Parks Stewardship Forum delivers interdisciplinary information and problem-solving techniques across all topics relevant to the world’s parks, protected areas, cultural sites, and other forms of place-based conservation. The journal represents all areas of inquiry relevant to understanding and management of parks, protected areas, cultural sites, and other forms of place-based conservation, including but not limited to the natural sciences, cultural resources-related disciplines, social sciences, and interdisciplinary perspectives.
Volume 37, Issue 3, 2021
Connectivity Conservation: Sustaining Networks for Ecology and Community
Masthead and Table of Contents
Points of View
A "Letter from Woodstock" editorial column on the US National Park Service's new "Resist-Accept-Direct" (RAD) framework for addressing climate change.
Social actions, parks, and persistent inequities: Does systemic racism and structural power activate increased access?
A "Coloring Outside the Lines" editorial column on the relationships between systemic racism / power inequities and access to parks and other public lands and open space.
The theory and practice of connectivity conservation have matured, and we are now at the point where intentional, landscape-scale ecological networks are poised to play an indispensable role in the drive to protect and conserve at least 30% of the Earth’s lands and waters by 2030. Clearly, achieving the “30x30” goal is an urgent matter as a big step toward what nature needs. The stark conclusions of the latest IPCC report leave no doubt that the 2020s will be a decisive decade for the planet, and there is broad scientific agreement that the biodiversity and climate change emergencies must be met in tandem. For conservationists, this means scaling up both our thinking and our ambitions. While formal protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures (OECMs; also referred to as “conserved areas”) form the bedrock of conservation, equally important are the connections between and among these areas. The featured theme papers in this issue of Parks Stewardship Forum explain recent advances in connectivity conservation, spelling out what has to happen to hit the 30x30 target, exploring how science and policy are aligning to support the livelihoods of local communities and human rights while contributing to global environmental conservation goals, and providing concrete examples of where and how landscape-scale conservation can be applied to meet the challenges of our time.
Protected and conserved areas must play a key role in managing the interrelated global crises of biodiversity loss and climate change. We are well past understanding the problem and the need for dramatic action is clear. The draft Global Biodiversity Framework of the Convention on Biological Diversity calls for at least 30% of the land and sea to be conserved in systems of protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures by 2030. This is an enormous challenge for the world and for North America. Yet the governments of Canada, the United States, and Mexico, as well as those of 60 other countries, have committed to achieving this conservation target. The “at least 30%” figure is meant to encourage ambition and must be implemented using a range of quality considerations for protected and conserved areas. This article examines what must be considered in achieving this critical target by 2030.
Ecological connectivity is defined by the United Nations Convention on Migratory Species to be “[t]he unimpeded movement of species and the flow of natural processes that sustain life on Earth.” To conserve these vital links within and across ecosystems and political boundaries, scientists, policymakers, and practitioners around the world are increasing and combining their efforts to provide consistent and focused solutions. The most recent Protected Planet Report reveals that 7.84% of terrestrial protected areas are connected to each other. This remains far short of the stated target of connecting the over 17% of the planet that is now officially protected in one way or another. Much more effort is also required to maintain, enhance, and restore ecological connectivity across the matrix of human uses outside of such areas. The importance of conserving ecological connectivity to protect biodiversity, increase resilience to climate change, and provide the host of other benefits that humans receive from nature is clear and actionable as science and policy align to support the livelihoods of local communities while contributing to global environmental conservation goals.
Advancing marine conservation through ecological connectivity: Building better connections for better protection
The incorporation of ecological connectivity, the unimpeded movement of species and the flow of natural processes that sustain life on Earth, into protected area design and management is critical to achieving conservation outcomes. However, the understanding and implementation of ecological connectivity in marine protected areas (MPAs) lags behind that of their terrestrial counterparts. Here, we highlight the important role of ecological connectivity in the design and management of MPA networks through an introduction to marine connectivity and the challenges and benefits of incorporating it into management. The paper also provides guidance for policy and practice, including “rules of thumb” for incorporating connectivity into MPA design and management, and case studies. MPA managers have the potential to increase the effectiveness, adaptability, and resilience of the resources under their stewardship through the purposeful incorporation of ecological connectivity into MPA design and management.
In response to recent alignment of political leadership in Canada and the United States with respect to global nature conservation imperatives, a nascent and intentional dialogue has emerged on transboundary connectivity conservation between the two countries. In February and April 2021, two meetings were remotely convened, bringing together more than 160 participants from key government agencies, non-governmental organizations and Indigenous Nations engaged in conservation in both countries. Participants generated 25 concrete ideas for key next steps and 11 broad strategies that, when considered together, comprise 11 priority policy directions. Among these, four core policy imperatives include (1) prioritizing opportunities to coordinate within and among Indigenous communities, (2) creating formalized memorandums of understanding (MOUs) and funding commitments between the US and Canada, (3) mainstreaming connectivity into sectors and society, and (4) initiating systemwide changes in governance and economic structures. Together, these policy directions represent important strategies at this crucial inflection point. Only rarely are nations given historic policy alignment opportunities to redefine and reinvigorate their common conservation goals. Particularly salient is the drive to embrace transboundary connectivity conservation as a nature-based solution to climate change adaptation. We see this dialogue as a beginning in securing the peace that defines two countries and numerous Indigenous Nations that are inextricably linked by ecology and culture.
