Ecological Networks for Conservation

Symposium

Organizers: Annika Keeley, Delta Stewardship Council; Matthew Ihnken, University of Minnesota; Angie Larsen-Gray, National Council for Air & Stream Improvement, Inc.; Mark Nelson, U.S. Forest Service; Jenny Rechel, USDA Forest Service; Greg Smith, Kent State University at Stark

Supported by: TWS Spatial Ecology and Telemetry Working Group; TWS Climate Change and Wildlife Working Group; TWS Forestry and Wildlife Working Group

President Biden’s Executive Order 216 aims to conserve at least 30% of US lands and waters by 2030, a goal called for also by the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity and already set by several other countries around the world. While protected areas are important, they are not sufficient for stemming biodiversity loss. In order to achieve long-term biodiversity conservation, retaining ecological connectivity is essential, especially in a time of climate change. Ecological networks for conservation are specifically designed, implemented and managed to maintain, enhance, or restore ecological connectivity. The purpose of this symposium is to learn from existing ecological networks and examine aspects of planning, implementation, and management. Large landscape conservation is not new and has been implemented in several regions in the US and Canada. Lessons learned can inform new efforts and expand existing ones. Presentations will cover connectivity modeling to create vision plans of regional networks, the power of multiple benefits for engaging stakeholders, and approaches to implementing networks on private and public lands. Additional topics will be ecological networks in urban areas, installing road crossings in ecological networsk, challenges of cross-border connectivity, the conservation of long-distance migration corridors, and soliciting public involvement through expeditions, art, and stories. We will also consider management of ecological networks, in particular the important role of Native People, and best management practices for wildlife corridors.

 
Ecological Networks for Conservation: A Conservation Strategy to Address the Biodiversity Crisis
Annika Keeley
The Earth is experiencing an alarming rate of species loss, which is currently over 100 times faster than the natural extinction rate. At the same time, climate change is occurring, and human activities are still expanding around the world. While protected areas are an important element of biodiversity conservation, they are not sufficient for stemming biodiversity loss. A landscape approach that focuses on ecological connectivity is urgently needed. Ecological networks for conservation are a key solution to stemming the biodiversity crisis. They consist of two main elements: 1) areas that protect biodiversity, and 2) ecological corridors recognized for their contribution to connectivity. They are established, restored as needed, and maintained to conserve biological diversity in previously fragmented systems. Ecological networks for conservation enhance landscape integrity and stability, and decrease vulnerability to all threats, especially in the context of climate change. Several national and international entities, laws, and policies are now embracing ecological connectivity. In order to achieve the goals stated in these agreements and laws we need the tool of ecological networks and we need to understand its strengths and limitations, and the challenges of implementation. This introductory talk will provide an overview of the concept and many aspects to planning, implementing, and managing ecological networks, and tie the different symposium presentations together.
 
Conserving Partnerships: Achieving Landscape Level Conservation Goals with the Endangered Species Act
Matthew Ihnken
The conservation of species in the United States is primarily governed by the consultation requirements of federal agencies under section 7 of the Endangered Species Act (Act). Section 7 of the Act states that action agencies shall consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service if an action they fund, permit, or carry out may adversely affect a listed species under the Act. Unfortunately, this has often resulted in project-specific avoidance, minimization, and mitigation measures which may have little long-term conservation value. Michigan is the stronghold for the federally threatened eastern massasauga rattlesnake; we develop a Programmatic Agreement with transportation agencies to address potential adverse effects at a statewide scale, aggregating mitigation actions and delivering more significant more meaningful species conservation.  
 
Ecological Networks for Conservation: A Conservation Strategy to Address the Biodiversity Crisis
Annika Keeley
 
Modeling Approaches for Planning Ecological Networks
Ron Sutherland
Conservationists are now placing great emphasis on designing and implementing networks of habitat. While there is an increasing amount of GPS tracking data for vertebrate wildlife species, particularly ungulates such as deer, elk, and pronghorn, in most ecosystems we continue to lack sufficient empirical data across a broad enough array of species to design optimal networks. As a result, an increasing variety of computer-based models have been used to help predict critical movement pathways. These models differ in their data requirements and also in their degree of realism and sophistication. The models also display a wide range in terms of their ease of interpretation. In this presentation I will review examples of the different connectivity modeling approaches, with an emphasis on the ones that have been used by Wildlands Network and partners in recent years to refine habitat networks at various scales. Trade-offs between types of models and between models and more empirical approaches will be discussed, as well as future research needs to test and improve connectivity modeling in general. I will also present the hybrid methods we used to design the “Eastern Wildway”, a continental-scale vision for a robust ecological network stretching from Florida to Quebec.  
 
