Navigating the Apocalypse: Bold and Interdisciplinary Thinking for 21st Century Conservation Crises



Symposia will be available on-demand on their scheduled date, then again at the conclusion of the conference.

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, nongovernment 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 wildlife trafficking, frameworks for assisted migration, building capacity in international wildlife partnerships, invasive species in an era of rapid change, and global conservation.

Managers as part of the system: Fire and climate adaptation in the Anthropocene
Christopher L. Hoving; William Porter
Land management activities of wildlife management agencies are not resilient to the rates and scales of change we will see in the Anthropocene. We need new ways to increase organizational adaptive capacity, especially the adaptive capacity of our land management systems. For example, fire dependent systems are valuable wildlife habitat, but globally they are under threat. They need frequent management intervention using prescribed fire. Across eastern North America, land management agencies have set goals to maintain or increase the amount of fire-dependent oak forest and savanna, which is habitat for a wide range of game and nongame species. That is the goal, but forest inventories show lack of progress. This is especially problematic in the Anthropocene, because prescribed fire is a key climate adaptation tool. In this region, fires favor species adapted to more varied precipitation patterns and warmer temperatures. However, forests are converting to climate-sensitive fire-suppressed communities even as the climate warms and precipitation becomes more variable. Organizations apparently lack the capacity to adapt, and adaptive capacity of oak forests to climate change are decreasing as well. By treating the organization and ecological systems as one coupled human and natural system, we developed a model of agency staff and the landscapes they manage. This model was then used to test and explore the feedback between policy, human behavior, and change in habitat for fire-dependent species in prescribed fire programs in southern Michigan state game areas.
Frameworks for Assisted Translocation of Assemblages with a Lens Towards Conserving Global Biodiversity
Tracy Melvin
Traditional ecosystem management incorporates change and uncertainty by using adaptive management frameworks, the core of which tend to answer the “what”, “where”, and “when”. To maintain relevancy in the 21st century, conservation practitioners must accommodate the velocity, scale, and uncertainty associated with the Anthropocene and climate-induced directional change. Anthropogenic ecological transformation can be stewarded using traditional wildlife and ecosystem management techniques; however, it beseeches a spectrum of thoughtful discussion that answers the “why” and “how”. The Resist, Accept, Direct (RAD) framework allows for the necessary conceptual space to address the “why” and “how”, before making a decision point that leads into the adaptive management process. We demonstrate the RAD framework incorporated into the Anthropocene, continental conservation, and the 6th extinction to address ecological transformation on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, where the rate of climate warming is 2-3 times that of the Lower 48. We discuss the results of both series of filters that guide decision making, and the results of pilot projects specifically designed for addressing the uncertainty associated with ecological transformation. These results specifically address stewarding ecological transformation based on ecosystem function, niche diversification, species richness and evenness, climate replacement species, foundational species, and climate refugia concepts.
The Crisis Continues: Reflections on the First 20 Years of 21st Century Wildlife Conservation
John Kanter
Despite passing the House with a super majority and emerging from the Senate Environment and Natural resources committee with a 13-7 vote, the Conservation and Reinvestment Act of 2000 failed to pass. Visions of dedicated money for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, wildlife, and other programs slipped away. In the 20 years since this lost opportunity to scale up the Nation’s conservation efforts, we can still look back on some significant accomplishments. In 2000, states started receiving a modest federal appropriation (approximately $50 million annually) to bolster conservation for previously ignored taxa such as reptiles, amphibians, freshwater mussels, and insects and to step up efforts to assist with recovery of federally listed species. In addition, states and territories have completed and updated wildlife action plans to produce measurable improvements in species and habitat conservation. In the past two decades more than $45 billion dollars in public funding has been spent to protect land in the U.S. Even with these modest gains, we know we are sliding backwards in our attempts to provide a better future for people and wildlife. In the past two decades the spread of diseases has decimated once common species of bats and caused the extinction of several species of frogs. The anticipated warming climate and changing weather patterns are here. Traditional approaches for conserving species and habitats by protecting land, restoring habitat and managing populations are complicated by these emerging threats. As we start this new decade we once again find ourselves looking at promising news for conservation investments. As we look ahead to the next twenty years, we need to think well beyond our traditional approaches to conservation and rapidly increase the opportunities for all people to contribute to and benefit from a healthy planet.
