Tag Archives: science applications

I’m Allison Ludtke, and you’ll be hearing from me regularly over the next few months. I am a Student Conservation Association intern for Science Applications, focusing on telling stories about how we are working with partners to develop and apply science for landscape conservation across the Northeast. When I am not serving as an intern, I am a senior at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, double majoring in wildlife ecology and journalism while completing an honors capstone project specializing in narrative nonfiction. I am passionate about wildlife conservation and truly believe communication can make a difference in how we deal with major issues like climate change. My past experiences include fieldwork in South Africa focusing on lion, leopard and cheetah behavior, marine mammal rehabilitation of seals and turtles on Cape Cod, and writing for my college newspaper as well as about these experiences.

Introducing Allison Ludtke!

Allison Ludtke

I’m Allison Ludtke, and you’ll be hearing from me regularly over the next few months! I am a Student Conservation Association intern for Science Applications, focusing on telling stories about how we are working with partners to develop and apply science for landscape conservation across the Northeast.

When I am not serving as an intern, I am a senior at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, double majoring in wildlife ecology and journalism while completing an honors capstone project specializing in narrative nonfiction. I am passionate about wildlife conservation and truly believe communication can make a difference in how we deal with major issues like climate change.

As a child, I felt a bond with my notebook and the natural landscapes around me, particularly wildlife. Exploring the natural world was my playtime and writing down those observations became a type of “diary.”

National Geographic, the Discovery Channel and renowned conservationist Jane Goodall were just a few of my teachers. In college I couldn’t decide on one major that would satisfy my varied interests, so, I combined science and humanities, convinced that strong communication about environmental issues is crucial in implementing change. Without making conservation accessible, how will people gain understanding? And more importantly, how will they know how to help? Without this bridge of communication, sustainable change is unlikely.

For this blog, I’ll be using my combined science and humanities skills to share with you how the Service is piloting a comprehensive landscape conservation approach in the 7.2-million-acre Connecticut River watershed, which runs through four New England states: Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont.

This will include my own experiences interviewing Service managers, partners and others who live and work in the watershed, as well as key efforts to target the right conservation in the right places. In a larger sense, I will be documenting how climate change, habitat fragmentation, spread of invasive species and other widespread threats impact wildlife, habitats and the people who live in the watershed.

A view of the Connecticut River from Mt. Sugarloaf in Sunderland, Mass. The Connecticut River watershed runs through four New England states: Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont.  Credit: USFWS

A view of the Connecticut River from Mt. Sugarloaf in Sunderland, Mass. The Connecticut River watershed runs through four New England states: Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont. Credit: USFWS

Contributing a Little to Something Big

In early October, while the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was in the midst of a federal government shutdown, the Source to Sea cleanup went on as it has for the past 17 years.

Sponsored by the Connecticut River Watershed Council, Source to Sea enlists thousands of volunteers in local communities to clean up trash – by foot or by boat – along the 7.2 million acre Connecticut River watershed, which runs through four New England states: Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont.

Volunteers from the Cheshire County Conservation District - Keene, N.H. Photo from the Connecticut River Watershed Council, Inc., Facebook.

Volunteers from the Cheshire County Conservation District – Keene, N.H. Photo from the Connecticut River Watershed Council, Inc., Facebook.

The public’s willingness to help conserve and “own” this resource is critical, says Andy French, project leader at Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge—the only refuge in the country that includes an entire watershed as its borders.

When it comes to promoting and enhancing large landscapes like the Connecticut River watershed, French says no contribution is too small to make a difference.

“Taking the time to help – regardless of how much or how little – inspires investment in the community and gives individuals a sense of ownership and pride for their area,” he says. “Contributing a little adds up to something big.”

In 2013, more than 2,200 Source to Sea volunteers pulled more than 45 tons of trash from more than 138 miles of riverbanks and waterways. They pull out everything from recyclables, fishing equipment and food waste to tires, televisions and refrigerators.

“Source to Sea gets folks to the river. And when they get there, it opens their eyes,” says Andrew Fisk, Executive Director of the Connecticut River Watershed Council. Fisk noted the cleanup is often people’s first experience with the river and with volunteering. With 80 percent of the country’s population residing in urban areas, he says finding a way to reach new audiences and connect them with nature is increasingly critical to the future of conservation.

Helping for an hour may seem small, but it adds up. There are 2.4 million people living in the watershed, French says. If all of those people donated one hour of volunteer time, it could accomplish as much as approximately 1,200 full-time workers.

