Developing policy on the relocation of threatened species
“Managed relocation”, also known as “assisted migration” or “assisted colonization”, is a controversial conservation strategy that involves the deliberate movement of species into new habitats to improve their chances of long-term survival.
In a recent article in the August 2012 issue of the journal BioScience, lead author Prof Mark W. Schwartz of the University of California and colleagues from various institutions in the USA, Mexico and South Africa reported on the findings of the Managed Relocation Working Group.
The working group is an interdisciplinary group of scientists, researchers, and policymakers, whose aim is to examine the conditions that might justify the use of managed relocation and to assess the research being conducted on the topic.
Prof Dave Richardson, director of the DST-NRF Centre of Excellence for Invasion Biology (CIB) at Stellenbosch University, is a member of the Managed Relocation Working Group, and also contributed to the BioScience article. In 2009, he lead a paper by the Working Group which was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS) which took a look at how scientists are having to start to seriously consider managed relocation because of the threat of rapid climate change.
The BioScience paper has taken this one step further in noting that although traditional management strategies are not likely to address the effects of climate change adequately, guidelines and protocols for managed relocation are poorly developed. “Developing a functional policy framework for managed relocation is a grand challenge for conservation,” the authors assert.
Moving a species to a higher elevation, for instance, may allow it to survive rising temperatures or an elevated sea level, but doing it in an ethically acceptable way is fraught with both legal and political complications. Unforeseen environmental consequences can be severe, for example, the species might become invasive in its new location. Many people question the appropriateness of conserving a single species if it involves possibly disrupting an entire ecosystem. Poor regulation of managed relocation may also open the door to exploitative movement of species. Regulation is often dispersed among provinces, national governments, and various agencies, which may have conflicting agendas, and most relevant policies and laws were not written with climate change in mind.
The current state of ecological knowledge is at a level that makes predicting the effects of any particular proposed relocation very difficult, and this is likely to remain the case for the foreseeable future. This makes it hard to know which species are most likely to benefit from managed relocation. Even so, ad hoc managed relocation projects are already under way in the United States and the United Kingdom.
The authors recommend action by government agencies to develop and adopt best practices for managed relocation. They urge a transparent approach, with integrated research and international involvement of scientists, policymakers, resource managers, and other stakeholders. What is needed, the authors argue, is more research to make better predictions; clearly written policies to define the responsibilities of various parties, to enable management and to limit abuse; and stakeholder involvement to minimise social conflict.
According to Prof Dave Richardson discussion on conservation strategies like managed relocation is much more advanced in the Northern Hemisphere, especially in the USA, than in Africa and other parts of the Southern Hemisphere.
“The Managed Relocation Working Group includes members who are deeply sceptical of this strategy as well as some who think it is the only way to deal with threats to some species,” he says. The Group was convened because the strategy is being implemented in some cases, in the absence of very clear guidelines.
“The deliberations as set out in the Bioscience paper are highly relevant to biodiversity conservation in general,” he adds.
For a copy of the paper, visit http://www.aibs.org/bioscience-press-releases/resources/Schwartz.pdf
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