Aug 19, 2009

Conservation Everywhere, or Just over There?

I posted this paper on the advantages and disadvantages of protected area and landscape scale approaches to conservation in August. I originally posted it in installments as I completed my thesis. Here I've put the darn thing together in one post to make it easier to read. The PBS special "The National Parks: America's Best Idea",  encouraged me to post this critique of protected area approaches to conservation. It might be a bit academic, but I find the topic stimulating. Hope you do, too.

Conservation Everywhere, or Just Over There?
As nature conservation organizations and ambitions have spread across the globe, so has a reliance on protected areas for the conservation of biodiversity. The establishment of protected areas often includes the designation of a piece of land for natural or biological conservation purposes. This progression has created a paradigm in which many people perceive nature and conservation to exist within finite areas. Species depend upon processes that extend beyond the boundaries of protected areas, leading conservationists to consider land/sea-scape approaches. Landscape scale conservation seeks to protect biotic and abiotic features of large, contiguous swaths of landscapes or ecosystems, as well as the processes contained within them.
New valuations of nature, in terms of ecosystem services for example, increase interest in landscape conservation. The impending threat of climate change underscores a need for ecosystem resiliency to maintain broad-scale ecological functions. These conservation goals have proven elusive under the protected areas paradigm as evidenced by continued habitat loss despite an increase in area designated for protection (Adams, 1996). Because protected areas cannot fully encapsulate ecosystem function, conservation must extend to the land/sea-scape scale. Given the considerable challenges to such broad scale conservation, protected areas will remain important nodes of conservation, with efforts radiating outward from core habitat areas, such as national parks. The spread of conservation efforts to the wider landscape allows for the maintenance of ecosystem function within a greater land area. Furthermore, broad-scale conservation extends the value of nature and wildness beyond traditional parks by allowing for the holistic interpretation of nature’s existence in the very landscapes in which people live.
Modern protected areas, partially defined by state control and active management, often follow the example of U.S. national parks (Phillips, 2003). Areas of land deemed worthy of conservation for reasons biological, aesthetic, or cultural are placed under legal protection to ensure the persistence of such resources. Threats to charismatic landscapes and fauna, such as over-hunting of important game animals, have often lead to such designations, creating a somewhat reactive process of land protection (Wright and Mattson, 1996). This state initiated, often nationalistic, process has spread widely, producing protected areas on every continent. The designation of seascapes and freshwater bodies for conservation purposes has lagged behind terrestrial efforts.
Along with the proliferation of reserves and national park systems has come the development of related organizations and agencies. These players influence the definitions of terms relevant to this discussion (Table 1). Bodies such as the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources and the World National Parks Congress lead debates on land management in protected areas (Phillips, 2003). Non-governmental organizations also engage in protected area development by influencing regulation and acquiring land for conservation. This system has resulted in the designation of land in wealthy, western countries as well as those lacking the financial resources for solely state sponsored conservation (Brockington et al., 2008). These trends raise issues of equity and resource distribution in an era when the services provided by nature have tangible global implications.

Table 1. Definitions relevant to protected area and landscape scale approaches to conservation.

Protected Area
Physical land area with legal protection for conservation that allows for the management of resources
Phillips, 2003
Landscape Scale Approach
Conservation strategy that seeks to protect biodiversity and ecosystem processes on a broad scale. Includes traditional protected areas but also extends to the wider landscape. Also referred to as ecosystem or broad scale conservation.
Weeks, 1997
Includes biotic and abiotic features as well as processes within. ‘large, somehow coherent pieces of the land and waterscape’
Weeks, 1997: 33
Ecosystem Function
The interactions of biotic and abiotic components of an ecosystem. These processes yield ecosystem services.
Dickinson and Murphy, 2007
Single Species Approach
Conservation Strategy that focuses on the protection of a single species. Usually rare or threatened, though perhaps also used as a proxy for the protection of other resources within a given area.
Weeks, 1997
Keystone Species
Species with a high impact on ecosystem function relative to its population size.
Noss and Soule, 1998

