are most resilient to climate change and sea level rise by incorporating information on future development and where future flood claims are likely to be, combined with Mike’s information.  Right now we have the data but not the funding to take these additional steps.”

Gray or green?

This approach to flood risk reduction is one type of “green infrastructure” that is increasingly being deployed worldwide.  Dr. Shepard explains, “Gray vs. green infrastructure choices are local decisions that must be made based on local circumstances, including the level of risk reduction desired and what is to be protected - is it critical infrastructure?  Also the amount of funding is a factor because gray infrastructure, such as a sea wall, tends to be far more resource intensive and requires maintenance.  Many solutions could be hybrid.  Green infrastructure is not a magic bullet, but it should absolutely be one of the tools to achieve flood protection.”

From 1996 to 2007, communities within the ~2,600-watershed Gulf of Mexico study area experienced the largest amount of insured property damage in the U.S.  As the first of its kind to examine undeveloped lands across these Gulf watersheds, this coastal resilience study is a great addition to the flood protection toolbox.

Up next: Read how small changes in temperature and/or rainfall along the Gulf can lead to large changes in ecosystem structure and function.

How to make local governments want more green infrastructure

/**/ /**/ --> /**/ --> /**/ --> /**/ --> /**/ --> /**/ --> /**/ --> /**/ --> /**/ --> /**/ --> /**/ --> /**/ /**/ /**/ --> /**/ --> /**/ --> /**/ --> /**/ --> /**/ --> /**/ --> /**/ --> /**/ --> /**/ --> /**/ --> /**/

What if key communities and homeowners along the Gulf Coast knew they had an opportunity to save up to 20% per year on flood insurance premiums?  And what if that opportunity translated into a decreased risk of flooding?  Would they take steps to realize those savings?

The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and researchers at Texas A&M University are betting yes.  With support from a multi-LCC grant and funding from the Knobloch Foundation, their community resilience project has recently identified just such an opportunity.

Using open space protection to save on flood insurance and conserve nature

Using existing datasets, they developed a model that predicts lands with a high probability of flooding.  Next they used land cover data and maps to identify unprotected areas with high conservation value for land trusts across the region.  By combining these two sets of results, they were able to identify 421 watersheds out of ~2600 across the Gulf as the most effective for land conservation to protect communities from flooding and conserve open space for fish and wildlife.  A mapping platform that hosts these data is available at TNC’s Coastal Resilience 2.0 mapping tool

“Floods are a real and growing problem along the Gulf coast and land conservation is an effective way to reduce flood risk,” says Dr. Christine Shepard, Director of Science for the Conservancy’s Gulf of Mexico Program. “We have an opportunity in the Gulf of Mexico to increase community resilience by preserving open spaces in areas of high flood risk.  The science shows us where we can do this in a way that also benefits fish and wildlife.”

Why does land conservation lower insurance premiums?

As the TNC report Protecting Open Space & Ourselves states, “Open space enables the critical natural functions of wetlands to persist; the water storage capacity of the landscape is maximized and flooding beyond the extent of the actual protected area can be reduced.”  Not only that, but the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) voluntary Community Rating System (CRS) gives communities points for flood mitigation activities, including open space protection, which can earn their citizen’s an insurance discount of up to 20%.

These discounts are based on good science.  The 2012 study “Open space protection and flood mitigation: A national study” found that from 1999 to 2009, a point increase in the CRS system significantly decreased the observed amount of insured flood damage in floodplain areas.

To get a sense of the magnitude of the opportunity here, within (or partially within) the 421 high opportunity Gulf watersheds lie 343 municipalities, counties, and parishes.  Yet, as of 2014 only 100 of those communities were enrolled in the CRS program.  Even those 100 communities only earned an average of 131 out of a possible 2,020 points for open space preservation.  

Will communities take advantage of this new knowledge?

A hammer is only useful when someone picks it up to drive a nail.  Accordingly, the Gulf Coastal Plains & Ozarks LCC is providing additional support to ensure that Gulf communities can begin to use this new flood protection analysis.  The Nature Conservancy will be engaging the residents and officials of three or more localities through a series of workshops in the spring of 2017.  They are working with partners who will use the experience to engage additional communities elsewhere. (For more information or to nominate your community, email cshepard@tnc.org.)

This project will also be integrating information developed by the multi-LCC Tidal Wetland Migration project.  “Mike Osland has great information showing which open space areas are important for wetland migration as sea level rises,” says Shepard.  “We would also like to identify which watersheds are most resilient to climate change and sea level rise by incorporating information on future development and where future flood claims are likely to be, combined with Mike’s information.  Right now we have the data but not the funding to take these additional steps.”

Gray or green?

This approach to flood risk reduction is one type of “green infrastructure” that is increasingly being deployed worldwide.  Dr. Shepard explains, “Gray vs. green infrastructure choices are local decisions that must be made based on local circumstances, including the level of risk reduction desired and what is to be protected - is it critical infrastructure?  Also the amount of funding is a factor because gray infrastructure, such as a sea wall, tends to be far more resource intensive and requires maintenance.  Many solutions could be hybrid.  Green infrastructure is not a magic bullet, but it should absolutely be one of the tools to achieve flood protection.”

From 1996 to 2007, communities within the ~2,600-watershed Gulf of Mexico study area experienced the largest amount of insured property damage in the U.S.  As the first of its kind to examine undeveloped lands across these Gulf watersheds, this coastal resilience study is a great addition to the flood protection toolbox.

Up next: Read how small changes in temperature and/or rainfall along the Gulf can lead to large changes in ecosystem structure and function.

GCPO LCC Gets a New Geomatics Coordinator

It’s a time of transition for the GCPO. Dr. Kristine Evans left her position as Geomatics Coordinator in December to pursue her dreams as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Aquaculture at Mississippi State University. The LCC made great strides under her leadership and we are very grateful that she will continue to serve the LCC as a liaison to MSU.

