Using a Comprehensive Landscape Approach for More Effective Conservation and Restoration

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Also see October 2011 presentation to Council

The Independent Scientific Advisory Board (ISAB) is pleased to submit its report "Using a Comprehensive Landscape Approach for More Effective Conservation and Restoration" to the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, the Columbia River Basin Indian Tribes, and NOAA Fisheries.

Landscapes are the features of an area of land, including the physical, biological, and socioeconomic characteristics. Collectively, they reflect the biophysical origins and the overlay of culture and human presence, often created over millennia. However, and more importantly, landscapes reflect a living synthesis of ecology, people, and place vital to local and regional identity, and social and economic wellbeing. Landscapes, their character and quality, help define the self image of a region - a sense of place. They are the dynamic backdrop to people’s lives. Most importantly, for this report, human actions interact within the Columbia River Basin landscapes to ultimately shape abundance, productivity, diversity, and resilience of fish and wildlife populations.

Columbia River Basin landscapes are as varied as those of any river in the world, but they also carry the signature of large-scale change through human activities. A history of land use and conversion, alteration of habitat and habitat connectivity, socioeconomic growth and development, expansion of non-native species, and a shift from natural to artificial production of native and non-native fishes translate to declines in abundance and diversity of native species. Remnant native populations are often fewer, smaller, and more restricted in spatial extent; have more limited connectivity; and have less within and among population diversity. The net result is populations and species that are increasingly vulnerable in a changing and unpredictable world. These trends can be reversed if critical habitats and connections among them and their landscapes are conserved and restored, but the perspective guiding these efforts must be larger and more comprehensive than in the past.

The objectives of this report are to distill current concepts and understanding of the critical processes shaping landscapes and their associated fish and wildlife populations, and to synthesize the best approaches for conserving and restoring self-sustaining fish and wildlife populations within the landscapes of the Columbia River Basin. This report builds on and extends previous ISAB and ISRP reports that consider restoration in the Basin. Expanding on general guidance, a major focus of this report is on current understanding of the workings of landscapes as integrated ecological and socioeconomic systems. We emphasize past guidance to extend beyond the stream, consider the full life history needs, and build from a larger context, but to do so with a more effective engagement of social and economic issues in the Basin.

This report focuses strongly on the socioeconomic dimension that has not been explicit in earlier ISAB reports. We emphasize the need for effective socioeconomic and ecological integration and interdisciplinary collaboration. Our review supports an effort to move beyond spatially isolated or independent projects to broader integration of actions. A landscape perspective is critical for effective habitat conservation and restoration. Species and populations depend on the highly heterogeneous characteristics of land, water, and people and on the interdisciplinary knowledge needed to manage and restore resilient habitats. A comprehensive landscape approach demands a strong and continued coupling between biophysical and socioeconomic knowledge. It brings understanding and engagement on social and economic issues, making effective management and restoration possible.

The concepts of landscape ecology, resilience, and adaptive capacity provide a critical foundation in conjunction with the focus in the Columbia River Basin on abundance, productivity, diversity, and spatial structure (defined in Appendix IX). Landscape ecology argues that spatial and temporal patterns of organisms, their habitats, and the processes that create and maintain them, matter. Virtually all organisms depend on linkages among a variety of habitats embedded in larger landscapes. These habitats collectively supply the conditions that support abundant and productive populations, but only if they are suitable, large enough or connected enough, and maintained in enough places through time.

Resilience is a key concept in landscape ecology and socioeconomics. Resilience is a capacity to absorb and adapt to disturbance and change – while maintaining essential functions. Resilience for fish and wildlife results, in part, from diversity within and among species; modularity or compartmentalization that defines individual habitats, habitat patches, and populations; and the connections and feedbacks among them. Resilience in human systems follows from parallel conditions. Promoting an enduring resilience requires a landscape context.

Adaptive capacity is the foundation for management of resilience in natural and human systems that are increasingly variable and unpredictable. Adaptive capacity depends on the integration of diverse interdisciplinary knowledge as well as the capacity to learn and adapt through better experimentation, innovation, and diffusion of new and better information and approaches. New goals, plans, and actions that build adaptive capacity enable managed systems to provide valuable ecological services, even when they may be very different from natural systems of the past.

Throughout the report we follow four general themes to summarize important processes, underlying principles, and criteria to evaluate a comprehensive landscape approach to conservation and restoration. These criteria form the basis of our general recommendations for any group pursuing a more comprehensive approach and the use of these criteria is the main recommendation of this report:

  • Engage the public and diverse social groups associated with the landscape and build socioeconomic understanding.
  • Incorporate a strategic approach with a foundation in the concepts of comprehensive landscape ecology.
  • Develop organizations that support collaboration, integration, and effective governance and leadership.
  • Promote adaptive capacity based on active learning through assessment, monitoring, innovation, experimentation, and modeling, combined with a clear process to share new information and revise objectives, strategies, and actions in response to that information.

Many of the concepts and recommendations in this report are not new. The basic principles of ecosystem management and the need to consider larger scale pattern and process in conservation and restoration are already part of the vision and direction offered in planning and policy documents from the Council, NOAA Fisheries, the Tribes, and others. But, successful implementation still faces technical and socioeconomic challenges. These include inconsistent and conflicting conceptual models and incomplete information; limited agency or public commitment and engagement; competing preferences, values, and understanding of the larger vision; a lack of science-management-public engagement and integration; and missions that conflict among or within agencies. As a result, planning and implementation of restoration can be piecemeal. Even with broader planning, restoration activities tend to be opportunistic, inadequately monitored, and without coordination between adjacent landowners or responsibilities, rather than integrated and strategic.

Our understanding and implementation of a more comprehensive approach must be strengthened and will continue to evolve. The basic concepts must become part of the culture of conservation and restoration. Much of the distillation to rules of thumb and best management practices occurs as scientists, managers, administrators, and the public review, compare, apply and modify approaches and as new knowledge and experience develop. We provide a series of points for each general recommendation that summarize current knowledge and guidance (Table VII.1) to facilitate that process. We also provide seven recommendations in addition to our recommendation that the four criteria (Section IV) listed above be used in all evaluations. These are to:

1. Build Broader Public Support

Enlist the public and diverse social groups associated with the landscape to build socioeconomic understanding and support for comprehensive restoration.

2. Rebalance the Vision for Restoration

Organize a strategic approach with a foundation in comprehensive landscape ecology that balances the goal of abundance, with the vision of diversity and resilience.

3. Establish Leadership in Linking Science and Management

Support and facilitate a strong engagement of landscape science in assessment, restoration planning, and actions

4. Work Across Boundaries

Support or extend existing and non-traditional efforts and develop more, cost effective partnerships.

5. Reinvigorate and Extend Adaptive Management

Fully develop adaptive management to support adaptive capacity.

6. Develop Best Practices

Support the development and diffusion of best practices to guide more consistent actions.

7. Strengthen the Social and Economic Capacities of ISAB and ISRP

Increase formal cooperation and collaboration between the two bodies to improve the integration of ecological and socioeconomic perspectives.

The ISAB looks forward to clarifying and elaborating on our conclusions and recommendations at the Council’s meeting on October 11, 2011.

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