Offshore Climate Events Carry Onshore Ecological Consequence – Iconic Species at the Extreme Edges of the Americas
Joel Berger
The hydrosphere connects offshore and onshore ecosystems. In polar and sub-polar realms, declining glacial and sea ice coupled with massive tidal events accompany changing species ranges. Understanding how these abiotic actions unfold, what they mean for terrestrial wildlife, and how they relate to conservation planning creates gobs of uncertainty. Two exemplars of these challenges involve species at the distal edges of the Americas – muskoxen in the Arctic, and huemul* from the sub-Antarctic ice fields of Patagonia (*the most endangered large land mammal of the Western Hemisphere). Based on empirical data spanning eight years in Arctic Russia and Alaska, my colleagues and I demonstrated that repeated minor rain-on-snow events (ROS) affect the growth of young muskoxen (N=781) and handicap later body sizes. Further, given increasing numbers of polar bears on land and knowing they kill caribou, albeit infrequently, their potential as a novel predator of muskoxen was simulated through field playbacks; in 109 exposures muskoxen showcased resiliency, learning to flee polar bears but not grizzly bears. At the hemisphere’s other edge, the link to offshore climate events grows more complex and uncertain. Harmful algal blooms (HAB) increase in frequency with warming nearshore waters. HABs negatively affect Chile’s fisheries industry. With HABs, access to marine resources declines such that local fishing villages enhance their food security; dogs are used to hunt huemul, whereupon an inverse relationship between distance to villages and huemul persistence exists. While climate and humans are altering species interactions and trophic relations, conservation options narrow along these continental edges.
The Importance of an Inclusive Wildlife Crime Literature in Finding a Comprehensive Solution to the Problem
Cydney Andrew
Wildlife crime, such as wildlife trafficking, is one of the most prolific conservation crises of this century. According to the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime, it is the 5th largest illicit industry globally and generates US $23 billion annually. Wildlife crime is connected to arms, drugs, and human trafficking and is also a source of funding for some terrorist organizations. Consequently, nations such as the United States have put forth strategies to combat wildlife crime, yet the problem still persists because there is a severe gap in the knowledge of the gendered dimensions of wildlife crime. Within this presentation, I will explore the issue of wildlife crime through a feminist political ecology approach and discuss the importance of a more inclusive wildlife crime literature. First, I will discuss the findings of a review of the last decade of wildlife crime literature, where out of 36 pieces of literature analyzed, only 3 considered gender or women’s roles as a primary frame of analysis, and 2 pieces considered it peripherally. I will then discuss the implications of these findings by exploring real-life examples of how considering a gendered approach to combating wildlife crime can make the difference in any strategy being a success or a failure. I will then close my presentation by suggesting an interdisciplinary approach to studying wildlife crime by applying a feminist methodology and utilizing social science methods, such as interviews and surveys, to uncover how gender can influence how people interact with and experience the wildlife crime chain so that more comprehensive strategies in combating wildlife crime may be produced.
Navigating Global Wildlife Disease
Daniel Walsh