There was strong competition among the applicants for the Geomatics Coordinator. In the final analysis, Dr. Toby Gray rose to the top. He brings a deep passion for conservation and strong geospatial skills to the team. Since 2014, Toby has been working as a researcher for the LCC, primarily focused on completing the Ecological Assessments for Grasslands and Open Pine. 

We are happy to announce that Dr. Gray has verbally accepted the Geomatics Coordinator Position.  Barring any delays, Toby will officially take the mantle by March 1st. Given his familiarity with the LCC, we know that Toby will hit the ground running. In fact, he is already working to host a Grasslands Conservation Workshop for the end of February. You can contact Toby at toby@gri.msstate.edu for more information.

Toby is very excited about the opportunities that lay ahead. In his own words:

“I have been very fortunate to have spent the past two-and-a-half years as a Research Associate for the Gulf Coastal Plains and Ozarks Landscape Conservation Cooperative. Getting to know so many of our partners across the region and developing a greater understanding of the challenges to science-based landscape conservation design, not to mention walking through and observing so many representative landscapes up close, has been a great experience. I have also benefitted greatly by having an excellent geomatics coordinator, project leader, wildlife biologist, and collaborator in Dr. Kristine Evans in the office right next door to mine. When it comes to using geospatial data to answer questions and develop tools to serve the cause of landscape conservation, the challenges loom large. Raw data are ubiquitous, housed in many different locations, in many different formats, and developed under varying protocols to serve many different purposes. Conservation is applied across the region by a diverse constellation of partners working at different scales in different ecological systems for different agencies, universities, and organizations. To meet these challenges, we have an excellent staff here at the GCPO LCC, with strong connections to a network of skilled scientists, universities, and research institutes. We have very sophisticated geospatial tools, with more tools coming online almost monthly. This is a very exciting time to be working in geospatial science, and, for me, there is no other field in which I would like to apply my expertise more than that of large landscape conservation.”

Up next: Read about how to make local governments want more green infrastructure 

GCPO LCC Gets a New Geomatics Coordinator

It’s a time of transition for the GCPO. Dr. Kristine Evans left her position as Geomatics Coordinator in December to pursue her dreams as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Aquaculture at Mississippi State University. The LCC made great strides under her leadership and we are very grateful that she will continue to serve the LCC as a liaison to MSU.

There was strong competition among the applicants for the Geomatics Coordinator. In the final analysis, Dr. Toby Gray rose to the top. He brings a deep passion for conservation and strong geospatial skills to the team. Since 2014, Toby has been working as a researcher for the LCC, primarily focused on completing the Ecological Assessments for Grasslands and Open Pine. 

We are happy to announce that Dr. Gray has verbally accepted the Geomatics Coordinator Position.  Barring any delays, Toby will officially take the mantle by March 1st. Given his familiarity with the LCC, we know that Toby will hit the ground running. In fact, he is already working to host a Grasslands Conservation Workshop for the end of February. You can contact Toby at toby@gri.msstate.edu for more information.

Toby is very excited about the opportunities that lay ahead. In his own words:

“I have been very fortunate to have spent the past two-and-a-half years as a Research Associate for the Gulf Coastal Plains and Ozarks Landscape Conservation Cooperative. Getting to know so many of our partners across the region and developing a greater understanding of the challenges to science-based landscape conservation design, not to mention walking through and observing so many representative landscapes up close, has been a great experience. I have also benefitted greatly by having an excellent geomatics coordinator, project leader, wildlife biologist, and collaborator in Dr. Kristine Evans in the office right next door to mine. When it comes to using geospatial data to answer questions and develop tools to serve the cause of landscape conservation, the challenges loom large. Raw data are ubiquitous, housed in many different locations, in many different formats, and developed under varying protocols to serve many different purposes. Conservation is applied across the region by a diverse constellation of partners working at different scales in different ecological systems for different agencies, universities, and organizations. To meet these challenges, we have an excellent staff here at the GCPO LCC, with strong connections to a network of skilled scientists, universities, and research institutes. We have very sophisticated geospatial tools, with more tools coming online almost monthly. This is a very exciting time to be working in geospatial science, and, for me, there is no other field in which I would like to apply my expertise more than that of large landscape conservation.”

Up next: Read about how to make local governments want more green infrastructure 

Transitioning into 2017

A few weeks ago, the GCPO LCC staff gathered in Starkville, MS, for a 2-day staff retreat, where we started laying out our work plans and priorities for 2017. Our staff, because we work for multiple partner agencies and are physically located in offices across the LCC, get together frequently for staff conference calls, and we also come together a couple times a year for in-person staff retreats. We have found this to be an effective way of working together, and to keep up with what each of us is working on.

This year, the focus of our discussions is on transition. I had laid out a vision for that transition in a presentation I made to the Steering Committee last fall. That presentation recognized that our LCC had just completed its Conservation Blueprint 1.0, and we had also completed most of our Ecological Assessments work, which fed into the Blueprint. These were major milestones for our partnership, and they were important contributions to the Southeast Conservation Adaptation Strategy (SECAS). The question before us now was “Where should we focus our attention now?” Answering that question was the primary purpose of our meeting in Starkville. Our discussions were focused on 3 large topics: 1) Building towards a Blueprint 2.0; 2) Ecosystem services and human dimensions; and 3) Landscape conservation design.

  1. Building towards a Blueprint 2.0 – enhancing, improving, and updating the Blueprint will continue to be a primary focus for the GCPO LCC. As we move forward, that will entail the incorporation of species-habitat models into the Blueprint. Those models will more explicitly articulate the relationship between priority species habitat needs, and the availability of that habitat, both currently and in the future, in the LCC. To accomplish this work, the GCPO LCC is securing the services of 2 post-doctoral positions, one focused on terrestrial species and the other on aquatics, for the next 2 years.

