Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Conservation for People and Nature

By Ryan Haugo, forest ecologist

Conservation scientists from across the Conservancy gathered last month in San Jose, California to discuss the science of conservation for people and nature. This “all-science” conference was incredibly wide ranging, with topics from conservation of sage grouse to the use of social media to track the impact of nature experiences on peoples’ well-being. 

One common theme throughout the meeting, however, was that “conservation for nature and people” represents evolution, not revolution. People always have been and always will be a critical piece of the conservation equation. In Idaho, the Conservancy embraced the concept of “Working Landscapes” more than 15 years ago. For almost two decades we have been focused on finding conservation solutions that benefit both our state’s biodiversity and our rural communities.

Members of the Clearwater Basin Collaborative discussing forest management. Photo ©TNC

Since joining the Conservancy one of my primary focuses has been working with the Clearwater Basin Collaborative. The Clearwater Basin is renowned for its pristine waters, productive fisheries, diverse wildlife, vast wild landscapes and scenic vistas. It has also seen tremendous battles over the management of its lands and waters. The collaborative, a group of conservation, business, government and tribal leaders, formed 5 years ago to help resolve these longstanding conflicts. The Conservancy is involved with the Clearwater Basin because of the outstanding biological diversity that this landscape supports. Yet, the focus of my work in the Clearwater has been defining how the tools of ecological restoration (mechanical harvests, controlled burning) can be used to meet the needs of both human and natural communities. While this work is a far cry from my early career when I focused on classifying and measuring biological diversity, it has been some of the most rewarding of my professional life.

Across the Northwest there are many other examples of conservation projects that are built around the needs of local communities. During this past New Years I spent a week on the Washington Coast with my family and had a chance to visit the Ellsworth Creek Preserve. Ellsworth contains some of the last remaining ancient forest stands left on the Washington Coast, isolated within a landscape of private industrial forest lands. The Ellsworth preserve also contains thousands of acres of former industrial forests. Here the Conservancy is conducting a groundbreaking study examining the use of mechanical thinning to both provide jobs for the local economy while accelerating the development of old-growth habitat and healthy watersheds in these young forests.

My wife and daughters taking in an ancient western red cedar at Ellsworth Creek. Photo ©Ryan Haugo/TNC.

Thinning operations at Ellsworth Creek. Photo ©Ryan Haugo/TNC

As conservation scientists, we’re no longer able to solely focus on the question of which lands we should protect to maximize the diversity and resilience of the natural world. We are also called to evaluate the benefits of our conservation actions for people and find ways to balance the “nature and people” equation. It’s an amazing and interesting time to be a scientist at TNC – and that’s a good thing! 

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