Climate Change Shifts How We Protect National Parks
Speaker 1: 00:00 As the accelerating effects of climate change become more apparent in our natural resources. The goal and scope of conservation is beginning to change for America's national parks. That goal was once absolute conservation. Well now, as rising temperatures transform the world's ecosystems, the focus of conservation efforts has shifted. The bleak reality now is that some things can be saved and some things can't that's according to new guidance handed down last month to park managers, joining us with details on the new guidelines is Gregor Spearman, an ecologist and researcher with the park service climate change response program who helped write the new guidance. Gregor. Welcome. Thank you, judge. So Gregor, how has the goal of conservation efforts changed as the effects of climate change become more pronounced? Speaker 2: 00:50 I'm keen to elaborate a little bit on that because I think it's important to understand that when we say absolute conservation, what we're really talking about is preserving everything exactly where it was as it was, is difficult and becoming more so because climate is a fundamental driver of ecological conditions. So if you turn the temperature up or you change the moisture regime, you're starting to favor different species than those that have historically existed in a place. And so this sort of broader way to think about this is to recognize that we are now managing a moving picture. Nature is always in motion, but because of our influence, that motion is fast enough that we can pretend we're managing a snapshot. And so when we talk about giving up, ideally what we're talking about is giving up on conserving perhaps as a population of a certain species in a certain place, but hopefully shifting our emphasis spatially elsewhere. Speaker 2: 01:43 So that ultimately we're still committed and working towards the protection of our biodiversity heritage. But we're recognizing that we have to do it in the context of motion on the one hand, a fairly simple point, moving picture versus a snapshot. But in terms of practice, that's the difference between saying we're going to bring back everything that used to be here to this place, versus we are going to preserve everything that used to be here, wherever it is in motion. It's like the rug is shifting underneath conservations feet. And if we're going to continue to succeed, we need to learn how to dance. You've Speaker 1: 02:15 Been quoted as saying the mission of the park services to conserve unimpaired. How has climate change complicated? Speaker 2: 02:23 The way that is stated is in the legislation it's conserved unimpaired, it's also often stated as preserve unimpaired preserve unimpaired tends to lead people to think we mean conserve everything exactly where and how it was. When we say preserve. When we say conserve the way we interpret policy, it gives us a flexibility that we have a commitment to preserve biodiversity, to preserve our natural heritage, but it doesn't lock us into doing so exactly where and how it used to be done in the past. So it seeks flexibility. Speaker 1: 02:56 As you mentioned, certain conservation efforts will have to be given up. So park managers can focus on more important goals. What are some of the criteria for prioritizing key conservation efforts in the near future? Speaker 2: 03:09 Sure. What we try to think about is being strategic overall, the resources that we can devote to conserving our natural heritage always will be limited, uh, relative to the task. There is almost always more we could do with more resources. So the ultimate question is how can we get the most conservation return for our investment? If we want to use business terms or how can we achieve the most success with our limited resources and ultimately this means being strategic. And what this means is when we choose to resist change and restore a population exactly where it was, we ought to put that under some kind of a microscope magnifying glass, and just ask ourselves, is that going to work, given what we know about how our climate has changed in that place and how it will change in the future. Now, if we can ascertain that it will, right, that you can bring back the corner blue butterfly, let's say to a particular site and you've done your homework. You can show your work. Then there is nothing wrong with an approach that looks like traditional conservation, but increasingly we're becoming concerned with investing like we always have and perhaps not getting that return. And what managers then say is, gosh, in that case, I really would like those worker hours, those dollars back so that I can save some other resource that perhaps had a better chance. So it's a lot about allocation, about recognition of the finitude of our resources, and then doing the best job we can Speaker 1: 04:43 Predictions for nearby Joshua tree. National park are particularly grim, rising temperatures and more aggressive fire seasons, uh, could result in catastrophic losses for the park. Can you tell us more about that and how the guidelines will affect conservation efforts there? Speaker 2: 04:59 That is a difficult situation and it's one that's fairly well documented. And you've got a combination there of increasing temperatures and also exotic species that are changing that fire regime. That's a really difficult situation. What one hears when, when talks to the managers at Joshua tree is both a recognition that there are places where it's going to be tough to retain the Joshua tree within its former range. But on the other hand, there are some places Refugio, as they're called that are somewhat sheltered from these modern drivers. Um, it's important to recognize that across the landscape, not every acre has the same vulnerability context really matters. And so a lot of the discussion when we're here in that part of the world is about again, being strategic and investing perhaps very heavily to resist change where it's feasible. And at the same time, again, trying to avoid wasting dollars in places that are really unlikely to result in success. You Speaker 1: 05:55 Know, I just asked you about this being a wake-up call for Americans, but how important is it that there be a global understanding of what's happening, Speaker 2: 06:05 Uh, right to our peers and to managers in the peer reviewed literature and beyond, we often emphasize the global nature of this change. And we do that for two reasons. One is it's important to understand that this is global and it's not just for instance, in American problem. And so our colleagues and our peers who can help us think about this can be found around the world. So that's a huge resource in terms of a common problem with a great number of people, all thinking about it. It's also important to understand this as a global problem, because that's why we need to do the kind of thinking we do. And we can't just mitigate locally. You know, other sorts of problems. One can, as I talked about earlier, fence out the bad guys, so to speak, or, or at least in one way or another counteract, some of these stressors that climate change is a really tough one. And so on the one hand, as I've said, it's important to recognize nobody's alone. We're all in this together. And by that, I mean humanity. And on the other hand, it's important to realize these are big global problems that require again, a different approach than the historical approach to resource conservation. I've Speaker 1: 07:12 Been speaking with Gregor skier, Mon, an ecologist and researcher with the climate change response program at the national park service Gregory. Thanks so much for joining us. You're welcome, Jay. Speaker 3: 07:34 [inaudible].