  2. Ecosystem Services and Human Dimensions – our Strategic Plan identifies ecosystem services as an important science undertaking for the GCPO LCC. We have funded one research project on Ecosystem Services that was wrapped up recently, and which I believe will really help us in forging ahead in this important area. Mapping the potential ecological services in the GCPO, and better understanding landowners’ preferences on ecological services that they might want to provide on their lands, provide our science staff a good foundation for developing strategies for promoting various conservation practices in our region. These strategies can be linked up to our Blueprint information to build a more effective and sustainable landscape.
  3. Landscape Conservation Design (LCD) – last fall, our Steering Committee heard from Tina Chouinard of the US Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS or Service) about the Service’s new direction in implementing their Strategic Growth Policy. A new guidance document on Landscape Conservation Design released by the Chief of the National Wildlife Refuge System in October 2016, provides direction by which NWRs should participate in LCD processes, and articulates the responsibilities of the USFWS in the “collaborative processes and product development associated with LCD." The Guidance document further suggests that NWRs should work with LCCs or other “landscape-scale partnership that facilitates cooperation, collaboration, and coordination across multiple stakeholders in developing a Landscape Conservation Design.” The GCPO has approximately 60 NWRs, so there is going to be a tremendous need in our LCC for NWRs to be involved in the LCD process that we’re undertaking.

    To be effective and to meet the larger purpose of an LCD, the GCPO’s LCDs must include more than NWRs in designing a landscape of the future. Our other partners, such as the Forest Service and state partners, have significant land holdings in the GCPO. There are also vast acreages of private lands in our geography, some held by corporate interests, and other partners such as tribes have smaller acreages that are nonetheless significant in a landscape conservation design.  LCCs attempt to bring all these pieces of the puzzle together into a coherent vision of a sustainable landscape.

Transition can be an uncomfortable exercise, especially when priorities change, and as I write this, we are still in the very earliest stages of President Trump’s administration and transition. I’m sure that much of the uncertainty surrounding the current transition will clear up as new leadership gets installed in the Department of the Interior, and as priorities and policies are communicated to our federal partner agencies. In the meantime, the priorities of the GCPO LCC remain the same as they were in 2016, and as directed by our Steering Committee’s decisions over the years. We’ll continue to provide science-based products, tools and recommendations to achieve our vision “to ensure natural and cultural landscapes capable of sustaining healthy ecosystems, clean water, fish, wildlife, and human communities in the 180-million acre Gulf Coastal Plains & Ozarks region through the 21st century.”

Up next: Read about a new online tool and datasets that will help coastal communities transition into a focus on resilience to sea level rise.

Transitioning into 2017

A few weeks ago, the Science Team for the GCPO LCC gathered in Starkville, MS, for a 2-day staff retreat, where we started laying out our work plans and priorities for 2017. Our staff, because we work for multiple partner agencies, and are physically located in offices across the LCC, get together frequently for staff conference calls, and we also come together a couple times a year for in-person staff retreats. We have found this to be an effective way of working together, and to keep up with what each of us is working on.

This year, the focus of our discussions is on transition. I had laid out a vision for that transition in a presentation I made to the Steering Committee last fall. That presentation recognized that our LCC had just completed its Conservation Blueprint 1.0, and we had also completed most of our Ecological Assessments work, which fed into the Blueprint. These were major milestones for our partnership, and they were important contributions to the Southeast Conservation Adaptation Strategy (SECAS). The question before us now was “Where should we focus our attention now?” Answering that question was the primary purpose of our meeting in Starkville. Our discussions were focused on 3 large topics: 1) Building towards a Blueprint 2.0; 2) Ecosystem services and human dimensions, and; 3) Landscape conservation design.

  1. Building towards a Blueprint 2.0 – enhancing, improving, and updating the Blueprint will continue to be a primary focus for the GCPO LCC. As we move forward, that will entail the incorporation of species-habitat models into the Blueprint. Those models will more explicitly articulate the relationship between priority species habitat needs, and the availability of that habitat, both currently and in the future, in the LCC. To accomplish this work, the GCPO LCC is securing the services of 2 post-doctoral positions, one focused on terrestrial species and the other on aquatics, for the next 2 years.

  2. Ecosystem Services and Human Dimensions – our Strategic Plan identifies ecosystem services as an important science undertaking for the GCPO LCC. We have funded one research project on Ecosystem Services that was wrapped up recently, and which I believe will really help us in forging ahead in this important area. Mapping the potential ecological services in the GCPO, and better understanding landowners’ preferences on ecological services that they might want to provide on their lands, provide our science staff a good foundation for developing strategies for promoting various conservation practices in our region. These strategies can be linked up to our Blueprint information to build a more effective and sustainable landscape.
  3. Landscape Conservation Design (LCD) – last fall, our Steering Committee heard from Tina Chouinard of the US Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS or Service) about the Service’s new direction in implementing their Strategic Growth Policy. A new guidance document on Landscape Conservation Design released by the Chief of the National Wildlife Refuge System in October 2016, provides direction by which NWRs should participate in LCD processes, and articulates the responsibilities of the USFWS in the “collaborative processes and product development associated with LCD. The Guidance document further suggests that NWR’s should work with LCC’s or other “landscape-scale partnership that facilitates cooperation, collaboration, and coordination across multiple stakeholders.in developing a Landscape Conservation Design”. The GCPO has approximately 60 NWR’s, so there is going to be a tremendous need in our LCC for NWR’s to be involved in the LCD process that we’re undertaking.

    To be effective and to meet the larger purpose of an LCD, the GCPO’s LCDs must include more than NWRs in designing a landscape of the future. Our other partners, such as the Forest Service and state partners, have significant land holdings in the GCPO. There are also vast acreages of private lands in our geography, some held by corporate interests, and other partners such as tribes have smaller acreages that are nonetheless significant in a landscape conservation design.  LCCs attempt to bring all these pieces of the puzzle together into a coherent vision of a sustainable landscape.

