U.S. National Parks, Climate Change, And Animal Dispersal
The United States National Park System (NPS) is a significant player in the protection and conservation of animals across the country: with 401 units encompassing 34.16 million hectares of land, the NPS protects many millions of individual animals across a broad range of species. However, as climate change becomes more and more of a concern, agencies that govern land use – including the National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and U.S. Forest Service – need to adjust their land management plans to keep up with the changes. The degree to which these agencies keep up is bound to have a wide range of impacts, and as such researchers are attempting to understand just how much different policy scenarios might have an effect.
The purpose of this particular study was to review, analyze, and asses policies, specifically at the National Park Service, and to “offer advice on how to better plan for the biological impacts facing many terrestrial mammals” in the NPS. The author, who has worked closely with the National Park Service, reviewed all National Park System pertinent documents” that dealt with mitigating the effects of climate change, produced during the Obama administration. Before jumping into this analysis, the author notes that “policy” can sometimes be a tricky thing to analyze, as the NPS definition of it is very broad. Policy “sets framework and provides direction” for management decisions, but such direction may be general or specific. It sets out goals and also guidelines to achieve such goals, but in many cases guidelines are not legally binding. Furthermore, the NPS and other organizations may use words such as policy, goal, objective, and mission interchangeably. What’s more, many NPS policies hinge on a certain concept of “naturalness,” which is not always easy to define.
The author’s review and analysis is both broad and specific. They note that planning for climate change should have a time frame of 50-100 years, and should encompass such actions as establishing corridors between reserves, allowing for continental scale corridors, creating larger reserves, establishing stepping-stone reserves, establishing buffer zones, creating replicates of reserves, and increasing habitat heterogeneity. NPS policies recognize that “managing for static temporal conditions is not possible,” but it’s not yet clear how they plan to apply this to ongoing climate change – this policy position is from 1988 and at that point was being applied to “ecosystems in general.” Indeed, current NPS management policies have only a very brief reference to climate change: “accelerated climate change may significantly alter park ecosystems.” This means that “managing for change” needs to be the new norm, and the idea of an unchanging “naturalness” no longer makes much sense. In other words, protecting the flora and fauna of the NPS means recognizing and managing for a dynamic and ever-shifting situation, trying to thwart human influence and abandon a static approach.
The author concludes, quoting an NPS director, that the system needs to forget the idea that we can preserve “vignettes of primitive America,” and instead work towards managing for “continuous change towards an uncertain future.” The authore refers to this as a “quantum conceptual leap” compared to earlier NPS policy, and that a key policy shift will be to further emphasize land use planning.” The author notes that “park managers need all the help and advice they can get from scientists,” and they also need “the assistance of federal, state, regional, county and municipal land planners that have been given the go-ahead to plan in the best interest of a park.” Though the author does not outline the role of animal advocates in this process, there are many ways that conservation-minded advocates can make an impact. In this process, a voice for animals will be crucial.
July 14, 2017 - by Faunalytics
Shafer, C.L., (2014). From Non-static Vignettes To Unprecedented Change: The U.s. National Park System, Climate Impacts And Animal Dispersal. Environmental Science & Policy, 40. 26-35.