Resilient and Connected Networks for Conservation in the US
Melissa Clark, Mark Anderson, Arlene Olivero
As climate change drives shifts in species and ecosystems, conservation plans based on current biodiversity patterns will become less effective at sustaining species and natural processes, and the current configuration of protected areas may fail to adequately provide access to diverse climatic conditions needed for species and populations to persist and thrive. The Nature Conservancy’s Conserving Nature’s Stage initiative addresses this problem by identifying and mapping a representative, connected network of climate resilient sites which if conserved, could help sustain biodiversity into the future as it moves and changes. The Resilient and Connected Network is a conservation network of representative climate-resilient sites designed to sustain biodiversity and ecological functions into the future under a changing climate. The network was identified and mapped over a 10-year period by Nature Conservancy scientists using publicly available data at the state and national scale, and an inclusive process that involved over 250 scientists from agencies, academia, and NGOs across the US.  The network begins with a model of connectivity and climate flow. These linkages will allow species to move across sites and climate gradients. Within the areas identified for connectivity and climate flow, we identify climate resilient sites that are representative sites with a diversity of microclimates and low human modification. We also highlight areas of recognized biodiversity of natural habitats, rare species, or exemplary communities. The Network is a starting point for conversations with local communities, indigenous tribes, land trusts, agencies, corporations, and funders on how to coordinate conservation efforts to increase our collective impact and sustain nature in effort to achieve the 30 by 30 goal. Resilient lands and waters may be conserved by a wide range of measures from good land stewardship, to other forms of private land conservation, to outright fee or easement acquisition by various levels of government.
 
Roads and Wildlife in the Northern Appalachians: A Pillar of the Staying Connected Initiative ‘S Multi-Pronged Approach
Jens Jens Hawkins-Hilke
In this session we’ll explore Vermont’s efforts at mitigating the impact of roads on wildlife through prioritizing infrastructure, trainings for transportation officials and staff and policy implementation. Vermont’s natural resource and transportation agencies are founding partners in the Northern Appalachian’s Staying Connected Initiative and use that partnership and ecological network to coordinate a multi pronged approach throughout the state and region. This allows our efforts to go beyond the right-of-way and offer a larger suite of tools. Participation in the network also serves as source of new ideas and helps galvanize regional movement on these issues.
 
The Multi-Benefit Approach of the San Francisco Bay Area Greenprint
Carrie Schloss
California has lost more land to urban sprawl than any other state in the western US. As its population continues to grow, along with associated food, energy, and housing needs, there is a need to decouple population growth from additional land conversion and ensure that a robust ecological network is valued and protected. The Bay Area Greenprint is a tool that reveals the multiple benefits of natural and agricultural lands. It is an important tool for integrating nature into city and regional planning to give nature a ‘seat at the table’ where land use decisions are made. The tool is meant to highlight the benefits that nature provides to communities to ensure that a functioning ecological network is valued and protected. Making information about the multiple benefits of nature interpretable and accessible is an effective way to break down silos between organizations and agencies.  It can identify areas where opportunities exist to develop cross sector collaborations and partnerships.  It can also increase advocates for projects and leverage non-traditional funding sources helping to advance conservation action.  Here, we use the Bay Area Greenprint as a case study to showcase the power of planning across multiple benefits to engage stakeholders and increase advocates and resources for conservation action.
 
The Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan (ORMCP), Toronto, Canada
Victor Doyle
Connected Natural Systems: The Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan (ORMCP), Toronto, Canada Pursuant to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity and the Aichi Targets, Canada has committed to expand its protected areas and enhance connectivity within them and to the broader landscape. To assist, the Canadian Council on Ecological Areas released Implementing Connectivity Conservation in Canada (2021). The report showcases case studies of protected area connectivity initiatives in various geographies and at various scales to explore approaches and identify key takeaways to governance, plan implementation, collaboration/engagement and knowledge management.   The ORMCP (2002) is a provincial land use plan which extends 160 kilometres, covering 500,000 acres of predominantly privately owned, peri-urban land  around the Greater Toronto Area, one of the largest and fastest growing cities regions in North America with a population of 9 million.  Dubbed the “rain barrel” of southern Ontario, the Moraine contains the aquifers which feed the headwaters of the most of the regions’ rivers and the largest and highest concentrations of forests, wetlands and endangered and threatened species. Key takeaways explored in the presentation include the importance of multi-scaling, integration and redundancy in the design of connected natural/hydrologic systems; mobilization of grass-roots organizations; strong policy frameworks and provincial oversight; technical support and training; and creation and funding of ongoing stewardship organizations. Connected Natural Systems: The Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan (ORMCP), Toronto, Canada Pursuant to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity and the Aichi Targets, Canada has committed to expand its protected areas and enhance connectivity within them and to the broader landscape. To assist, the Canadian Council on Ecological Areas released Implementing Connectivity Conservation in Canada (2021). The report showcases case studies of protected area connectivity initiatives in various geographies and at various scales to explore approaches and identify key takeaways to governance, plan implementation,
 
Conserving Long-Distance Migration along the Red Desert to Hoback Mule Deer Corridor
Matthew Kauffman
Ungulates that migrate long distances must navigate an increasing number of barriers, such as roads, fences, and development. Mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) are an iconic migratory species of the western US, and Wyoming has some of the most intact mule deer migrations in the lower 48 states. Detailed mapping of migration corridors has emerged as a first step towards identifying threats and implementing long-term conservation, aided by new GPS data on ungulate movements. In 2014, scientists discovered a 150-mile long mule deer migration corridor, stretching from the desert basins in southwest Wyoming to surrounding mountain ranges. It is known as the Red Desert to Hoback corridor. Researchers mapped the corridor in detail and then published an assessment analysing land-use patterns and threats for each section of the corridor. The assessment identified the top ten threats along the length of the corridor and provided conservation organizations with information needed to target protection efforts, such as specific bottlenecks, road crossings, or unprotected segments of private land. At the top of the threats list was the Fremont Lake bottleneck, a 1/4-mile constriction created by the lake and the expanding town of Pinedale, WY, where 4,000 to 5,000 deer squeeze through twice a year. In the middle of the bottleneck sat a 360-acre parcel of private lands that was slated for subdivision and conversion to lakeside cottages, which, if developed, would have blocked the migration. Guided by information within the assessment, The Conservation Fund purchased the parcel and gifted it to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. The State designated the property as the Luke Lynch Wildlife Habitat Management Area, thereby sustaining movement in perpetuity through the key pinch point. This is one of a growing number of examples where detailed maps of ungulate migrations are guiding on-the-ground conservation.
 
Best Management Practices for Wildlife Corridors
Andrew Gregory
The designation, establishment, and management of conservation corridors remains the best and possibly only tool available to conserve biodiversity and ecological processes at broad spatial extents in light of ongoing human land use and climate change. However, the efficacy of such features and the best practices in the development and management of such systems remains a matter of some speculation. Moreover, because the idea of linking landscape via corridors is relatively new, having only been proposed within the last 30-40 years, and really only being widely adopted with the last 15-20 years, there are few studies on the efficacy of management practices on actual corridors. To assist managers in this task, we recently compiled a best management practices guide for corridors. The guide focuses on simple pragmatic approaches to manage corridors derived from our current understanding of ecological theory as it relates to fragmented landscapes. The guide focuses on strategies to minimize barriers and reduce disturbances, and makes specific recommendations for each of the dominant matrix types commonly encountered.  We conclude by identifying five key knowledge gaps that need to be addressed for corridors to remain an effective tool, namely: 1) how wide do corridors need per unit of length; 2) What human activities are allowable within and adjacent to corridors; 3) What if any time lags to effect exist; 4) What policy tools are most amenable to corridor success; 5) What role does synurbanization play in corridor efficacy?
 
