DNR Graduate Student Darrick Evensen Awarded the Buttrick-Crippen Fellowship

Department of Natural Resources graduate student Darrick T. N. Evensen was awarded the Buttrick-Crippen Fellowship. The Buttrick-Crippen Fellowship provides an academic-year of support during which the Fellow can devote him- or herself
to the study and practice of teaching writing within and beyond the context of her or his own discipline.

The Buttrick-Crippen Fellowship is open to candidates with an interest in undergraduate writing from any field of
the Graduate School at Cornell. Preference will be given to those who are enrolled in a Ph.D. program. The award is intended for graduate students who have had substantial teaching experience.

The Fellow may receive the opportunity to attend appropriate conferences. He/she may also be invited to participate in various Knight Institute activities.

Link to Knight Institute website: http://www.arts.cornell.edu/knight_institute/publicationsprizes/publicationsandprizes.html

Florida Explores the Public Trust Doctrine

Recently the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) held a workshop, discussing the public trust doctrine (PTD). PTD is the principle that natural resources are not owned by anyone, but rather, the government is the ‘trustee’ and citizens are the ‘beneficiaries.’ According to this concept, decisions regarding natural resources should not be made to benefit the ecosystem itself, but to benefit the present and future generations. The workshop was moderated by Dr. Dan Decker, DNR. DNR’s Dr. Bernd Blossey and Ph.D. candidate Darragh Hare were participants in the workshop.

Read the full article about the PTD workshop here.

CLIMATE: As the ground shifts, conservationists weigh options

Land Letter

Laura Petersen, E&E reporter

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.V. — How can people “protect” the environment for the long term when climate change, development and other shifts make a moving target out of the goal?

That’s a question ecologists grappled with this week at a conference hosted by the Ecological Society of America on conservation in a changing world.

“Trying to preserve the status quo at some point in time is arbitrary and I would say indefensible,” said Bernd Blossey, an ecologist from Cornell University who helped organize the gathering of 75 scientists, policymakers and land managers at the Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Conservation Training Center in West Virginia.

One approach that can work for both conservationists and on-the-ground land managers is to frame such protection as enhancing nature’s capacity for self-renewal, Blossey said. A concept championed by conservation giant Aldo Leopold in the 1940s, it lets managers out of rigidly defining a target composition of species in a given ecosystem and allows them to focus on allowing natural processes to play out by protecting habitats.

One policymaker eloquently put it in more Shakespearian terms — the players may come and go, but the stage remains.

Another approach embraced by many ecologists and policymakers is to plan for multiple future scenarios, rather than just one. Avoiding specific predictions on how a refuge or species will cope with change helps wildlife managers adjust as conditions evolve, and can protect their credibility with the public, as well.

“We also need to prepare for inevitable surprises,” said Stephen Jackson, a paleoecologist from the University of Wyoming. Pointing to the recent mountain pine beetle outbreak that has killed vast forests across the West, Jackson said such catastrophic events can be expected to take place over time, and anticipating them can help managers respond.

Several attendees noted that even with the huge influence that humans have on the environment, including being the cause of rapid species extinction, there is reason for hope because nature has proved itself incredibly resilient over millions of years.

However, species are facing an unprecedentedly fast rate of climate change that could outpace their ability to adapt, which opens a door for more active intervention, some noted.

Ben Minteer, a specialist in environmental ethics and policy at Arizona State University, suggested that a shift is taking place in the conservation paradigm from a traditional focus on preserving species in their native habitats to a more aggressive, interventionist approach.

Assisted migration is a prime example, he said. Some conservationists advocate introducing species in locations where they have not historically existed as a means of boosting their chances for survival as climate conditions change. But while several presenters said this has been done for decades, others in the audience reacted viscerally to the potential for unintended consequences from such tinkering.

Many conservationists also appear to moving beyond the traditional strategy of protecting certain areas while keeping people away from wild places, presenters said. Instead, there is new interest in expanding conservation beyond the borders of national parks and refuges to also address large private lands, farms and even backyards.

