Big Ideas and Bold Actions for 21st Century Wildlife Conservation

ROOM: CC, Room 25B
The wildlife profession has entered a new era of unprecedented challenges to preserving, maintaining, and stewarding the natural resource legacies in our stead. Natural resource practitioners are faced with concepts such as no-analog ecological futures (Williams and Jackson, 2007), critical threshold tipping points in the global ecosystem (Barnosky et al., 2012), and forecasting extreme biodiversity loss (Newbold et al., 2016). By defining the Anthropocene, we have cemented the proliferation of human impact across the globe. How do wildlife professionals solve the major conservation issues of the 21st century? The Anthropocene represents, at its core, a fundamental challenge for governments, nongovernmental organizations, researchers, and natural resource practitioners to merge disciplines, embrace technology, shape new wildlife professionals, expand our science into community building, redefine place-based management, and consider new conservation goals and strategies. This symposium will address some of the big wildlife conservation issues that are emerging as 21st Century wicked problems. Namely, climate-induced ecological transformation, the role of wildlife practitioners in conservation policy, creating the next generation of wildlife professionals, extinction risk, communicating science beyond the traditional publication, building capacity in international wildlife partnerships, invasive species in an era of rapid change, and global conservation.

12:50PM Introduction: the Anthropocene, and the Role of Wildlife Practitioners in the 21st Century
  Tracy Melvin
It is routine paradigm to believe that humans are now the dominant environmental force on Earth. Environmental work in the 21st century includes geographic data on human activities influencing or altering almost every terrestrial system, including widespread pollution in otherwise pristine areas, such as Antarctica. Natural resource practitioners are faced with no-analog ecological futures and critical threshold tipping points in the global ecosystem. Scientists generally agree that no landscape is pristine from overarching, global, and insidious effects of climate change. Estimates of species extinction rates range from 1,000 to 10,000 times the background rate, with studies now also highlighting extinction debt and risks of global biodiversity loss. All of this has led to ecologists to formally debate stratigraphic evidence for a new epoch to replace the Holocene, known as the Anthropocene. The Anthropocene represents, at its core, a fundamental challenge for wildlife practitioners to merge disciplines, embrace technology, shape new wildlife professionals, expand our science into community building, redefine place-based management, and consider new conservation goals and strategies. The wildlife profession has entered a new era of unprecedented challenges to preserving, maintaining, and stewarding the natural resource legacies in our stead. How do wildlife professionals solve the major conservation issues of the 21st century? Here, I provide a timely update on recent advancements in 21st Century conservation challenges, and examine responses of conservation practitioners to these challenges.
1:10PM Being an Honest Broker in Science and Conservation
  John F. Organ
The role of science in wildlife management and conservation has been a topic of discussion for many years, including recent pointed debate. The wildlife conservation institution in North America began with spirited advocacy from the private sector that ultimately led to government agencies with public trust responsibilities. Private sector advocacy has waxed and waned over the past century as has public sector assertiveness in conservation, with an inverse relationship between the two. The public, decision makers, and the courts are often confronted with conflicting information presented as scientific evidence for particular stakes in an issue. This information comes from a variety of sources, including government agencies, universities, and private member-based organizations. The role of the scientist in contributing to informed decision making, or hindering it will be discussed, with examples of best as well as improper practices. The need to improve science communication will be highlighted.
1:30PM Reversing America’s Wildlife Crisis: What Will It Take?
  Bruce A. Stein
Conservation in the United States and around the world is at a crossroads. Despite decades of concerted effort and progress in wildlife conservation, many species continue to decline. Stabilizing and reversing these declines has become even more challenging in light of such new threats as emerging diseases and rapidly accelerating climate change. Yet even as scientific and technological advances enable us to differentiate, map, and track biodiversity at unprecedented levels of precision, many of the assumptions and values that have formed the basis for modern conservation are being questioned in light of the massive ecological transformations that are underway. Conservation in the twenty-first century will largely need to be framed around change management, rather than preservation of status quo conditions. The corollary is that conservation goals will need to be forward-looking and climate-informed, rather than assume a return to historical conditions and baselines that, in many cases, were already compromised. Reversing America’s wildlife crisis will require a multi-faceted approach that includes a combination of protecting, recovering, and connecting natural habitats, re-establishing a strong stewardship ethic for the management of working lands, transforming the principles and practice of wildlife conservation, and broadening the constituency for conservation by reconnecting Americans with nature. Accomplishing this, however, will require a dramatic increase in investments in wildlife conservation, such as would be possible through passage of the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act.
