Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The resiliency of wetlands is vital, says ecologist

New West, Environment: Ecologist Tom DeLuca, during his lecture Tuesday night at the University of Montana, made the case for an adaptive approach to wildlands management in order to help the West’s ecosystems adjust to a changing climate. “We have expressed a flawed response to environmental damage,” he said. DeLuca, a Senior Forest Ecologist with the Wilderness Society and former UM professor speaking as part of the Wilderness Issues Lecture Series, acknowledged that there may be no way to avoid climate change, but the region’s forests and wildlands have evolved under changing climates and possess a measure of resilience to variations.

“One thing that is constant in nature is change...resistance to change may prove to be a catastrophic failure,” he said. To effectively allow for natural adaptation to climate change, DeLuca stressed that size matters: a substantial core habitat must be present for the migration of species across landscapes and to buffer zones with human development. DeLuca said that the majority of the protected areas in the United States would be ineffective in providing the crucial elements of an adaptive ecosystem. “Our wilderness areas in the lower 48 states are like islands, and that makes them susceptible to climate change,” he said.

DeLuca said that large-scale land conservation is required, and efforts must extend beyond traditional government management to involve society as a whole. He pointed to conservation easements and land trusts as examples of management of private lands by citizens. These efforts are vital building blocks that help form the large areas of protected habitat necessary for species to adapt to climate change while also storing carbon and clean water, he said.

DeLuca cited the Blackfoot Challenge in Montana’s Blackfoot Valley, a community collaboration involving the timber industry, environmental groups and community members to preserve land they all have a vested interest in protecting. DeLuca said that engaging different groups in the process of conservation is essential to fostering an improved environmental awareness across the West. “Our vision is that these communities will have a restoration of the land ethic,” he said.

DeLuca explained that one way to do this is through community monitoring activities that document changes in an area’s ecosystem over time. These studies would reduce the cost of government monitoring and provide crucial information to management agencies so that their policies can more easily adjust. “We have to be adaptive and flexible in our management of ecosystems,” he said.

DeLuca said that an adaptive approach ensures the highest possible survival of species and avoids a wholesale collapse of habitat, and that the immediacy of the issue means the success or failure of future Western ecosystems rests largely in the hands of its citizens who cannot afford to wait for outside assistance. “The efforts being conducted by our government are laughable,” he said.

Ballona Creek, Los Angeles, photo by "downtowngal," Wikimedia Commons

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