Even as shortcomings of protected areas have surfaced, theories on the advancement of conservation goals emphasize the importance of core conservation areas in which human activity is limited (Franklin, 1993; Holdgate and Phillips, 1999; Boyd et al., 2008). The landscape scale approach frequently acknowledges that protected areas will continue to play a crucial role in themaintenance of biodiversity. Organizations such as the Wildlands Network advocate defragmenting and rewilding at a continental scale, building on existing core reserves (Taylor, 2005). According to proponents of landscape scale conservation, reserves fail to fully protect the ecosystem processes and functions (Table 2) that give rise to biodiversity (Adams, 1996; Trombulak, 2003). The currency of ecosystem processes and services in conservation has gained strength, particularly following the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (2006). Climate change scenarios further illustrate the need for resilient, fully functional ecosystems for the perpetuation of biodiversity and human lifestyles.
Table 2. Examples of ecosystem processes protected by a landscape scale approach to conservation. Adapted from Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, 2006.

Ecosystem Process
Example of Resulting Services
Water Cycling
Water purification, water storage, flood retention
Nutrient Cycling
Maintenance of productive soils
Energy Cycling
Contribution of oceanic currents to terrestrial temperatures, photosynthesis
Community Interactions
Pollination, air purification, photosynthesis

Influential Paradigms and Theory
While people prize parks and reserves, the defining of areas for conservation somewhat trivializes the wider landscape in terms of natural value. Epitomized by the American wilderness ethic, the romanticizing of parks disregards the persistence of the wild, of natural processes and biodiversity, in even urban areas (Cronon, 1995). Hinchliffe (2007: 53) argues that ‘so-called wild and domestic settings … are not in themselves wild or domestic. They are hybrid forms’. The view of the landscape as a hybrid offers a more holistic, human inclusive interpretation of nature than traditional protected area paradigms. Brockington et al. (2008: 10) describe the emergence of ‘mainstream conservation’ as a movement that ‘has allied with capitalism’ in its pursuit of protected areas and control of natural resources. Capitalist infiltration of nature conservation is also reflected in the top down, state based control of many protected areas. Alternative approaches to ecosystem management, such as those proposed in the Caracas Action Plan, include decentralized and bottom up efforts that allow for anthropogenic activity in various zones of use (Figgis, 2003). Efforts to include stakeholders in broad scale approaches have delivered various permutations of community based conservation -- a relatively new approach to conserving nature. These trends attempt to correct for some shortcomings of protected areas, while acknowledging their importance in terms of conservation goals.
Along with these societal paradigms, scientific theories influence protected area and landscape approaches to conservation. Researchers have used island biogeography and the species area relationship to critique the efficacy of protected areas in the maintenance of species diversity (MacArthur and Wilson, 1967). Descriptions of reserves as islands of habitat have led to calls for corridors and stepping stones between these fragments to increase connectivity. Holistic conceptualizations of the landscape have delivered theories such as bioregionalism and watershed or ecoregional conservation planning (Phillips, 2003). Species targeted approaches to biodiversity conservation also plays an important role in the development of protected areas. Umbrella and keystone species concepts are recommended as foundations for the furtherance of broad scale conservation (Noss and Soule, 1998). Building on all of these theories, optimistic visions of the possibilities for conservation include rewilding, which recommends the reintroduction of large ungulates and top tier predators to systems such as the intermontane West in the U.S. (Noss and Soule, 1998). New research on this range of theories continues to inform protected area management and inspire the push for landscape scale conservation.

Protected Area Advantages
By exploiting the charisma of a place or particular species, conservationists have ensured the legal protection of pieces of land, such as Yellowstone National Park in the U.S. (Wright, 1996). Legal status for parks may preclude economic exploitation of an area or include planning restrictions that limit the development of roads and buildings (Table 3). Such measures hinder private exploitation of market-valued natural resources, including timber and wildlife, within the boundaries of parks (Brockington et al., 2008). Active management of protected areas allows for the identification and mitigation of threats and impacts. As opposed to private land holdings, public ownership or administration of protected areas delivers a system in which land use and management are more easily or cohesively bent to the aims of nature conservation. In countries where private property regimes dominate, this paradigm for protected areas also increases the potential for public access to ecologically diverse landscapes, enhancing opportunities for nature education and outreach.
Furthermore, covering more than 19.6 million square kilometers of land and sea, protected areas deliver some biodiversity conservation objectives (Gaston et al., 2008). Boyd et al. (2008) find that protected areas provide some protection to most threatened tetrapods, indicating that protected areas have an important role to play in the conservation of biodiversity. Ballantine and Langlois (2008: 38) find that ‘protection from human disturbance’ can foster
Table 3. Examples of legal measures for protected areas.