1:50PM Unprecedented Conservation Challenges Require Unbounded Minds and New Ways of Educating Them
  Robert Newman
We live in a time of unprecedented environmental change that is a direct result of human actions. We have rearranged the world’s biota through intentional and unintended harvest and translocation, extensively and dramatically changed the physical and chemical makeup of ecosystems and structure of entire landscapes, and even altered the global climate system. As scientists, managers, and policy makers come to terms with the realities of our rapidly changing world, we have to ask if we are equipping current students to meet the challenges we now face. Wildlife professionals seek to maintain viable populations of select species through scientifically-informed direct intervention in species’ demography and through habitat management, and contribute broadly to conservation of natural ecosystems and biota. The Wildlife Society website lists a wide range of career paths for future professionals and the certification program catalogs desired coursework to prepare for these careers. Most traditional curricula entail a heavy dose of biology and other natural sciences, and a handful of courses outside of the sciences that may vary in how well they serve the needs of a wildlife professional. Given the scale, complexity, and dimensionality of the problems we face, there is growing recognition of a need for better integration of science and social and humanities perspectives to achieve conservation goals. I briefly review current discussions on the scope of environmental and wildlife problem-solving, and ask, what, if anything, should we be doing differently in training students? My view is that we need to promote a greater and more intentional degree of interdisciplinary integration in higher education to provide students with the vision and critical – thinking skills they will need to work towards a better world.
2:10PM What Can Science Communication Do For Wildlife Conservation?
  David Steen
We are experiencing a global biodiversity crisis and environmental regulations are under constant siege. Addressing these ongoing and widespread conservation issues requires innovative and novel strategies as well as an informed and motivated populace. It is widely suggested that science communication and outreach efforts offer one path for garnering the support of the public and this general idea has coincided with calls for scientists to engage in science communication efforts as a component of their position, if not as a moral imperative. Unfortunately, many scientists are unprepared for conducting effective outreach and risk professionally martyring themselves because institutional frameworks have not caught up to the idea that science communication is worthwhile. In this talk I will describe why I think many current science communication efforts are ineffective and use lessons learned over my last ten years of online outreach to offer some strategies for bursting out of the bubble, reaching new audiences, and even changing minds.
2:30PM Refreshment Break
3:20PM Our New Understanding of Predator-Prey Interactions in Applied Wildlife Ecology.
  Dave Christianson
Understanding predator-prey interactions has long been a primary focus of ecology. The consumptive focus of classical predatory-prey theory has strongly influenced the field of wildlife management and conservation. This classical focused has suggested a primary role of apex predators, including humans, as top-down drivers of community dynamics whose strength is measured in the number and types of prey killed. However, we now know that most prey do not take being eaten lightly. Most species possess a suite of antipredator responses – behavioral, physiological, morphological, or ontological adaptions to predation risk – to thwart the consumptive efficiency of predators. Because mounting such responses can be costly, the mere risk of predation can itself influence community dynamics, even with low or no direct consumption by predators. This has two primary consequences for applied wildlife ecology today (1) the functional role of apex predators may extend well beyond their ability to consume prey (2) non-consumptive human activities may strongly affect wildlife population dynamics if humans are viewed as a predation risk. I illustrate examples of these processes using data and results collected over several years following large carnivores, herbivores, and humans in Yellowstone, eastern Africa, and the border region of the Sonoran desert.
3:40PM Thinking Like a Spruce: Facilitating Ecological Transformation
  John M. Morton
In Thinking Like a Mountain, Aldo Leopold challenges us to understand the cascading effects of a depauperate assemblage, one with not enough wolves and too many deer. But Leopold lived in a time when landscapes were considered natural, intact, and stable until degraded by human activities, not when high extinction rates and novel assemblages are expected in response to anthropogenic climate change that ignores jurisdictional boundaries. The 49-million-acre arctic coastal plain of Alaska’s North Slope is an intact biome, bounded by the Brooks Range and Beaufort Sea. However, consistent with climate-envelope models, it is rapidly transforming to a boreal system, albeit a depauperate one, being colonized by wind-dispersed cottonwood and willows, even as moose, beaver, red foxes and dragonflies invade a landscape of melting permafrost and eroding shoreline. White spruce and other North American boreal species with slow dispersal rates may eventually breach the Brooks Range from the south, but natural resource agencies hesitate to facilitate this transformation even as Eurasian invasive plants such as Melilotus alba, Cirsium arvense, Taraxacum officinale, Crepis tectorum and Vicia cracca hitch random rides to this novel habitat via human vectors. Our values and beliefs as scientists and managers hinder us from truly acknowledging we live in a human-driven world and that to steward the trajectory is not hubris, but is our responsibility. Consequently, early opportunities to promote self-organizing and self-sustaining systems that retain high biodiversity may be lost in our failure to appreciate that managing invasive species and facilitating climate adaptation are two sides of the same coin: with one hand we taketh (former) and with the other we giveth (latter). In this instance, perhaps we should think like the spruce and give it a helping hand.
