Changing Paradigms of Sensitive Species Management in Dysfunctional Ecosystems

An article in the newest issue of Rangeland Ecology & Management addresses declining greater sage-grouse populations and the 2015 deadline to afford them Endangered Species Act (ESA) protection as a case study to examine the complex nature of these decisions. The problems facing sage-grouse are not only regulatory in nature; the complexity of the ecosystem and how it affects their habitat are also large factors which are not easily addressed within a regulatory framework such as the ESA.

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Conceptual ecological framework for managing sage-grouse habitat using a generalized state-and-transition model for low-elevation sagebrush plant communities in southeastern Oregon

Conceptual ecological framework for managing sage-grouse habitat using a generalized state-and-transition model for low-elevation sagebrush plant communities in southeastern Oregon

This would be the first time in United States history that a conservation challenge of this magnitude was addressed.

Lawrence, KS (PRWEB) July 17, 2014

Rangeland Ecology & Management – The Endangered Species Act (ESA) was put in place to protect dwindling populations of all species and to prevent species extinction. However, assigning these protections to a particular species becomes complicated when the decline of a species is a symptom of larger disruptions in ecosystem function.

The article “Of Grouse and Golden Eggs: Can Ecosystems Be Managed Within a Species-Based Regulatory Framework?” in the journal Rangeland Ecology & Management addresses declining greater sage-grouse populations and the 2015 deadline to afford them ESA protection as a case study to examine the complex nature of these decisions. The problems facing sage-grouse are not only regulatory in nature; the complexity of the ecosystem and how it affects their habitat are also large factors which are not easily addressed within a regulatory framework such as the ESA.

The authors recommend expanding the decision-making process to include less emphasis on regulatory aspects and more emphasis on larger, ecosystem-based problems. State-and-transition models, which combine empirical data with expert opinion, are recommended as a means to begin conservation planning. These models are flexible and help in prioritizing management actions for sage-grouse habitat. However, this type of flexibility is difficult to build into a rigid regulatory framework.

Imposing regulations that can be enforced has historically been used to manage species whose populations are in need of protection. Unfortunately, this does not take into account how those regulations will affect the entire ecosystem encompassing the habitat being protected. In the case of the sage-grouse, invasion by annual exotic grasses and encroachment of conifer trees severely degrade their habitat. In this case, regulatory guidelines will not be effective in addressing the ecosystem problems that underlie the decline of sage-grouse.

This article provides an in-depth assessment of different ways to address the multiple challenges of affording protection to individual species within dysfunctional ecosystems. The authors recommend introducing a more all-inclusive planning process that stretches beyond the single-species paradigm. This is the first time in United States history that a conservation challenge of this magnitude and complexity has been addressed. Because this is uncharted territory and since there is no precedent set, change requires open minds from all conservationists, so as not to fall back into a reliance on regulatory-based conservation.

Full text of the article, “Of Grouse and Golden Eggs: Can Ecosystems Be Managed Within a Species-Based Regulatory Framework?” Rangeland Ecology & Management, Vol. 67, No. 4, 2014, is now available.

About Rangeland Ecology & Management
Rangeland Ecology & Management is a peer-reviewed journal of the Society for Range Management that is published six times a year. The journal provides a forum for the presentation and discussion of research information, concepts, and philosophies pertaining to the function, management, and sustainable use of global rangeland resources. The journal is available online at http://www.srmjournals.org. To learn more about the society, please visit: http://www.rangelands.org/.


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