Desired Effect
Fishing Regulation
Prevent over-fishing within marine and freshwater ecosystems. Assists in the maintenance of trophic balance.
Hunting Regulation
Prevent over-hunting or poaching of species. Benefits the conservation of threatened species as well as community interactions within ecosystems.
Roadless Rules
Prevent further habitat fragmentation in protected areas. Also prevents increase in tourist pressure by limiting access to sensitive areas.
Limits on Resource Extraction
Prevent removal of resources (timber, minerals, etc) within protected areas. Prevent disturbances associated with such extraction including pollution, soil erosion, and road construction.
Agri-Environment Schemes
Reduce harmful land uses adjacent to protected areas.

multiple, complex and often ecologically important’ changes in marine reserves. Robust protected areas also provide necessary resilience to and refuge from climate change for many species of conservation interest (Watts and Davis, 2007). Core conservation areas have led to creative thinking about ways to link habitat remnants. Efforts to build on the successes of conservation have led to the merging of reserves such as Glacier National Park and Waterton Lakes National Park, which became the world’s first International Peace Park (Zinkan 1992). In considering the victories of protected areas, issues of temporal and spatial scale arise. Although much conservation research focuses on national parks, the contribution of urban and regional parks in the maintenance of biodiversity and open space for ecosystem processes should be considered in any holistic appraisal of protected areas (Savard et al., 2000). Smaller parks and reserves contribute to local quality of life and provide potential linkages for gene flow and wildlife movement.
Protected Area Disadvantages
While protected areas present many opportunities for nature conservation, disadvantages to this approach abound. The finite perimeters of reserves do not reflect the more fluid nature of the species and processes that protected areas seek to conserve. Reserve boundaries, like those of states, are frequently political constructs rather than natural divisions along environmental gradients (Adams, 2003). International and intra-national boundaries prevent the holistic protection of ecosystems as legal entities define parks within their respective territories. These ground facts confound land management by constraining data and resource sharing. Whereas the Glacier-Waterton International Peace Park stands as one example of international cooperation, the southern border of the U.S. demonstrates the complexity of natural resource conservation across international boundaries. Eight-five percent of the state of Arizona’s border with Mexico is federally protected, indicating that conservation resources abound in the region. Efforts to control the U.S.-Mexico border in terms of human immigration has led to massive disturbance in the form of road building, wall construction, and stadium lighting across a fragile desert ecosystem (Segee and Neeley, 2006). Border control efforts within these parks exemplify the way that political boundaries, including those placed around protected areas, fail to conserve nature from the local park level to continental scale conservation efforts.
Additionally, the selection of areas for protection has led to significant resource management challenges. Hansen and Rotella (2001) critique reserve selection criteria, noting that the process has not led to equal representation of all landscapes, but has rather proceeded with a bias toward climatically severe and high elevation environments. The utility of lower elevation land to human populations has precluded expansive acquisition of the ecosystems contained therein, thus indicating a need for alternative conservation strategies. While many parks contain sensitive species, the ecosystem functions that support them often extend beyond the reach of the park (Newmark, 1985). Therefore, pressures outside of the park can affect species and processes within a protected area, reducing its overall utility to nature conservation. For example, upstream contamination of a river will deliver pollutants to protected areas downstream. Similarly migratory species may suffer impacts when they leave reserves (Holdgate and Phillips, 1999). The Mexican gray wolf (Canis lupus baileyi) of the U.S.-Mexico borderlands requires a significant range, and despite species driven legal protections, cannot be safeguarded by existing reserves (Povilitis et al., 2006).