4:00PM Using Camera Traps, Passive Protection, and Educational Outreach to Conserve Wildlife and Defend Protected Areas in Central Africa
  Kristin E. Brzeski; Jared D. Wolfe; Fidel Esono EYONO; Luke L. Powell
Equatorial Guinea (EG) in Central Africa is arguably the country least known to science, where species are at risk of disappearing before being detected. Petroleum extraction within the political boundaries of EG is fueling rapid development and placing incredible pressure on the country’s diverse wildlife community, which includes critically endangered lowland gorillas, chimpanzees, and forest elephants. Equatoguineans recognize this threat and recently increased the number and size of Protected Areas (PAs) throughout the country. Despite this important conservation action, illegal hunting and logging is rampant in PAs where we know little about species diversity and community assemblage. In partnership with conservation enforcement officials, we are systematically surveying all mainland PAs using camera traps and patrols. These data are being used to identify and stop poaching and illegal logging activity. An additional step towards effective PA protection and wildlife conservation in EG includes training both current conservation enforcement officials and the next generation of biologists, university students, to independently conduct conservation activities. In this presentation, I will discuss our strategic development of conservation action through workshops, camera trap surveys, and boots-on-the ground deployments into PAs with the ambitious goal of country-wide surveys and effective long-term conservation during this unprecedented era of growth in Equatorial Guinea.
4:20PM Extinction Risk and Threats to the World’s Microfauna: Insects as Wildlife, Preserving the Ecological Stage That Runs Global Conservation
  John Shuey
There are ~1.5M described species of multicellular animals: ~9% of these are vertebrates and are intensely studied and targeted for conservation; ~66% are insects, and except for a handful of butterflies and a few other tokens, no one really cares. In the corn-belt, perhaps 17% of assessed terrestrial insect species are at risk. Scaled to the ~13,000 insect species that inhabit NW Indiana, this translates to 2,200 regionally imperiled insect species – mostly limited to high-quality, early successional habitats. Because of their exacting life history requirements, insects are more susceptible to the stressors that impact vertebrates. At risk species often depend upon one plant species and are very sensitive to habitat structure. Habitat fragmentation, low population size, disrupted metapopulation dynamics, altered successional pathways, and of course, invasive species have disproportional impacts on habitat limited insects. And emerging threats such as the pervasive use of noenicitinoids and altered climatic regimes interact synergistically with traditional threats. Insect conservation requires a more inclusive approach than most of us are used to thinking about.Incorporating insect conservation strategies into broader conservation efforts isn’t difficult, but requires conscious planning biased towards native-habitat conservation. Important strategies include: Maintaining connectivity across local landscapes, especially for disturbance dependent habitats; Scaling disturbance regimes to emulate natural patch dynamics; Increasing native plant diversity within structural wildlife plantings, and; Reducing/eliminating insecticide use on public lands. In this presentation, we’ll explore how The Conservancy has incorporated insect conservation strategies in our efforts to conserve entire biological communities in sand savanna, prairie and wetlands habitats. These sites, embedded in agricultural landscapes, are threatened by fragmentation, disrupted ecological processes, adjacent land use and invasive species. Through conscious planning, aggressive ecological management, and inclusive habitat recreation and restoration, they are becoming exemplars for inclusive conservation. Even vertebrates are thriving at the sites!
4:40PM Generating Greater Wildness, Biodiversity, and Resilience: Harnessing the Power of Complex Adaptive Systems to Restore Disturbance-Dependent Oak Communities
  Christopher L. Hoving; Patrick Lederle; William F. Porter
Oak forests and savannas are high in biodiversity and provide habitat for valued game and nongame wildlife. Attempts to restore these communities have been intensive, costly, and met with limited success. Biological diversity decreases when fires are suppressed, but often continues to decrease under traditional prescribed fire regimes. Intensive management via timber harvests and fires are unacceptable to many people who value mature oak forests for their perceived wild and aesthetic values. Finally, restoring oak forests to historic conditions risks creating systems that are more adapted to past climates and less resilient to future climates. Traditional management paradigms have had mixed results. We propose an alternative paradigm: managing oak forests and savannas as complex adaptive systems (CAS). Our objectives in this study were to describe a CAS paradigm to wildlife professionals, compare three proposed frameworks for applying CAS theory, and reframe oak forest and savanna conservation within a CAS paradigm. CAS are hierarchical systems in which diverse entities interact at a lower level to generate a higher level organization that is greater than the sum of its parts. CAS are known to generate information, self-organize, and adapt. These three traits are expressed in a wildlife conservation context as growing biological diversity, wildness, and resilience. Common themes among frameworks that seek to apply CAS theory include planning across multiple scales, managing feedbacks, focusing on heterogeneity, and embracing uncertainty. In the context of oak conservation, management under a CAS paradigm might look like 1) disturbance with fire that is more variable in timing, coverage, and intensity; 2) forest management that results in a stochastic fractal or scale-free pattern of heterogeneity; 3) consideration of multiple plausible futures or scenarios rather than one predicted future; and 4) treatment of managers and oaks as diverse interacting agents within one social-ecological system.

Organizers: Tracy Melvin, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI; Melissa Starking-Szymanski, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI
Supported by: TWS Climate Change and Wildlife Working Group

Location: Cleveland CC Date: October 10, 2018 Time: 12:50 pm - 5:00 pm