Monday, January 19, 2015

Are we moving wildlife in the right direction?

Despite rapid growth in the field of reintroduction biology, results from scientific research are often not applied to translocations initiated when human land-use change conflicts with the continued persistence of a species’ population at a particular site. Such mitigation-driven translocations outnumber and receive more funding than science-based conservation translocations, yet the conservation benefit of the former is unclear. 

Over the past decades we saw an exponential rise in the use of translocations as a wildlife management tool. Living organisms are moved intentionally from one area to another but many of those wildlife translocations have evaded academic scrutiny and did not use a common set of accepted standards. 

A new study published in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment estimates that millions of dollars are spent annually on moving animals out of the way of human interference, and may not be meeting the goal of preserving the populations as intended by legislation. Authors of a collaborative study* argue that because mitigation releases are economically motivated, outcomes may be less successful than those of releases designed to serve the biological needs of species. 

We contend that mitigation-driven translocations, while well-financed, are often inappropriately executed, poorly documented, and unquestioningly used without regard to larger, more strategic conservation goals.

The result - many of those mitigation-driven translocations fail, although the application of scientific principles and best practices would probably improve the success rate. The field of reintroduction biology is moving steadily forward but the scientific community has also failed to raise concerns. Mitigation-driven translocations are largely ignored by the scientific community. Even in a textbook on reintroduction biology, there is little mention of them despite detailed descriptions of several types of wildlife translocations including conservation-driven approaches.

So, what do the authors consider best practice? They provide a detailed conclusion at the end of their paper:

Mitigation-driven translocations, funded by developers rather than taxpayers, should conform to best-practice standards for conservation science. It should be the responsibility of the developers, their consultants, and the regulatory agencies to demonstrate the effectiveness of translocation as a tool to achieve conservation outcomes that are consistent with the regulatory intent. This process should be transparent, with clear goals for each translocation and data made freely available for public scrutiny. If current regulations and practices do not uphold these standards, they should be revised. When translocation as a tool is ill-suited to offsetting the impacts of a planned development on a protected species, then the regulatory framework should be flexible enough to allow other, more strategic approaches, regardless of whether they entail the loss of some individuals. Under these circumstances, better use of development mitigation dollars can be realized if applied to achieve range-wide strategic conservation priorities for the affected species.

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