Transition can be an uncomfortable exercise, especially when priorities change, and as I write this, we are still in the very earliest stages of President Trump’s administration and transition. I’m sure that much of the uncertainty surrounding the current transition will clear up as new leadership gets installed in the Department of the Interior, and as priorities and policies are communicated to our federal partner agencies. In the meantime, the priorities of the GCPO LCC remain the same as they were in 2016, and as directed by our Steering Committee’s decisions over the years. We’ll continue to provide science-based products, tools and recommendations to achieve our vision “to ensure natural and cultural landscapes capable of sustaining healthy ecosystems, clean water, fish, wildlife, and human communities in the 180-million acre Gulf Coastal Plains & Ozarks region through the 21st century.”

Climatic controls on the global distribution, abundance, and diversity of mangrove forests

Here’s the abstract and link to a new study that was recently published in Ecological Monographs.

Osland, M. J., L. C. Feher, K. T. Griffith, K. C. Cavanaugh, N. M. Enwright, R. H. Day, C. L. Stagg, K. W. Krauss, R. J. Howard, J. B. Grace, and K. Rogers. 2017. Climatic controls on the global distribution, abundance, and species richness of mangrove forests. Accepted to Ecological Monographs.

Link: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ecm.1248/abstract

Abstract:

Mangrove forests are highly productive tidal saline wetland ecosystems found along sheltered tropical and subtropical coasts. Ecologists have long assumed that climatic drivers (i.e., temperature and rainfall regimes) govern the global distribution, structure, and function of mangrove forests. However, data constraints have hindered the quantification of direct climate-mangrove linkages in many parts of the world.

Recently, the quality and availability of global-scale climate and mangrove data have been improving. Here, we used these data to better understand the influence of air temperature and rainfall regimes upon the distribution, abundance, and species richness of mangrove forests. Although our analyses identify global-scale relationships and thresholds, we show that the influence of climatic drivers is best characterized via regional range limit-specific analyses. We quantified climatic controls across targeted gradients in temperature and/or rainfall within 14 mangrove distributional range limits.

Climatic thresholds for mangrove presence, abundance, and species richness differed among the 14 studied range limits. We identified minimum temperature-based thresholds for range limits in eastern North America, eastern Australia, New Zealand, eastern Asia, eastern South America, and southeast Africa. We identified rainfall-based thresholds for range limits in western North America, western Gulf of Mexico, western South America, western Australia, Middle East, northwest Africa, east central Africa, and west central Africa.

Our results show that in certain range limits (e.g., eastern North America, western Gulf of Mexico, eastern Asia), winter air temperature extremes play an especially important role. We conclude that rainfall and temperature regimes are both important in western North America, western Gulf of Mexico, and western Australia.

With climate change, alterations in temperature and rainfall regimes will affect the global distribution, abundance, and diversity of mangrove forests. In general, warmer winter temperatures are expected to allow mangroves to expand poleward at the expense of salt marshes. However, dispersal and habitat availability constraints may hinder expansion near certain range limits. Along arid and semi-arid coasts, decreases or increases in rainfall are expected to lead to mangrove contraction or expansion, respectively. Collectively, our analyses quantify climate-mangrove linkages and improve our understanding of the expected global- and regional-scale effects of climate change upon mangrove forests.

Up next: Read about a GCPO LCC-sponsored coastal resilience initiative along the Gulf Coast

Climatic controls on the global distribution, abundance, and diversity of mangrove forests

Here’s the abstract and link to a new study that was recently published in Ecological Monographs.

Osland, M. J., L. C. Feher, K. T. Griffith, K. C. Cavanaugh, N. M. Enwright, R. H. Day, C. L. Stagg, K. W. Krauss, R. J. Howard, J. B. Grace, and K. Rogers. 2017. Climatic controls on the global distribution, abundance, and species richness of mangrove forests. Accepted to Ecological Monographs.

Link: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ecm.1248/abstract

Abstract:

Mangrove forests are highly productive tidal saline wetland ecosystems found along sheltered tropical and subtropical coasts. Ecologists have long assumed that climatic drivers (i.e., temperature and rainfall regimes) govern the global distribution, structure, and function of mangrove forests. However, data constraints have hindered the quantification of direct climate-mangrove linkages in many parts of the world.

Recently, the quality and availability of global-scale climate and mangrove data have been improving. Here, we used these data to better understand the influence of air temperature and rainfall regimes upon the distribution, abundance, and species richness of mangrove forests. Although our analyses identify global-scale relationships and thresholds, we show that the influence of climatic drivers is best characterized via regional range limit-specific analyses. We quantified climatic controls across targeted gradients in temperature and/or rainfall within 14 mangrove distributional range limits.

Climatic thresholds for mangrove presence, abundance, and species richness differed among the 14 studied range limits. We identified minimum temperature-based thresholds for range limits in eastern North America, eastern Australia, New Zealand, eastern Asia, eastern South America, and southeast Africa. We identified rainfall-based thresholds for range limits in western North America, western Gulf of Mexico, western South America, western Australia, Middle East, northwest Africa, east central Africa, and west central Africa.

Our results show that in certain range limits (e.g., eastern North America, western Gulf of Mexico, eastern Asia), winter air temperature extremes play an especially important role. We conclude that rainfall and temperature regimes are both important in western North America, western Gulf of Mexico, and western Australia.

With climate change, alterations in temperature and rainfall regimes will affect the global distribution, abundance, and diversity of mangrove forests. In general, warmer winter temperatures are expected to allow mangroves to expand poleward at the expense of salt marshes. However, dispersal and habitat availability constraints may hinder expansion near certain range limits. Along arid and semi-arid coasts, decreases or increases in rainfall are expected to lead to mangrove contraction or expansion, respectively. Collectively, our analyses quantify climate-mangrove linkages and improve our understanding of the expected global- and regional-scale effects of climate change upon mangrove forests.

Climatic controls on the global distribution, abundance, and diversity of mangrove forests

Here’s the abstract and link to a new study that was recently published in Ecological Monographs.

Osland, M. J., L. C. Feher, K. T. Griffith, K. C. Cavanaugh, N. M. Enwright, R. H. Day, C. L. Stagg, K. W. Krauss, R. J. Howard, J. B. Grace, and K. Rogers. 2017. Climatic controls on the global distribution, abundance, and species richness of mangrove forests. Accepted to Ecological Monographs.

