In many parts of the world scientists, conservation managers, ecologists, landscape coordinators and concerned landowners are working together with agencies and conservancies to develop ecoregion management plans. The process typically begins with a major assessment, later producing maps
that tell us the following:
1. How much of a landscape, province or bioregion is in dire need of protection,
2. How much is needing restoration and can benefit
from it, and
3. How much is beyond all feasible hope for restoration to a natural level.
The results are recorded as polygons on a map. Rare species are collated as point data or defined zones, but the emphasis is on plant communities, these making up the terrestrial habitat required. Geology together with climate and rainfall
create the conditions for various biomes.
Conservation planning done this way aims to work across political and landowner boundaries, incorporating the needs of all participants who
are committed to the understanding that biodiversity is a pillar of life.
There has been ongoing debate about ‘wilderness.’ Is it the construct of an urban western mindset? Did Native Americans consider themselves to be wilderness inhabitants? Primarily, some have suggested that the idea of wilderness is a bad one because it causes too
many people to view local suburban or
agricultural land as of lesser value.
This danger exists, especially in a densely populated region like Southern California. Some might think, “We can trash our creeks because there are many out there in San Rafael Wilderness that are doing just fine.”
We value wilderness as a special place but this is where ecosystem conservation planning plays an important role. These questions don’t have to be answered before everyone can move forward.
Focusing especially on species concentration, Reconciliation Ecology says that the reduction
of area available to wild species will impose a linear reduction of the earth’s species diversity. That seems logical—every one percent reduction of natural area would appear to cost us about one percent of steady-state diversity (Rosenzweig, 2003, 194).
If so, reserving small tracts of wild habitat may be
little more than a delaying tactic. What has been man’s impact on this earth? Various scientific estimates have been made, Vitousek et al. (1997) showing that 40 to 50 percent
of the ice-free
terrestrial surface has been degraded for wild
species by human use.
Is it possible to modify large urban areas like
Los Angeles or the entire California Central
Coast coastline? We need more information
can answer that.
Urbanization directly impacts less than five percent
of the California landscape today. The greatest
effect upon California’s biological
from logging, agricultural
activities, and grazing (Wuerthner, 1997, 14).
In addition, farming or livestock grazing directly impacts one third or more of California’s private land, resulting in a host of environmental impacts from alien plant invasion to overuse of waterways (14).
Urban renewal and sustainability is vital but the right question seems to be: what can we do to modify our rural areas?
Farming that accommodates biological needs
takes this into account and is called Countryside Biogeography (Greenberg, et al., 1997). Ginger (Cardamom) growers for example can choose to keep many other tree species in their plantations to provide shade for the herb, and a steady supply of nectar for pollinators, especially honey bees (Rosenzweig, 201). Kuruvilla et al. (1995) found that bees visit 37 tree species in the plantations.
Traditional conservation has long focused on reservation as the answer—we fence certain
areas off or demarcate them—Channel Islands National Park and San Rafael Wilderness are good examples of the National Park Service Organic Act of 1916, and Wilderness Act of 1964.
In terms of species preservation, it’s believed that this has helped a few generations of natural life but that it will begin to fail. One can’t hope that a biome will function as it should when pristine, if just five to 10 percent of its size is preserved.
If you were the manager of a small reserve or protected area like Coal Oil Point or Sedgwick,
you would be asking many questions. Why are there no Snowy Plovers nesting here, what
would happen if we restored the dunes to their
original condition, what is an ‘original condition,’ where and how do we allow public access, what will be the impact of that access, what would the original water flow have looked like?
Small reserve managers practice landscape restoration within their boundaries, but they also consider how environmental legislation applies
to their reserve, they need to complete biological inventories, collate information on specific subjects, and take care of budget and communication with the public.
The best conservation plan is a simple one
with clearly defined objectives and a means
to measure where we are in relation to those objectives. But this isn't always possible. The
Los Padres National Forest plans
reveal a necessary complex approach. A more simple version for the Snowy Plover is also linked.
Conservation is a complex topic but time and experience show that land and its inhabitants come back strongly if we balance with care the approaches of Muir, Pinchot and Leopold.
Citations listed in the Reference Section.