The US Department of the Interior’s (DOI’s) Landscape Conservation Cooperative (LCC) Network served as a national conservation framework from 2010–2017. The LCC program created 22 regional self-directed partnerships covering the entire country, each one designed to understand the threats and develop collaborative strategies to conserve natural and cultural resources important to the partners operating within their geographic scope. The establishment of the LCC program was not without some controversy, but a 2015 congressionally mandated independent review of its scientific merits reached a positive conclusion. Neverthless, funding for LCCs was ended in 2017 and most were disbanded. This paper explains the need to increase US federal support for landscape-scale, collaborative conservation, and build back a better, more durable network to meet this century’s conservation challenges.
Cultivating sovereignty in parks and protected areas: Sowing the seeds of restorative and transformative justice through the #LANDBACK movement
Indigenous communities possess long histories of using land acknowledgments to reinforce their cultural ties with specific areas. Today, many public and private institutions use land acknowledgments to recognize the Indigenous peoples who inhabited and still live in local areas. However, an opportunity exists to move beyond institutional acknowledgments and into action-oriented frameworks that support decolonization efforts, especially within parks and protected areas (PPAs). PPAs present an opportunity for the actualization of the #LANDBACK movement, which could strengthen Indigenous land governance, conservation, and sovereignty. This thought piece uses decolonization and storytelling methodologies to demonstrate how current PPA management paradigms perpetuate harm against Indigenous communities. It also explores how these paradigms can evolve to improve the social-environmental efficacy of PPAs by highlighting three areas of change where PPAs could perpetuate the cultivation of Indigenous sovereignty: (1) addressing cultural tensions and transforming current management systems; (2) creating Indigenous Knowledge spaces in PPA-related educational settings; and (3) building decolonial futures by returning lands to Indigenous communities. This paper presents reflective frameworks with guiding questions for PPA managers to embrace the #LANDBACK movement in partnership with Indigenous communities. These frameworks provide opportunities for park managers, educators, and researchers to center Indigenous epistemologies, ontologies, and community well-being. Additionally, this manuscript provides the scaffolding for PPA managers and Indigenous communities to implement restorative and transformative justice practices within current PPA systems. Implementing the proposed frameworks within PPAs could generate monumental social transformation.
(Re)Centering socioenvironmental justice: Thinking about co-management of and access to parks and protected areas in the United States
An international group of graduate students utilized the 2021 George Wright Society Student Summit to come together and discuss potential practices to bolster socioenvironmental justice implementation within the United States National Park Service (NPS). Focusing on accessibility and co-management perspectives, this group reflected on various definitions of terms, historical contexts of the Park Service nationally and globally, and how partnerships are essential to inclusivity and relevance building. This led to further discourse about potential methods of incorporating socioenvironmental justice aims into specific areas of NPS by reviewing its current practices and global case studies surrounding accessibility and co-management of protected areas. Major conclusions emphasize streamlining definitions surrounding access, accessibility, and co-management; understanding that co-management is not a monolithic framework but one dependent on local communities; continued recognition of historical exclusions of marginalized peoples; and embracing partnerships by providing stakeholders with equal positions of power, authority, and access. This thought piece aims to catalyze discourse surrounding a potential transition toward more inclusive co-management practices within US protected areas, while still remaining true to the missions and goals of their respective organizations. We recognize and do not intend to discredit any of the work that NPS and other organizations have produced towards improving sustainable co-management strategies, but rather suggest that there is always room for improvement. In doing so, we offer some potential strategies and big picture notions to be mindful of when engaging in socially just co-management practices.
Green inequities: Examining the dimensions of socioenvironmental injustice in marginalized communities
In the realm of socioenvironmental justice, much discourse centers on equal access to green areas and on climate injustice in the United States. Marginalized communities, including Indigenous populations, are being excluded from current narratives surrounding the natural spaces that in many cases are historically tied to under-represented groups. This article aims to explore some of the many dimensions of environmental racism, green inequities, climate injustice, and access. The dimensions include but are not limited to racial gatekeeping, nature deprivation in low-income communities, green gentrification, light pollution, and access to clean water. The recommendations section serves as a guide during decisionmaking processes at the local, state, and federal level, as well as moving forward in offering impacted communities protection from environmental racism and socioenvironmental injustice to impacted communities.