Besides the political and ecological disadvantages of protected areas, reserves present social challenges. Reserve establishment has at times led to displacement of indigenous populations, altering lifestyles and increasing poverty levels by pushing people into market-based economies (Brockington et al., 2008). Displacement leads to pressures at the edges of protected areas, again limiting conservation utility as pressures beyond the legal framework of the reserve impact resources within. Government corruption can exacerbate the impacts of protected areas on indigenous communities, leading to resource allocation inequities as land tenure regimes shift to accommodate mainstream conservation objectives (Murombedzi, 2003). Recently, community based conservation programs have sought to ameliorate these impacts, in part by extending conservation to the wider landscape.
Landscape Scale Advantages
Because protected areas fail to fully protect species and ecosystem processes, the landscape scale approach became popular in the 1990’s. This approach attempts to incorporate biophysical gradients in land management strategies (Newmark, 1985; Weeks, 1997). Advocates of landscape conservation suggest connecting existing protected areas to create networks of contiguous habitat, facilitating the maintenance of ecosystem function. Terrestrially, this approach often requires less land purchase or acquisition, instead emphasizing cooperation with private land owners. Efforts to designate marine protected areas appear to assert the ecosystem approach with the Convention on Biological Diversity(2004) suggesting that reserves incorporate all ecological processes.
Conservation of ecosystem function is of growing concern as climate change scenarios solidify the need for robust landscapes in the provisioning of life giving ecosystem services such as clean water and air (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, 2006). The ability of species to adapt to climate change, through movement, will also depend on the existing connectivity of reserves and reserve networks (Hansen and Rotella, 2001; Araújo et al., 2004). Besides climate change resiliency, habitat defragmentation increases the potential for rewilding with large ungulates and top tier predators by overcoming the range and migration limitations of traditional protected areas (Noss and Soule, 1998). Where protected areas often suffer from arbitrary boundaries, broad scale conservation units are delimited by ecological gradients, such as watersheds (Clark, 1999). Ribbons and stepping stones within these units defragment existing islands of habitat, enhancing ecosystem processes. In theory, broad scale conservation holistically seeks to enhance ecosystem processes in all available land.
Furthermore, landscape conservation demands the inclusion of people as a part of nature. This social component encourages decentralized conservation efforts. By extending conservation objectives beyond the boundaries of protected areas, this approach optimistically assumes that ecologically valuable landscapes persist in areas where anthropocentric land uses exist and may even dominate (Phillips, 2003). Groups such as the Wildlands Network have developed continental scale visions for the establishment of wildlife linkages with corridors, buffers, and transition zones across a multiplicity of land uses (Noss, 2003). Such visions of conservation opportunities at all scales stands in contrast to traditional notions of national parks as signature areas for protection.