LANE Construction got their heavy equipment to remove big trash from the Green River in Massachusetts and Vermont.

LANE Construction got their heavy equipment to remove big trash from the Green River in Massachusetts and Vermont. Photo from the Connecticut River Watershed Council, Inc., Facebook.

The result? Cleaner water, safer riverbanks and healthier wildlife thanks to the sponsors, businesses, watershed organizations, scouting troops, school groups, faith organizations, municipalities, and community members who make the event possible.

Conserving the nature of America, and the treasured lands and waters of the Northeast, takes all of us.

For more information about the cleanup, visit http://www.ctriver.org or contact River Steward Jacqueline Talbot at cleanup@ctriver.org or 860-704-0057.

All models are wrong, but some are useful

In light of the ever increasing human population and its growing demands for space and natural resources, it is clear to me that conservation of biodiversity is faced with serious challenges.

The overarching question we face is “how do we accommodate human development and yet ensure the protection of the natural world?”

Kevin McGarigal

Today you’re hearing from Dr. Kevin McGarigal, a professor in the Department of Environmental Conservation at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and director of the Landscape Ecology Lab.

One of the lessons learned over the past century of conservation is that acting locally without thinking regionally is not going to ensure the protection of biodiversity in a heterogeneous and changing landscape.

Instead, we need to conserve functioning landscapes that facilitate ecological processes such as dispersal and gene flow that allow ecosystems and species to persist and adapt in the face of change – we need a “landscape approach” to biodiversity conservation.

Fig18_blbw_coa_persist2080

Probability of persistence of the blackburnian warbler from 2010-2080 in the middle Connecticut River watershed pilot study area averaged across several climate change and urban growth scenarios. The non-zero values are restricted to where the species is most likely to occur in 2010. The areas with the highest probability of persistence (dark green) are the areas where the species most likely occurs today and where it is most likely to occur in the future given our uncertainty in climate and habitat changes. The areas shown in black are where the species is least likely to occur in the future if the species contracts its range in response to the expect climate changes. Based on our landscape change projections, the blackburnian warbler is most likely to persist only in the northwestern portion of the watershed by 2080 if it contracts its range in response to the expected climate changes.

Fig10_impact_2080

Loss of ecological integrity (i.e., impact) due to climate change and urban growth from 2010-2080 in the middle Connecticut River watershed pilot study area averaged across several landscape change scenarios. The larger the negative index, the greater the effective loss in ecological integrity; in other words, the loss in ecological integrity from cells that currently have high ecological integrity — where it matters the most. The greatest impacts on ecological integrity are patchily distributed throughout the watershed owing to the dispersed development in the future, but also associated with major urban growth areas in the Connecticut River valley and along the major east-west transportation corridors where the development is close to areas of high IEI.


Moreover, in light of the inevitable landscape changes, driven by processes such as global climate change and urban growth, it is clear to me that we need to anticipate the likely changes in order to make strategic conservation decisions today.

For example, protecting a particular patch of critical habitat for a species of conservation concern is unlikely to be effective if the climate will no longer be suitable for the species at that location in 50 years – we need to embrace the notion that landscapes are dynamic, and plan accordingly.

Lastly, given the complexity of biodiversity, it is obvious to me that effective conservation solutions will require the integration of complex, multivariate ecological and socio-economic data. Fortunately, thanks in part to the recent explosion in remote-sensing technology, there are now vast amounts of relevant spatial data available that can be brought to bear on the conservation challenge.

Given the need to integrate lots of ecological and socio-economic data across multiple scales in space and time, I contend that a computer modeling approach to biodiversity conservation is urgently needed. Accordingly, in my role as principal investigator for the Designing Sustainable Landscapes project of the North Atlantic Landscape Conservation Cooperative, I have focused the project on developing a modeling approach to simulate changes to the landscape under a variety of alternative future scenarios (e.g., climate change, urban growth), assess affects of those changes to the integrity of ecological systems and populations of priority fish and wildlife species, and inform the design of conservation strategies (e.g., land protection, management and restoration) to meet biodiversity conservation objectives.

The project will allow us to forecast changes to the landscape across the Northeast and assess the consequences of those changes to biodiversity at multiple scales in space and time. This information will help inform the tradeoffs associated with alternative conservation actions, so that limited conservation resources can be directed to where they will do the greatest good.

And while this model does not include all of the factors that must go into real-world conservation decisions, I am confident and excited about the prospects that the model will provide useful information. My confidence is boosted by knowing that the North Atlantic LCC, through its extensive conservation partnership among Northeast agencies and organizations, will deliver this information to conservation agencies and organizations — the practitioners that get things done on the ground.