Link: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ecm.1248/abstract

Abstract:

Mangrove forests are highly productive tidal saline wetland ecosystems found along sheltered tropical and subtropical coasts. Ecologists have long assumed that climatic drivers (i.e., temperature and rainfall regimes) govern the global distribution, structure, and function of mangrove forests. However, data constraints have hindered the quantification of direct climate-mangrove linkages in many parts of the world. Recently, the quality and availability of global-scale climate and mangrove data have been improving. Here, we used these data to better understand the influence of air temperature and rainfall regimes upon the distribution, abundance, and species richness of mangrove forests. Although our analyses identify global-scale relationships and thresholds, we show that the influence of climatic drivers is best characterized via regional range limit-specific analyses. We quantified climatic controls across targeted gradients in temperature and/or rainfall within 14 mangrove distributional range limits. Climatic thresholds for mangrove presence, abundance, and species richness differed among the 14 studied range limits. We identified minimum temperature-based thresholds for range limits in eastern North America, eastern Australia, New Zealand, eastern Asia, eastern South America, and southeast Africa. We identified rainfall-based thresholds for range limits in western North America, western Gulf of Mexico, western South America, western Australia, Middle East, northwest Africa, east central Africa, and west central Africa. Our results show that in certain range limits (e.g., eastern North America, western Gulf of Mexico, eastern Asia), winter air temperature extremes play an especially important role. We conclude that rainfall and temperature regimes are both important in western North America, western Gulf of Mexico, and western Australia. With climate change, alterations in temperature and rainfall regimes will affect the global distribution, abundance, and diversity of mangrove forests. In general, warmer winter temperatures are expected to allow mangroves to expand poleward at the expense of salt marshes. However, dispersal and habitat availability constraints may hinder expansion near certain range limits. Along arid and semi-arid coasts, decreases or increases in rainfall are expected to lead to mangrove contraction or expansion, respectively. Collectively, our analyses quantify climate-mangrove linkages and improve our understanding of the expected global- and regional-scale effects of climate change upon mangrove forests.

Temperature and rainfall controls on coastal wetlands in the northern Gulf of Mexico

Coastal wetlands along the northern Gulf of Mexico are diverse. Salt marshes, mangrove forests, and salt flats are all different kinds of tidal saline wetland ecosystems that can be found in the region. In addition to supporting fish and wildlife, these coastal wetlands protect coastal communities, provide seafood, improve water quality, store carbon, and provide recreational opportunities.

Coastal ecologists have long known that temperature and rainfall regimes control the distribution and dominance of these different ecosystems. However, constraints in data quality and access have limited efforts to characterize the influence of climate on the region’s coastal wetlands. Below, I’ve included a link to a recent study published in Nature Climate Change where we used data from 10 estuaries in five states (TX, LA, MS, AL, and FL) to quantify these linkages and evaluate the implications of alternative future climate scenarios.

The results identify thresholds for mangrove forests, salt marshes, and salt flats. Within the region, small changes in temperature and/or rainfall can lead to large changes in ecosystem structure and function. For example, small changes in winter air temperature regimes (i.e., freeze events) can lead to mangrove expansion at the expense of salt marsh. And, in drier areas (south Texas), small changes in rainfall can alter salinity regimes and lead to the expansion or contraction of salt flats. Ecologists refer to these changes as ecological regime shifts. In coastal wetlands, such regime shifts can result in the gain and/or loss of certain ecosystem goods and services.

Citation: Gabler, C. A., M. J. Osland, J. B. Grace, C. L. Stagg, R. H. Day, S. B. Hartley, N. M. Enwright, A. S. From, M. L. McCoy, and J. L. McLeod. 2017. Macroclimatic change expected to transform coastal wetland ecosystems this century. Nature Climate Change.

Link: http://www.nature.com/nclimate/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nclimate3203.html

Up next: Read about a GCPO LCC-sponsored coastal resilience initiative along the Gulf Coast

Temperature and rainfall controls on coastal wetlands in the northern Gulf of Mexico

Coastal wetlands along the northern Gulf of Mexico are diverse. Salt marshes, mangrove forests, and salt flats are all different kinds of tidal saline wetland ecosystems that can be found in the region. In addition to supporting fish and wildlife, these coastal wetlands protect coastal communities, provide seafood, improve water quality, store carbon, and provide recreational opportunities.

Coastal ecologists have long known that temperature and rainfall regimes control the distribution and dominance of these different ecosystems. However, constraints in data quality and access have limited efforts to characterize the influence of climate on the region’s coastal wetlands. Below, I’ve included a link to a recent study published in Nature Climate Change where we used data from 10 estuaries in five states (TX, LA, MS, AL, and FL) to quantify these linkages and evaluate the implications of alternative future climate scenarios.

The results identify thresholds for mangrove forests, salt marshes, and salt flats. Within the region, small changes in temperature and/or rainfall can lead to large changes in ecosystem structure and function. For example, small changes in winter air temperature regimes (i.e., freeze events) can lead to mangrove expansion at the expense of salt marsh. And, in drier areas (south Texas), small changes in rainfall can alter salinity regimes and lead to the expansion or contraction of salt flats. Ecologists refer to these changes as ecological regime shifts. In coastal wetlands, such regime shifts can result in the gain and/or loss of certain ecosystem goods and services.

Citation: Gabler, C. A., M. J. Osland, J. B. Grace, C. L. Stagg, R. H. Day, S. B. Hartley, N. M. Enwright, A. S. From, M. L. McCoy, and J. L. McLeod. 2017. Macroclimatic change expected to transform coastal wetland ecosystems this century. Nature Climate Change.