Landscape Scale Disadvantages
While the theory of landscape conservation rectifies many pitfalls of the protected areas approach, application proves challenging. A lack of scientific research at the ecosystem scale hinders conservation planning and land management decisions (Clark, 1999). The landscape scale approach assumes that the conservation of ecosystem processes will also protect the species found therein. However, perfect ecosystem function may not fully conserve biodiversity in the absence of single species management strategies (Chan et al., 2006). Selling ecosystem scale conservation as a means of maintaining ecosystem function for anthropogenic purposes may not deliver a public equally supportive of biodiversity conservation if such values become oppositional. If landscapes are monitored for processes, then species loss could occur without triggering changes in management. Land managers will invariably seek to retain species under the ecosystem approach, but species loss is one potential effect of planning ‘at a scale unfamiliar to most protected area managers’ (Phillips, 2003: 28). Identification of threats to sensitive features proves more difficult without management by a responsible agency. Lack of confidence in the science behind landscape scale conservation also affects funding of such schemes. The current economic climate exacerbates funding concerns, likely discouraging land managers from taking risks with constrained budgets.
Whereas scientists and land managers often seek holistic ecosystem conservation, transboundary conservation requires political will and resource sharing. Finding agreement among relevant agencies on the definition of ecosystem management has also slowed application of this approach (Simberloff, 1998). According to Weeks (1997), agencies have different mandates, often managing for a different result or product. This prevents the application of holistic ecosystem scale conservation, which should seek ‘the greatest natural integrity that can be achieved’ (Weeks, 1997: 34). Furthermore, demanding scientific rigor in decentralized conservation efforts may prove impossible. Adams (2003) describes a case study in which a conservation organization used improperly sourced seed for habitat re-creation. By attempting to include more stakeholders, the broad scale approach likely sacrifices a certain degree of purity in the application of science to land management. Furthermore, the time required for conservation planning will lengthen with the incorporation of more stakeholders.
Following the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (2006), attempts to monetarily quantify ecosystem services have gained popularity within mainstream conservation. Through the emphasis of ecosystem services, landscape scale conservation may reinforce capitalism, a system that has historically thrived on the exploitation of natural resources and labor. Some conservationists have argued that monetary valuation of ecosystem services will create incentives to leave ecosystems in place (Balmford et al., 2002). Alternatively, placing a price on nature may also lead to exploitation by those who can afford to pay. Nelson et al. (2008) describe the potential for conflicts over maximizing one ecosystem service, carbon sequestration, to the detriment of another, biodiversity. In a paradigm where all ecosystem services have a monetary value, the results of such debates favor capitalist aims rather than nature conservation. However, alternative valuations of ecosystem services also exist, should mainstream conservation find alternative currency for their promotion. As ecosystem scale conservation urges integrated and equitable natural resource protection, perhaps it also serves as a vehicle for alternative, qualitative valuations of ecosystem services.
The Scientific Foundation for a Landscape Scale Approach
Given that protected areas and species driven legislation fail to fully protect biodiversity and ecosystem processes, new strategies are required. Mounting pressures on nature – human population, climate change, rampant development – demand aggressive, holistic attention. The landscape scale approach does not preclude the management of protected areas or single species, but rather builds on the lessons learned from these strategies. Under this rubric, integrated land management increases conservation potential.
As strategies have shifted toward the landscape approach, new tools and methodologies inform planning and land management Gering et al. (2003) recommend additive partitioning over the species area relationship in the assessment of beetle diversity at the landscape scale. Current research also integrates ecosystem dynamics, single species data, and anthropogenic impacts in models predicting the outcomes of conservation strategies. Rigorous models, such as those developed for marine ecosystem planning by Crowder et al., address the lack of science cited by early critics of landscape scale conservation (2008). Modeling of protected area performance under climate change stress both support the expansion of conservation to the landscape scale and indicate place and species specific management strategies to allow for translocation (Arajúo et al., 2004; Hannah et al., 2007). Temporal pressures of climate change necessitate swift action. That scientific understanding cannot fully capture the intricacies of ecosystem processes must not delay the implementation of management strategies that will increase resilience to climate change.
A Physical Vision for Landscape Conservation
How will the use of these new tools and methodologies for ecosystem scale conservation translate in terms of the physical landscape? Watershed scale conservation delimits planning boundaries by a dominant ecosystem process: water runoff patterns (Clark, 1999). Within this unit, reserves are bound together by ribbons and stepping stones of habitat, which cross multiple zones of land use. Alignment of management among protected areas within a watershed requires cooperation among relevant agencies. Moving into semi-natural habitats, integration of agricultural land into the management matrix offers opportunities to buffer reserves and defragment the countryside for many animal species (Dutton et al., 2008). Trombulak (2003), in an effort similar to that of the Man and Biosphere Program, describes three land use zones as ecological, stewardship, and intensive-use. Conservation dominates in ecological lands, which include reserves. Consecutive zones meld economic and cultural land uses with conservation objectives (Table 4). Beyond the watershed scale, plans such as the Yellowstone to Yukon linkage of the Rocky Mountains of North America contribute to continental scale visions of conservation (Phillips, 2003).

