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Conservation Planning

A Paradigm Shift - Conservation Planning for Intact Systems

The magnitude of conservation concerns globally has resulted in a triage approach that focuses many conservation resources on biological hotspots and rare and endangered species. These largely reactive efforts, while necessary, are certainly not sufficient. Conservation in many parts of the world will not be well served, nor the concept of ecological sustainability realized, without a fundamental shift in the way we approach these problems.

Historically, conservation science emphasized the design and establishment of protected areas and management of small populations. The classic model is one of patches of remnant vegetation embedded in a largely hostile landscape matrix. The majority of lands are not considered to contribute significantly to conservation, and in many instances, protected areas bear the full burden of achieving conservation goals. Increasing recognition of the limitations of protected areas, in isolation, to meet these needs, and the opportunity for more comprehensive conservation planning afforded by relatively intact natural systems, suggests that other approaches should be considered.

Here, we offer a vision of pro-active conservation planning for relatively intact systems which integrates science-based conservation and resource management. We propose the Conservation-Matrix Model (CMM) as a framework to guide comprehensive conservation planning for the boreal region of Canada.

Acknowledging Uncertainty and Adaptive Management

Acknowledging uncertainty is a key step in conservation planning. Boreal ecosystems are inherently dynamic, characterized by large to medium-scale natural disturbances such as fire, insect outbreaks, severe windstorms, and floods. The stochastic nature of these natural disturbances must be considered in the design of protected areas. Such dynamics also increase the uncertainty and risk associated with management actions. Uncertainties regarding the effects of human activities on natural systems include:

1) direct and indirect effects of resource exploitation on target and non-target species,

2) alteration of key ecological processes (e.g., natural disturbance and hydrologic regimes, and predator-prey dynamics), and

3) changes in ecosystem services (e.g., air and water quality).

Reducing these uncertainties requires that management activities are treated as experiments within an Adaptive Management framework. This requires controls that are sufficiently large to permit monitoring of indicators at an ecosystem scale. An appropriately designed conservation reserve network can play a fundamental role in contributing to a scientific framework for addressing questions of ecological sustainability by providing benchmarks against which management activities are evaluated. Monitoring is a fundamental element of an adaptive management framework and informs each step of the adaptive management process by providing data for continual improvement of management policies and practices by learning from the outcomes of previously employed approaches.

Conservation Opportunities in Canada

Tangible examples for large-scale conservation planning of intact systems exist in boreal Canada.  The establishment of cooperative agreements among industry and environmental leaders, increasing incentives to achieve environmental certification, and the leadership of First Nations, provide the impetus for policy and institutional reform, and offer tangible opportunities for proactive implementation of the conservation-matrix model to achieve ecological sustainability across Canada's boreal region.

Boreal Conservation Framework - In 2003, representatives from major resource industries, environmental organizations, and First Nations endorsed a Boreal Conservation Framework that promotes maintenance of the ecological and cultural values of the region through at least 50% protection of the boreal in a system of large protected areas, along with leading-edge sustainable management and stewardship practices.

Ontario Far North -   The Ontario provincial government has made a commitment to protect 50% of the boreal within its jurisdiction. In 2010, the Ontario government passed the Far North Act, which provides a legislative mandate for this commitment.

Plan Nord - Quebec government has announced a commitment to protect 50% of the boreal within the province of Quebec.

Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) Certification - Environmental organizations have promoted improvements to forest management practices through FSC certification, resulting in more than 250,000 km2 of the boreal forest presently managed under FSC endorsed practices.

Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement (CBFA) - In 2010, a far-reaching agreement was struck between nine environmental organizations and 21 member companies of the Forest Products Association of Canada (FPAC). The Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement covers more than 76 million hectares of public forests and commits FPAC members to world-leading environmental standards of forest management and conservation, including the identification of ecological benchmarks and implementation of active adaptive management.

First Nations - More than 50% of the intact forests in Canada occur within settled land claims of First Nations, with additional amounts in areas under negotiation. First Nations are also leading conservation initiatives in northern regions of the boreal. For example, First Nations communities in northern Canada, including the Gwich'in, Sahtu, Deh Cho, and Akaitcho Dene, have initiated planning processes, which include extensive land withdrawals from development while management plans are developed. These initiatives involve partnerships with other government agencies and organizations to establish protected areas, such as the 24,000 km2 expansion to the Nahanni National Park Reserve in the Northwest Territories and a proposed World Heritage Site straddling the Manitoba/Ontario border. The latter initiative is part of a conservation accord signed by a consortium of First Nations to facilitate land-use stewardship throughout the region.

 

 
 
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