Link: http://www.nature.com/nclimate/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nclimate3203.html

Temperature and rainfall controls on coastal wetlands in the northern Gulf of Mexico

Coastal wetlands along the northern Gulf of Mexico are diverse. Salt marshes, mangrove forests, and salt flats are all different kinds of tidal saline wetland ecosystems that can be found in the region. In addition to supporting fish and wildlife, these coastal wetlands protect coastal communities, provide seafood, improve water quality, store carbon, and provide recreational opportunities. Coastal ecologists have long known that temperature and rainfall regimes control the distribution and dominance of these different ecosystems. However, constraints in data quality and access have limited efforts to characterize the influence of climate on the region’s coastal wetlands. Below, I’ve included a link to a recent study published in Nature Climate Change where we used data from 10 estuaries in five states (TX, LA, MS, AL, and FL) to quantify these linkages and evaluate the implications of alternative future climate scenarios. The results identify thresholds for mangrove forests, salt marshes, and salt flats. Within the region, small changes in temperature and/or rainfall can lead to large changes in ecosystem structure and function. For example, small changes in winter air temperature regimes (i.e., freeze events) can lead to mangrove expansion at the expense of salt marsh. And, in drier areas (south Texas), small changes in rainfall can alter salinity regimes and lead to the expansion or contraction of salt flats. Ecologists refer to these changes as ecological regime shifts. In coastal wetlands, such regime shifts can result in the gain and/or loss of certain ecosystem goods and services.

Citation: Gabler, C. A., M. J. Osland, J. B. Grace, C. L. Stagg, R. H. Day, S. B. Hartley, N. M. Enwright, A. S. From, M. L. McCoy, and J. L. McLeod. 2017. Macroclimatic change expected to transform coastal wetland ecosystems this century. Nature Climate Change.

Link: http://www.nature.com/nclimate/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nclimate3203.html

Curve Balls and the Long Arc of U.S. Conservation History

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"This country has gotten where it is in spite of politics, not by the aid of it. That we have carried as much political bunk as we have and still survived shows we are a super nation." Will Rogers (1932)

Well, the world of conservation was certainly thrown a curve ball on November 8, 2016. The election of Donald J. Trump as the 45th President of the United States was unexpected by many people. For those of us in the conservation profession, it raises many questions on what the new President-elect’s priorities will be for our country. If the rhetoric of the campaign is any indication, conservationists have a right to be concerned.

I was thinking about all this as I traveled to the University of Tennessee at Martin last month, about a week after the election. My purpose for the trip was to speak to Dr. Eric Pelren’s Wildlife Policy class at UTM. I’ve previously enjoyed this experience, and enjoy the opportunity to meet his students and discuss some of the contemporary issues that are important in today’s conservation world.

The long arc of conservation history

This year presented a different kind of opportunity. The divisiveness and outright ugliness of the Presidential campaign, the stark differences between the two major party candidates on conservation issues, and the surprising outcome of the election caused anxiety for many people. But it also presented an opportunity to gain some different perspectives, through the eyes of the next generation of conservation leaders. Knowing that I’m rapidly approaching the twilight of my career, I was more interested in knowing what was on the minds of college-age students who are preparing to start their own careers in conservation. What were their concerns? What were their aspirations? What issues do they see on the horizon? And, what was the first spark that inspired them to pursue a career in conservation?

My talk focused on the history of migratory bird conservation and landscape-scale conservation, but really it was about the long arc of conservation history, using the story of Joint Ventures and Landscape Conservation Cooperatives to illustrate the progress of the last 35 years, which builds on a larger conservation story of what has transpired before, 

To prepare for the class, I asked the students to read 4 papers: 

  1. Baxter Open Letter to the Directorate.pdf provides 130 year historical context and challenges USFWS to meet the needs of the future;
  2. DOI Secretarial Order 3289 establishing LCCs and Climate Science Centers, a fundamentally new direction for the department; 
  3. Congressionally requested National Academy of Sciences Review of LCCs (summary), concluded that landscape-scale conservation/LCCs are important conservation priorities for the nation; and 
  4. An article (Scarlett_et_al-2016-Frontiers_in_Ecology_and_the_Environment.pdf) on the emergence of Network Governance in large landscape conservation, about emerging innovations in conservation governance that are enabling public-private partnerships to find new solutions to pressing problems.

Student perspectives: what’s important to the next generation

After the class, I invited the students to provide their perspectives on the conservation issues of the day, what their key issues and hopes are, and what inspired them to get into conservation.  Following is a summary of their responses:

  • What resonated most to you from reading the 4 conservation papers? – Many reacted to the Baxter Open Letter, saying that it had opened their eyes to the long-term history of conservation, and created a better understanding how conservation paradigms have changed over the last century. It also created an understanding of the continuing need to adapt to new times and challenges. One student wrote that the paper “opened my eyes up and lit a fire in me to help out even more” in protecting the natural resources that others have worked so hard to restore and maintain in the past.
  • What do you think are the most pressing conservation issues in the 21st century? – Reacting to the Presidential election, students expressed concerns about who the next Secretary of Interior would be, and what direction the country would take in conservation. Also, issues such as sprawling urbanization, loss of forests, population growth, and climate change were mentioned as important. The declining number of sportsmen was identified as an important challenge for state fish & wildlife agencies, and the North American model of wildlife conservation, that relies on this constituency for funding and relevance.
  • What are your personal goals, both short and long-term, in conservation? – Most of the students mentioned getting a job in the conservation field as their most important short-term goal. For longer term goals, there were a range of thoughts: post graduate degree in wildlife or advancement in a conservation organization; tackling larger conservation issues such as restoring bobwhites; being a mentor to the next generation of conservationists that will follow them; working on global conservation initiatives to conserve wildlife habitat or mitigate the effects of climate change.
  • What caused you to get into conservation as a profession? – Consistently, students identified a mentor, usually their father, who provided that first spark that got them interested in wildlife conservation as a potential career interest. Some students grew up in a state park, or close to a park where they could be outdoors and explore nature. All of the students wrote of the importance of being introduced to the outdoors at an early age, and how much they loved various outdoor activities, whether it be camping, hunting, fishing, or caving.

