One out of five plant species are threatened with extinction. Almost a quarter of mammal species are endangered. The situation is just as bad or worse for reptiles (21% endangered), amphibians (30%), fish (21%), insects (22%) and mollusks (41%). Birds are doing slightly better (“just” 12% endangered). The main culprit here is habitat loss, not climate change. Sure, climate change will exacerbate the situation, but competent and well-funded habitat management would mitigate much of harm done by climate change.
Take the case of the recent devastating forest fires in California. A couple quotes:
“California’s forests really have been mismanaged. Decades of overzealous fire suppression and excessive clear-cutting, followed by excessive tree planting has resulted in millions of acres of overstocked forests—that is, too many trees crammed into too little space.” Glen Martin “Losing Paradise”, California Magazine Spring 2019 https://alumni.berkeley.edu/california-magazine/spring-2019/losing-paradise-new-normal-california-wildfires
“…in my opinion, the fuel conditions of the wildlands and domestic vegetation and the way we build is still 80 percent of the problem.” Scott Stephens, Berkeley professor of wildland fire sciences, on fires in California’s wildlands-urban interface, quoted by Coby McDonald in “September 17, 1923: The Day That Berkeley Burned”, California Magazine Spring 2019 https://alumni.berkeley.edu/california-magazine/spring-2019/september-17-1923-day-berkeley-burned
Of course, we still need to do what we can to reduce greenhouse gases, expand renewables, and increase bio-resiliency to extreme weather conditions. But the fight to save endangered species needs broad public support, which is undermined when environmentalists define this fight as a battle against climate change. For instance, most Republicans actually care about the environment and support renewables. It’s not helpful to the cause of saving the biosphere to insist that these potential allies also embrace the most alarming climate change scenarios and to contemptuously dismiss them when they don’t. In that spirit…
Types of Habitat Management:
1. Habitat Restoration - repair damaged or destroyed ecosystems, e.g., wetlands.
2. Habitat Conservation - protect areas from fragmentation or encroachment to maintain healthy ecosystems for local flora and fauna.
3. Habitat Expansion - create new wild habitats through reduced human presence, e.g., conversion of agricultural land to forests.
4. Habitat Creation across Climate Zones - extend vertical and horizontal range of habitats to facilitate species migration in response to climate change.
5. New Habitats for Relocated Species - in cases where original habitats are beyond hope, relocate species to areas newly available for habitat development, e.g., reclaimed agricultural land.
6. Habitat Corridors - protected corridors between wild areas to allow movement of species to breed, establish territories, or migrate in response to changes in local conditions.
7. Artificial Habitats - zoos, breeding compounds, and reserves to maintain robust gene pool for species without sufficient wild habitat to remain viable on their own.
8. Managed Shared Habitats - shared spaces to enhance coexistence of humans and other species, e.g., urban parks, urban-wildlife interface, pollinator gardens, farmland taken out of cultivation, sustainable grazing and pasture management.
9. Habitat Intervention - all habitats need to be monitored for ecosystem stress, whether due to climate change, disease, or decline of key species that other species depend upon (thereby jeopardizing the well-being of the entire biological community). Ideally, proactive measures and action plans are developed to address these issues, e.g., forest breaks to reduce spread of wildfires.
10. Habitat Experiments - adding or removing organisms to improve ecosystem health and/or provide new habitats for endangered species, monitored closely and tweaked as necessary.
11. Temporary Habitats - stop-gap habitats when the alternative is extinction.
Final word: all biological communities are temporary assemblages of flora, fauna, and microorganisms that have come together by chance and opportunity. Long before humans entered the scene, dynamic disequilibrium ruled the biosphere. Habitat management is not about preserving a biological moment in a specific locale. It’s about maintaining biodiversity and saving species.
Huntley, B. and Webb, T. Migration: Species' Response to Climatic Variations Caused by Changes in the Earth's Orbit Journal of Biogeography Vol. 16, No. 1 (Jan., 1989), pp. 5-19. DOI: 10.2307/2845307
Mascaro J, Hughes RF, Schnitzer SA (2011) Novel forests maintain ecosystem processes after the decline of native tree species. Ecological Monographs 82(2): 221-228. http://dx.doi.org/10.1890/11-1014.1
Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, Lesley Hughes, Sue McIntyre, David Lindenmayer, Camille Parmesan, Hugh Possingham & Chris Thomas. Moving with the times: assisted colonization and rapid climate change. Science, July 18, 2008
Prach, K. and L. R. Walker (2011). "Four opportunities for studies of ecological succession." Trends in Ecology & Evolution 26(3): 119-123.