From Inspiration to Action – Driving Conservation Change Through Art and Film
Jason Lauritsen, Jessica Brand
For more than a decade, the Florida Wildlife Corridor Coalition (Coalition) has sought to translate the science and geography of the Florida Wildlife Corridor (Corridor) into art and action to secure a sustainable corridor within the inevitability of a rapidly changing landscape.  The Florida legislature recently unanimously approved the Florida Wildlife Corridors Act.  This latest victory came after decades of effort by hundreds of individuals and dozens of organizations.  The Coalition’s role in this conservation win is owed to effective storytelling.  The Coalition used artistic expression around local and ecological community treasures to shape an understanding of what the Corridor is and how it serves the flora, fauna and communities of Florida. An important artistic medium to tell the story of the Corridor was through filmed expeditions. These expeditions and films served as vehicles to pull stakeholders together, to chip away at silos and facilitate bridge building moments. They’ve inspired imitation leading to additional works of art and film that continue to energize the public and move key decisionmakers to act.  The target audience evolved over time, marrying the right content with the key audience was critical.  The Florida Wildlife Corridor effort began with an ambitious 1000 mile expedition that drew local media attention throughout the state, connecting audiences with the larger landscape to inspire a broad public vision for the state.  The voices of scientists, land managers and working lands infused the storytelling, broadening the tent. Subsequent expeditions, film festivals and screenings, further elevated awareness.  This positive proactive storytelling approach through the lens of advocacy has been a powerful tool to inspire action in Florida.  Combining conservation science, art and storytelling can contribute to unconventional partnerships, inspire innovation, and help build a conservation tent big enough to support a sustainable connected landscape.
 
Connectivity: A Critical Element to Incorporate Into Protections of Freshwater Environments
Rebecca Flitcroft, Harmony Patricio
Connectivity among freshwater environments is a critical component for conservation, protection and restoration of river systems for native biota. This is a critical issue as freshwater biodiversity has been identified as experiencing the highest rate of loss compared with marine and terrestrial environments. Current policy recommendations at national and global scales recommend protection of at least 30% of available habitats. What does that mean in river systems for whom connectivity along the river network must necessarily include associated wetland, lake, and floodplain environments? To explore how connectivity can be integrated into policy protections, it is important to understand how rivers become disconnected in the first place. River systems have been extensively modified by anthropogenic development of uplands and alterations in flow regimes including river connectivity. These changes reduce the capacity of river floodplains to absorb natural geophysical and environmental changes and directly affect life history adaptations that have developed over the millennia for native aquatic species. For example, in western North America changes in upslope processes (i.e. fire regimes, forest harvest and associated managements) work in concert with alterations in natural flow and thermal regimes through dams, levees, and floodplain development to change recovery trajectories of river systems and their biota. Movement among and within habitats, sometimes over vast distances, is a strong adaptation by many species of migratory fish in response to dynamic landscape conditions. Movement constraints have altered the capacity of native fishes to respond to anthropogenic and natural disturbance processes resulting in modifications in the composition and complexity of biological communities throughout river systems. To consider how to protect connected freshwater environments, we will review some examples of policy approaches and applications that appear to be effective, as well as challenges that remain as we work to protect freshwater aquatic biodiversity.
 
The US Mexico Border Wall and Its Impact on Wildlife
Myles Traphagen
Between 2017 and 2021 approximately 450 miles of border wall was built between the United States and Mexico in the states of Arizona, New Mexico, California, and Texas. Known as pedestrian bollard wall, the height ranges between 18 and 30 feet with spaces of only 4 inches between the steel beams which form an impenetrable barrier to most wildlife. Much of the wall was built public lands and protected areas like National Wildlife Refuges, National Monuments, Forests and Wilderness Areas. Due to the Real ID Act of 2005, more than 50 environmental and cultural protection laws were waived by the Department of Homeland Security to enable border wall construction, including the Endangered Species Act, Clean Water Act, and NEPA. As a result, no baseline studies or environmental assessments were performed and the effects the border wall will have are unknown.  Many places in the borderlands have high biodiversity and are crucial corridors and habitat for many species at the edges of their latitudinal distributions. No land or species was spared, and large swaths of critical habitat and recovery areas were destroyed for several species, including jaguar, Sonoran pronghorn, Mexican gray wolf, American black bear, ocelot, bighorn sheep, and aquatic species like the Yaqui chub, Yaqui catfish, Mexican garter snake, Chiricahua leopard frog and the Quitobaquito pupfish. Billions of gallons of ground water were used for the construction which continues to have significant negative impacts upon wetland areas and the numerous threatened and endangered species that inhabit them. In addition to sensitive species, many common mammals like deer, puma, bobcat, and javelina have been impacted by impeding their annual, seasonal and daily movements in the arid borderlands where food and water resources change throughout the year in a region that is becoming increasingly prone to drought. This presentation will describe where border walls were built and the impacts observed thus far, along with recommendations for key places fencing should be removed and restoration implemented.

Symposium
Location: Virtual Date: November 2, 2021 Time: 3:00 pm - 4:00 pm