To learn more about the North Atlantic LCC and the DSL project, please click here to download the project factsheet. (PDF)

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Linking science to conservation in the North Atlantic

Today you’re hearing from Andrew Milliken, coordinator of the North Atlantic Landscape Conservation Cooperative, a public-private partnership that is part of a national network providing share science to ensure the sustainability of America’s land, water, wildlife and cultural resources.

Today you’re hearing from Andrew Milliken, coordinator of the North Atlantic Landscape Conservation Cooperative, a public-private partnership that is part of a national network providing share science to ensure the sustainability of America’s land, water, wildlife and cultural resources.

Passion for habitat conservation has linked each part of my career, driving me with the realization that the best opportunities for conserving significant habitats are occurring now.

I was fortunate enough to participate in the protection and restoration of millions of acres of land in my previous job as coordinator of the Atlantic Coast Joint Venture. My experience affirmed the importance of developing shared science capacity to help people make habitat conservation decisions in the face of change – particularly human impacts on ecosystems, including urban growth, sprawl and energy development.

A flock of egrets. Credit: Bill Butcher/USFWS

A flock of egrets. Credit: Bill Butcher/USFWS

All of which are magnified by the multiple effects of accelerating climate change.

I found the opportunity to work through partnerships and make that link between science and conservation through landscape conservation cooperatives, and I am excited to play a part as coordinator of the North Atlantic Landscape Conservation Cooperative.

This fall, I met with staff from all 22 LCCs across the U.S. and adjacent countries. I was at a workshop for the national LCC staff at the National Wetlands Science Center in Lafayette, La. Although these LCCs are all at different stages and each using approaches best suited to their own landscapes and partners, we are all working towards the same overall vision of landscapes that sustain natural and cultural resources for current and future generations.

It has been a little over two years since the North Atlantic LCC became a staffed partnership and hosted its first official steering committee meeting in New Castle, N.H. The past two years have been busy and exciting.

We’ve:

  • Built relationships and established effective governance for the partnership,
  • Agreed on a conservation framework and priority science needs, and
  • Begun to build the shared science capacity to address those needs.

The 32 state, federal, tribal and non-governmental partners that make up the steering committeeand the numerous partners and partnerships that are involved in one or more of the LCC technical teamsare working well together towards common goals.

Seashore

Cape Cod National Seashore near Wellfleet, Mass. Credit: Ralph Tiner/USFWS

The LCC worked with Northeast states in 2011 to host a Northeast Regional Conservation Framework Workshop with 86 participants. At the workshop, participants reviewed ongoing and completed regional science projects and developed initial consensus on a common conservation framework, vision and highest priorities for conservation science in the LCC going forward.

The results of that workshop, as well as a science needs assessment, formed the North Atlantic LCC Conservation science strategic plan. These science priorities are being addressed through partnership, leveraging existing research and funding new science that directly benefits managers.

The North Atlantic LCC has focused in part on the development of science and tools that help conservation partners make informed decisions in the face of major threats and drivers, including climate change and urban growth.

For example, during the fall of 2012, the North Atlantic LCC hosted three workshops to introduce over 120 users and managers to the science and tools under development in pilot areas as part of the Designing Sustainable Landscapes project led by the University of Massachusetts Amherst. With feedback from users and managers, this project will now be expanded across the Northeast Region. The principal investigator for this project, Dr. Kevin McGarigal, will be talking about this project in more detail in a future blog post.

A stream flows by tall trees in a Maine wetland on a sunny day.  Credit: Ralph Tiner/USFWS

A stream flows by tall trees in a Maine wetland on a sunny day. Credit: Ralph Tiner/USFWS

Another major focus is on science delivery the management of information, translation of science and engagement of partners to ensure that science and tools are available at the scales and formats they need.

One current focus of this science delivery is compiling, organizing and synthesizing regional spatial and non-spatial data on species, habitats, threats to both and conservation actions to provide regionally consistent information for updating state wildlife action plans for the 13 Northeast states and the District of Columbia. The LCC has recently launched a web-based information management system that will help support this effort, establish a forum for collaborative conservation work and build a resource library of tools and information that will help managers throughout the Northeast.

There is much more to do to make the North Atlantic LCC work well and be meaningful and relevant to programs in the Fish and Wildlife Service d to partners across the region. It has been a satisfying few years for me in helping to establish this partnership and we’ve had many successes. I look forward to helping ensure this partnership serves regional needs and reaches its potential.

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