The COVID-19 pandemic has negatively impacted the mental health of millions of Americans, with communities of color, low-income communities, and women experiencing the greatest hardships of the pandemic. Additional stress has been added due to concern for personal and familial health, unequal access to healthcare, increased financial hardship, and unprecedented uncertainty for daily life. Natural spaces have been proven to deliver positive mental health benefits, including reducing feelings of depression and anxiety. Because access to these benefits is inequitable, the authors recommend replicating existing successful programs and movements for guidance in eliminating barriers. Programs such as Yosemite National Park’s bus system reduce structural barriers, and initiatives such as Check Out Washington, both discussed below, reduce financial barriers. In addition, reforming law enforcement operations within natural spaces will increase the perceived safety and comfort of people of color in these areas. The proposed recommendations serve as calls to action to improve access natural spaces so that all people may benefit from them.
Wildlife viewing is an important activity that has the potential to raise money for conservation efforts and support small, local ecotourism operations, and communities. It is often assumed to be low impact since it is non-consumptive; however, research shows there can be negative impacts to wildlife as a result of viewing activities, which we explore in different examples below. We provide recommendations for organizations that manage these operations to keep in mind as they consider the potential impacts of these activities and develop strategies to minimize them.
New Perspectives (Non-Peer Reviewed)
Monitoring phenology in US national parks through citizen science: Some preliminary lessons and prospects for protected areas
Phenology—the timing of seasonal events such as flower production, insect emergence, bird migrations, and snowmelt—has profound significance for people and ecosystems. Many US national parks monitor phenology through citizen science projects that use tools developed by the USA National Phenology Network. We summarize the scope of such efforts conducted over the past decade and identify some preliminary lessons and recommendations for others who wish to develop new projects. Successes include an enormous wealth of data relevant to resource management and park operations, and attainment of goals for resource management, education, and public engagement. Challenges include long-term sustainability, limited capacity to analyze data, and the ongoing demands of matching volunteer interest and capacity with the geography and natural history of studied species. Practical recommendations pertain to project planning, design, and volunteer engagement, and highlight the need for working and communicating across organizational and disciplinary boundaries. With careful planning and awareness of opportunities and pitfalls, citizen science-based phenology monitoring can benefit any protected area.
Challenges that rangers must face: Four rangers from Mexico, Costa Rica, Honduras, and Colombia tell their stories of diverse realities across Latin America
A set of articles in a previous issue of Parks Stewardship Forum (volume 37, number 1, 2021) focused on how to implement the 2019 Chitwan Declaration of the 9th World Ranger Congress covering issues such as rangers’ role in conservation, relationships with communities, and challenges to professionalize the career. Here I build on those articles by collaborating with four Latin American rangers so that they can tell their stories of how they became rangers and what they face. The four represent different park systems, habitat types, educational levels, gender issues, community relationships, and major duties, among other aspects. Their stories lend a human face to the earlier general discussions.
A visionary’s lens on wildlife and parks revealed: George Meléndez Wright and the National Park Service’s Wildlife Division photographs
The National Park Service (NPS) History Collection has released over 4,600 images from the NPS Wildlife Division photo file for research access. Digitized through the generosity of the George Meléndez Wright family in honor of his legacy, the images date primarily from the late 1920s to the early 1950s and document a wide range of species, wildlife management issues, historic structures, and other subjects, primarily in the national and state parks. These Wildlife Division images are an invaluable resource for the NPS; other federal, state, and tribal land managers; academics and other researchers; and the general public.
An excerpt from American Covenant: National Parks, Their Promise, and Our Nation’s Future, published by Yale University Press, 2021. © Michael A. Soukup and Gary E. Machlis, and republished here by permission.
Advances in Research and Management (Peer-Reviewed)
Relief from summer warming: Devils Postpile National Monument’s cold air pool supports a refugium-based conservation strategy
Cold air pooling (CAP) occurs in low-lying areas where cold, dense air collects during nighttime hours, producing colder temperatures than surrounding higher elevations. Devils Postpile National Monument (DEPO) is confined by steep mountain ridges, which promote cold air drainage into lower-elevation meadows and river valleys. These low lying areas where CAP occurs could help facilitate a potential refugium from some of the greatest impacts of regional climate warming. A strong focus on CAP occurrence is part of a seven-step climate change refugia conservation cycle, outlined in Morelli et al. (2016), that DEPO has instituted, wherein resource management seeks to identify and focus on parts of the landscape that may be sheltered from the intensity and pace of rapid climate change. Locales that harbor persistent CAP may provide vulnerable species and ecosystems a sort of refuge, allowing more time to adapt to new conditions. Central to DEPO’s strategy is better monitoring and understanding of CAP occurrence. Based on observations from 10 years of temperature loggers in and around DEPO, CAP operates reliably throughout the year, and especially during summer. Importantly, CAP has occurred strongly during recent unusually warm years. These findings reinforce the value of monitoring and ongoing analysis as a way to guide conservation and adaptation using potential climate change refugia. As with this co-developed park–university investigation, other land managers could consider climate refugia-oriented management as a viable conservation and adaptation strategy.
The Photographer's Frame
This visual essay in "The Photographer's Frame" explores aspects of the natural and cultural complexity that is a hallmark of large landscape conservation.
Verse in Place
A poem in the "Verse in Place" section of Parks Stewardship Forum.