Table 4. Land use zones for landscape scale conservation as defined by Trombulak, 2003.

Trombulak Zone
Potential Land Uses
Ecological Lands
Dominant use is nature conservation.
Parks and Reserves.
Marine Protected Areas.
Stewardship Lands
Dominant uses include sustainable resource extraction.
Agricultural land. Forestry. Mining.
Intensive Use Lands
Dominant use is anthropocentric.
Urban areas. Fishing zones. Shipping harbors.

Activities within urban and suburban zones of ecosystems require creative strategies. Urban organizations, like Nature in the City (San Francisco, U.S.), utilize many principles of landscape conservation to protect sensitive biological resources. The Green Hairstreak project, built on monitoring of two isolated populations of Callyphors dumetorum, involves the restoration of streetscapes and backyards (Brastow, P., pers. comm., 24th March 2009). Strategies include invasive species (Carpobrotus edulis) removal in core habitat areas of Hawk Hill and Rocky Outcrop (Figure 1). Installation of the larval food source, Eriogonum latifolium, and nectar source, Erigeron glaucus, aim to increase habitat between the two natural areas. The corridor reclaims unused land along streetscapes, largely owned by the city’s Department of Public Works (Brastow, P., pers. comm., 24th March 2009). The project also supports the removal of sidewalk cement for the installation of native plants. These measures increase land available to species and ecosystem processes such as water filtration and storage. This confined, urban project is a microcosm of efforts at larger landscape conservation. It also exemplifies the ends to which this approach seeks to restore natural processes in all available land.

Figure 1. Promotional image of the Green Hairstreak Project, including corridor map. Courtesy of Nature in the City.

A Social Vision for Landscape Conservation
Although the scientific and land management challenges to landscape scale conservation abound in the literature, considerable social hurdles also exist. The dominance of the protected area approach has rested in part on the purchase of land. Efforts to incorporate stakeholders in conservation do not always deliver increased protection for biodiversity or ecosystem function (Alagona and Pincetl, 2008). Many social models for stakeholder participation have emerged, including the Habitat Conservation Plan in the U.S. Despite the complications of stakeholder involvement, wider participation benefits some conservation goals, such as the protection of game with long migrations (Brockington et al., 2008). The potential to engage local people in conservation also offers enormous educational and recruitment opportunities. While funding inhibits the maximizing of this potential, efforts to include stakeholders range from agri-environment schemes to decentralized wildlife management (Table 5).

Table 5. Stakeholder inclusion opportunities for conservation planning and land management.

Agri-Environment Schemes
Incentivize sustainable farming (Dutton et al., 2008)
Conservation Easements
Reduce intensive uses of lands that have conservation value.
Carbon Sequestration Incentives
Encourage private land owners to mange land for carbon sequestration to mitigate climate change. (Nelson et al., 2008)
Biodiversity Incentives
Encourage private land owners to manage land for biodiversity conservation. (Nelson et al., 2008)
Decentralized Wildlife Management
Allow indigenous and local people to mange wildlife resources. (Brockington et al., 2008)
Public Comment/Process
Allow public input/participation on conservation planning.
Local Stewardship Initiatives
Encourage local participation in management of protected areas. Example: habitat restoration work groups
Wildlife Monitoring
Allow local contributions to monitoring of important wildlife.
Invasive Species Monitoring
Utilize local land users in the monitoring of invasive species colonization and spread.

In addition to greater popular involvement in conservation, the landscape scale approach requires new institutional engagement. Calls have emanated for scientists to engage in advocacy to further public understanding of science and the need for immediate conservation action (Noss, 2007). Articulating the vision of the ecosystem approach provides an opportunity to emphasize the compatibility of human society with nature, thereby redefining the landscape for much of the public. As landscape conservation relies heavily on existing protected areas, governments continue to play an important role in conservation planning and land management. Legal mechanisms, particularly planning legislation, must also shift to promote landscape conservation and sustainable development


While traditional protected areas achieve many objectives, the ambitions of conservation extend beyond the boundaries of such reserves. The successes of protected areas, such as the safeguarding of rich ecosystems from private exploitation, ensure their persistence as part of a larger conservation strategy. Building on these accomplishments and lessons learned, conservationists extend their remit beyond the preservation of biodiversity to include the maintenance of ecosystem function. Climate change, among other factors, impresses the need for such a paradigm within conservation and the wider population. Retention of ecosystem function ensures the possibility of life within the biophysical parameters that currently exist on Earth, thus protecting human populations as well as many other species. Because emphasis on ecosystem processes will not fully protect biodiversity, conservationists must also pursue the best strategies developed through the protected area and single species approaches.
An integrated approach to conservation has both a physical and social component. Conceptualizations of nature influence public and scientific perception of the ecosystem approach. Extending conservation to the wider landscape requires conservationists to acknowledge these views of nature as stakeholders engage in conservation planning and land management. Broader institutional support of conservation goals is needed to advance a landscape scale approach as the current movement lacks the social science foundation required to properly incorporate stakeholders. Further support, in the form of funding, is also required to extend conservation beyond the boundaries of protected areas.
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