Resting easy in uncertain times

Clearly, we are in for some uncertain times as a new Administration takes office in Washington, DC and begins to implement its priorities for the country. I’m sure there will some changes that I will disagree with vehemently, but I remain hopeful that some of the more damaging changes will either be short-lived or abandoned altogether, and I also have hope that some positive changes will be implemented as well. I appreciate the UT-Martin students for their willingness to voice their opinions and perspectives on the current state of affairs in conservation. We owe it to this next generation of conservation leaders to both share our experiences on lessons learned throughout our careers, but also to hear them out on their own concerns and priorities as they prepare to launch their careers.

I am also able to rest a little easier knowing that when measured against the long arc of conservation history, the next 4 years is but a short blip, and progress will continue to be made. In the last century, our profession has weathered a financial depression, two World Wars, and numerous other setbacks, but has nonetheless continued to make progress in conserving fish and wildlife. I expect that we will continue that tradition as we move forward. With that in mind, it’s time for us to all roll up our sleeves and to work even harder to ensure that our next generation of conservation leaders have a conservation legacy on which to build.

Curve Balls and the Long Arc of U.S. Conservation History

/**/ /**/ --> /**/ --> /**/ --> /**/

"This country has gotten where it is in spite of politics, not by the aid of it. That we have carried as much political bunk as we have and still survived shows we are a super nation." Will Rogers (1932)

Well, the world of conservation was certainly thrown a curve ball on November 8, 2016. The election of Donald J. Trump as the 45th President of the United States was unexpected by many people. For those of us in the conservation profession, it raises many questions on what the new President-elect’s priorities will be for our country. If the rhetoric of the campaign is any indication, conservationists have a right to be concerned.

I was thinking about all this as I traveled to the University of Tennessee at Martin last month, about a week after the election. My purpose for the trip was to speak to Dr. Eric Pelren’s Wildlife Policy class at UTM. I’ve previously enjoyed this experience, and enjoy the opportunity to meet his students and discuss some of the contemporary issues that are important in today’s conservation world.

The long arc of conservation history

This year presented a different kind of opportunity. The divisiveness and outright ugliness of the Presidential campaign, the stark differences between the two major party candidates on conservation issues, and the surprising outcome of the election caused anxiety for many people. But it also presented an opportunity to gain some different perspectives, through the eyes of the next generation of conservation leaders. Knowing that I’m rapidly approaching the twilight of my career, I was more interested in knowing what was on the minds of college-age students who are preparing to start their own careers in conservation. What were their concerns? What were their aspirations? What issues do they see on the horizon? And, what was the first spark that inspired them to pursue a career in conservation?

My talk focused on the history of migratory bird conservation and landscape-scale conservation, but really it was about the long arc of conservation history, using the story of Joint Ventures and Landscape Conservation Cooperatives to illustrate the progress of the last 35 years, which builds on a larger conservation story of what has transpired before, 

To prepare for the class, I asked the students to read 4 papers: 

  1. Baxter Open Letter to the Directorate.pdf provides 130 year historical context and challenges USFWS to meet the needs of the future;
  2. DOI Secretarial Order 3289 establishing LCCs and Climate Science Centers, a fundamentally new direction for the department; 
  3. Congressionally requested National Academy of Sciences Review of LCCs (summary), concluded that landscape-scale conservation/LCCs are important conservation priorities for the nation; and 
  4. An article (Scarlett_et_al-2016-Frontiers_in_Ecology_and_the_Environment.pdf) on the emergence of Network Governance in large landscape conservation, about emerging innovations in conservation governance that are enabling public-private partnerships to find new solutions to pressing problems.

Student perspectives: what’s important to the next generation

After the class, I invited the students to provide their perspectives on the conservation issues of the day, what their key issues and hopes are, and what inspired them to get into conservation.  Following is a summary of their responses:

  • What resonated most to you from reading the 4 conservation papers? – Many reacted to the Baxter Open Letter, saying that it had opened their eyes to the long-term history of conservation, and created a better understanding how conservation paradigms have changed over the last century. It also created an understanding of the continuing need to adapt to new times and challenges. One student wrote that the paper “opened my eyes up and lit a fire in me to help out even more” in protecting the natural resources that others have worked so hard to restore and maintain in the past.
  • What do you think are the most pressing conservation issues in the 21st century? – Reacting to the Presidential election, students expressed concerns about who the next Secretary of Interior would be, and what direction the country would take in conservation. Also, issues such as sprawling urbanization, loss of forests, population growth, and climate change were mentioned as important. The declining number of sportsmen was identified as an important challenge for state fish & wildlife agencies, and the North American model of wildlife conservation, that relies on this constituency for funding and relevance.
  • What are your personal goals, both short and long-term, in conservation? – Most of the students mentioned getting a job in the conservation field as their most important short-term goal. For longer term goals, there were a range of thoughts: post graduate degree in wildlife or advancement in a conservation organization; tackling larger conservation issues such as restoring bobwhites; being a mentor to the next generation of conservationists that will follow them; working on global conservation initiatives to conserve wildlife habitat or mitigate the effects of climate change.
  • What caused you to get into conservation as a profession? – Consistently, students identified a mentor, usually their father, who provided that first spark that got them interested in wildlife conservation as a potential career interest. Some students grew up in a state park, or close to a park where they could be outdoors and explore nature. All of the students wrote of the importance of being introduced to the outdoors at an early age, and how much they loved various outdoor activities, whether it be camping, hunting, fishing, or caving.

Resting easy in uncertain times

Clearly, we are in for some uncertain times as a new Administration takes office in Washington, DC and begins to implement its priorities for the country. I’m sure there will some changes that I will disagree with vehemently, but I remain hopeful that some of the more damaging changes will either be short-lived or abandoned altogether, and I also have hope that some positive changes will be implemented as well. I appreciate the UT-Martin students for their willingness to voice their opinions and perspectives on the current state of affairs in conservation. We owe it to this next generation of conservation leaders to both share our experiences on lessons learned throughout our careers, but also to hear them out on their own concerns and priorities as they prepare to launch their careers.