The topic of global disease has never been more prominent, and there is no doubt the average person now clearly understands the significant impacts zoonotic disease can bring to everyday life. The emergence of many wildlife diseases, including those affecting humans and domestic animals, are often facilitated by anthropogenic actions. Therefore, the question with which we are confronted is: how do we manage wildlife diseases to minimize and mitigate their impacts in the face of anthropogenic drivers…BUT is that really the question we should be asking? Historically, managing wildlife health has relied on presence or absence of disease as the metric of health; however, although managing diseases is and will continue to be an essential activity, maintaining a disease-centric view will undoubtedly be a losing proposition when faced with anthropogenic-induced changes. The scale and global extent of these changes compel us to adapt our thinking to a systems-oriented approach. In this talk, I will propose moving beyond our classic definition of health, which is freedom from disease, to a more holistic view. Specifically, we will conceptualize health as the system being in a state that allows it to be fully functional under current conditions and has the ability to retain this full functionality in the face of changing environments. I will describe a conceptual framework for implementing this concept. By redefining health in this manner, we now recast disease from protagonist to a supporting role, and this allows us to move management from reactive disease mitigation to a strategy based on prevention and maintenance of system resiliency. Change is not easy, and this new paradigm brings with it a suite of unique challenges but change we must! We too need to adapt and evolve if we hope to address this wicked problem of wildlife health across the globe.
Preserving potential: combining capacity building and technology to safeguard Central African wildlife
Tiff Degroot; Jared Wolfe; Luke Powell; Fidel Esono EYONO; Kristin Brzeski
The central African country of Equatorial Guinea (EG) is at a unique tipping point where wildlife is at risk of disappearing before being understood by science. Recent infrastructure development fueled by the discovery of extensive oil reserves is placing pressure on threatened species such as forest elephants, chimpanzees, Western lowland gorillas, and pangolins. Equatoguineans have responded by increasing Protected Areas (PAs) in the country, resulting in nearly 20% of upland habitat currently existing within a PA on EG’s mainland. Despite interest and will at the local level, EG’s government forestry agency remains underfunded, leading to the existence of “paper parks” with minimal protection. To support conservation in EG, the nonprofit Biodiversity Initiative has been working directly with the agency to detect illegal logging and poaching, and investigate wildlife diversity and community assemblages. Through deployment of camera traps and autonomous recording units (ARUs), and the use of novel, noninvasive genetic monitoring techniques such as DNA metabarcoding, we are helping assess mammalian and avian community diversity,as well as the impact from human pressures such as infrastructure development, illegal logging, and poaching. Further, by directly training university students and the government forestry agency in field and analytical methods, we are helping empower Equatoguineans to navigate the future while protecting their wildlife. EG is a prime example of the positive role that wildlife researchers can play in helping local communities protect some of the world’s most biodiverse ecosystems, which could provide a framework for the future of conservation across tropical rainforest communities.
A win-win: how conserving urban wildlife can improve the quality of life for urban residents
Travis Gallo; Christopher Schell; Seth Magle
Cities create near permanent changes to the landscape and they can seriously damage global biodiversity. But, nature can – and does – find a way (Ian Malcolm, 1993) to adapt to urban spaces. Although cities are not typically built with wildlife in mind, they do contain important habitats, and many species persist in or are recolonizing urban areas. Although urban wildlife does sometimes cause human-wildlife conflict, most urban residents value animals in their neighborhood, and its well known that these nature experiences determine how humans perceive nature. Thus, reduced biodiversity in urban areas may ultimately impact how people perceive biodiversity conservation. Additionally, biodiversity underlies many of the ecosystem services demanded by humans, such as direct effects on health and well-being. Therefore, biodiversity loss in urban areas may negatively affect the quality of life of urban residents. Thus, efforts to incorporate natural habitats into urban planning are becoming more common. These efforts – known as ‘urban reconciliation’ – aim to manage and create habitats that support wildlife populations, allow populations to remain resilient, and reduce biodiversity loss in cities. In this talk, we will use an optimistic lens to discuss why urban reconciliation is an important component of global conservation efforts, and we will discuss why any effort to increase nature in cities should be centered around equity and justice. By taking a social justice and ecological approach to urban planning, we can create cities where people thrive and wild animals roam.

Organizers: Tracy Melvin, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI; Chris Hoving, Michigan DNR/Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI
Supported by: Climate Change and Wildlife Working Group

Location: Virtual Date: September 29, 2020 Time: -