As Cornell’s Blossey pointed out, “We can’t squeeze the Earth’s biota into 10 to 20 percent of the Earth’s land surface.”

Time to stop fighting?

One of the biggest challenges to achieving this broader conservation vision is public participation. Blossey said many people have relegated conservation responsibilities to federal land managers and nonprofit groups. Conservationists need to figure out how to engage the public so every individual takes ownership of his or her land ethic, he said.

While major global initiatives and federal agencies have focused on benefits provided by nature such as clean water, pollination and carbon storage, Blossey said he isn’t sure that ecosystem services are the way to get people, especially children, interested in protecting the environment.

“I don’t know; do you get excited about protecting nature because of carbon sequestration?” he said. “I don’t.”

Another major challenge will be prioritizing the use of limited resources.

“We can’t conserve it all; we can’t save all the species,” acknowledged Gabriela Chavarria, science adviser to FWS Director Dan Ashe.

For Patricia Heglund, biological resources manager for the National Wildlife Refuge System’s Midwest Region, there are many questions that will need to be answered as policymakers craft climate adaptation strategies.

“The biggest thing for me is, when do we recognize there is a regime shift and stop fighting invasive species and acknowledge a new system has started?” Heglund said.

Upcoming DNR Grad Webinars

Check out DNR Grad Students, Alex Kudryavtsev and Jesse Delia‘s upcoming webinars!

March 15th: Sense of Place and Urban EE in the Bronx
Presented by Alex Kudryavtsev, Natural Resources, Cornell
Learn about Alex’s research, which uses surveys and
narrative inquiry to collect data in community-based
organizations in the Bronx, New York City, to study sense of
place and other outcomes of urban environmental education.
March 29th: Participatory Explorations of Urban Youth
Presented by Jesse Delia, Natural Resources, Cornell
Find out about the youth internship program at East NY
Farms! in East New York, Brooklyn and listen to excerpts
from youth interviews that demonstrate critical ecological and
social awareness consistent with David Gruenewald’s critical
pedagogy of place.

Read the announcement and find out how to tune it here: Urban EE PLC Webinar Series

Leatherback Turtle Migration Study Identifies Pacific Danger Zones for Endangered Species

DNR Professor Stephen Morreale has joined together with several scientists and specialists across the country to study the Leatherback turtle migration in the Pacific Ocean. These long-lived creatures can migrate across entire ocean basins and are vulnerable to being caught on shorelines by fishing gear. According to the Science Daily article on the study, the turtles were tracked by combining “oceanographic satellite data provided by NOAA, NASA, and a number of international partner space agencies” to cover the long distances the endangered species travels. The goal of this project is to see where the Leatherback turtles are most at risk for being caught.

Read the full article here.

Cayuga Heights’ Deer Population and Maple Syrup Production

In a recent Ithaca Journal article, Jay Boulanger, deer research and management program coordinator at Cornell, was interviewed, discussing the implications of the current overpopulation of deer in Cayuga Heights and the options available to alleviate the situation. Possible options include lethal means, contraceptives, sterilization, and fencing; each one with its own pros and cons. The most cost-effective method in Boulanger’s opinion is reducing the deer population by lethal means, but this is also the most controversial method. DNR Professor Paul Curtis was part of panel at a public forum last week to discuss the issues surrounding this problem, which is affecting areas across the country.

Read the full article here.

In another IJ article, Stephen Childs, Cornell’s New York State Maple Extension Specialist, discussed the effects of this year’s mild winter on maple syrup production. At the Arnot Teaching and Research Forest, trees were tapped by February 1st, when normally they are not tapped until mid- to late-February. While the quality of the syrup will not be affected, the timing had to be adjusted to ensure the correct flow in the freeze-thaw cycle of a typical winter.

Read the full article here.

According to Peter Smallidge, as of March 7th, the maple syrup crop at the Arnot Teaching and Research Forest is at 60% of the average crop, even with the earlier tapping. There has been 285 gallons of maple syrup so far, which is promising for the upcoming Maple Weekend on March 17-18.

Read Peter’s update here.