I am also able to rest a little easier knowing that when measured against the long arc of conservation history, the next 4 years is but a short blip, and progress will continue to be made. In the last century, our profession has weathered a financial depression, two World Wars, and numerous other setbacks, but has nonetheless continued to make progress in conserving fish and wildlife. I expect that we will continue that tradition as we move forward. With that in mind, it’s time for us to all roll up our sleeves and to work even harder to ensure that our next generation of conservation leaders have a conservation legacy on which to build.

Curve Balls and the Long Arc of U.S. Conservation History

/**/ /**/ --> /**/ --> /**/ --> /**/

"This country has gotten where it is in spite of politics, not by the aid of it. That we have carried as much political bunk as we have and still survived shows we are a super nation." Will Rogers (1932)

Well, the world of conservation was certainly thrown a curve ball on November 8, 2016. The election of Donald J. Trump as the 45th President of the United States was unexpected by many people. For those of us in the conservation profession, it raises many questions on what the new President-elect’s priorities will be for our country. If the rhetoric of the campaign is any indication, conservationists have a right to be concerned.

I was thinking about all this as I traveled to the University of Tennessee at Martin last month, about a week after the election. My purpose for the trip was to speak to Dr. Eric Pelren’s Wildlife Policy class at UTM. I’ve previously enjoyed this experience, and enjoy the opportunity to meet his students and discuss some of the contemporary issues that are important in today’s conservation world.

The long arc of conservation history

This year presented a different kind of opportunity. The divisiveness and outright ugliness of the Presidential campaign, the stark differences between the two major party candidates on conservation issues, and the surprising outcome of the election caused anxiety for many people. But it also presented an opportunity to gain some different perspectives, through the eyes of the next generation of conservation leaders. Knowing that I’m rapidly approaching the twilight of my career, I was more interested in knowing what was on the minds of college-age students who are preparing to start their own careers in conservation. What were their concerns? What were their aspirations? What issues do they see on the horizon? And, what was the first spark that inspired them to pursue a career in conservation?

My talk focused on the history of migratory bird conservation and landscape-scale conservation, but really it was about the long arc of conservation history, using the story of Joint Ventures and Landscape Conservation Cooperatives to illustrate the progress of the last 35 years, which builds on a larger conservation story of what has transpired before, 

To prepare for the class, I asked the students to read 4 papers: 

  1. Baxter Open Letter to the Directorate.pdf provides 130 year historical context and challenges USFWS to meet the needs of the future;
  2. DOI Secretarial Order 3289 establishing LCCs and Climate Science Centers, a fundamentally new direction for the department; 
  3. Congressionally requested National Academy of Sciences Review of LCCs (summary), concluded that landscape-scale conservation/LCCs are important conservation priorities for the nation; and 
  4. An article (Scarlett_et_al-2016-Frontiers_in_Ecology_and_the_Environment.pdf) on the emergence of Network Governance in large landscape conservation, about emerging innovations in conservation governance that are enabling public-private partnerships to find new solutions to pressing problems.

Student perspectives: what’s important to the next generation

After the class, I invited the students to provide their perspectives on the conservation issues of the day, what their key issues and hopes are, and what inspired them to get into conservation.  Following is a summary of their responses:

  • What resonated most to you from reading the 4 conservation papers? – Many reacted to the Baxter Open Letter, saying that it had opened their eyes to the long-term history of conservation, and created a better understanding how conservation paradigms have changed over the last century. It also created an understanding of the continuing need to adapt to new times and challenges. One student wrote that the paper “opened my eyes up and lit a fire in me to help out even more” in protecting the natural resources that others have worked so hard to restore and maintain in the past.
  • What do you think are the most pressing conservation issues in the 21st century? – Reacting to the Presidential election, students expressed concerns about who the next Secretary of Interior would be, and what direction the country would take in conservation. Also, issues such as sprawling urbanization, loss of forests, population growth, and climate change were mentioned as important. The declining number of sportsmen was identified as an important challenge for state fish & wildlife agencies, and the North American model of wildlife conservation, that relies on this constituency for funding and relevance.
  • What are your personal goals, both short and long-term, in conservation? – Most of the students mentioned getting a job in the conservation field as their most important short-term goal. For longer term goals, there were a range of thoughts: post graduate degree in wildlife or advancement in a conservation organization; tackling larger conservation issues such as restoring bobwhites; being a mentor to the next generation of conservationists that will follow them; working on global conservation initiatives to conserve wildlife habitat or mitigate the effects of climate change.
  • What caused you to get into conservation as a profession? – Consistently, students identified a mentor, usually their father, who provided that first spark that got them interested in wildlife conservation as a potential career interest. Some students grew up in a state park, or close to a park where they could be outdoors and explore nature. All of the students wrote of the importance of being introduced to the outdoors at an early age, and how much they loved various outdoor activities, whether it be camping, hunting, fishing, or caving.

Resting easy in uncertain times

Clearly, we are in for some uncertain times as a new Administration takes office in Washington, DC and begins to implement its priorities for the country. I’m sure there will some changes that I will disagree with vehemently, but I remain hopeful that some of the more damaging changes will either be short-lived or abandoned altogether, and I also have hope that some positive changes will be implemented as well. I appreciate the UT-Martin students for their willingness to voice their opinions and perspectives on the current state of affairs in conservation. We owe it to this next generation of conservation leaders to both share our experiences on lessons learned throughout our careers, but also to hear them out on their own concerns and priorities as they prepare to launch their careers.

I am also able to rest a little easier knowing that when measured against the long arc of conservation history, the next 4 years is but a short blip, and progress will continue to be made. In the last century, our profession has weathered a financial depression, two World Wars, and numerous other setbacks, but has nonetheless continued to make progress in conserving fish and wildlife. I expect that we will continue that tradition as we move forward. With that in mind, it’s time for us to all roll up our sleeves and to work even harder to ensure that our next generation of conservation leaders have a conservation legacy on which to build.

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