Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Environmental vs. social, something´s got to give.

In Conservation magazine´s spring issue 2011, Fred Pearce writes a thought provoking article entitled ”Conservation & Poverty”. The topic is the conflict between environmental actions and social actions. Although we would prefer it to be so that conservation actions also brought poverty relief, the article argues that this is many times not the case, and environmental organizations frequently get hammered on this point by sociologists. The article gives the example of the creation of a reserve for apes in Rwanda, and how the hope that indigenous people would benefit from ecotourism as guides fell short, since tourist preferred English speaking scientists as guides. The outcome for the poor people of the forest was forced relocation, but little benefit from the conservation. Although poor people are dependent on biodiversity for their survival, it is often only a few species, and volume is of more importance than diversity the article argues. I would assume one example would be that a hunter is in need of a lot of meet from mostly the same species, not a little bit of everything in the forest.

Here are my thoughts regarding this issue. Although there may be many cases were conservation actions and social actions go hand in hand, it is probably fair to say that this doesn´t always have to be the case. Banning whaling would be great for whale populations, but hardly appreciated by all Eskimos. In the same way social actions can go hand in hand with environmental actions, but they clearly don´t have to. Draining a species rich mire will provide farmland in a developing country, but will clearly not have a positive environmental effect. This doesn´t mean that environmental or social actions should be stopped just because they don´t always provide a win-win situation for the other. Environmental organizations should consider the social consequences of the action, and if the benefits of the action outweigh the costs it should be carried out despite the consequences it may cause. In the same manner organizations involved in social work should consider the environmental consequences of the action, but if the benefits of the action outweighs the costs it should be carried out. We should be glad when we have a win-win situation, but when we don´t we should make sure that we don´t make the best to the enemy of the good.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Thoughts regarding the evil of restoration ecology

Two years ago I attended a meeting, were a conservation biologist made a remark regarding restoration ecologists, saying “I hope I will never be like you.” The statement is a criticism of restoration indeed, and the person making the statement was not the first one to question restoration ecology.

Critics of restoration usually question that humans can restore ecosystems, and that whatever we end up with will be an artifact of the original nature, comparable to a painting. These viewpoints have been presented by Robert Elliot (1982) and Eric Katz (1997). Katz states that the assumption that humanity can recognize the harm we have done and restore it is false, and that it is” unrecognized manifestation of the insidious dream of the human domination of nature.” This view has been held by humanity for thousands of years, and is present in Genesis were man is given authority to rule over nature. Moreover Katz sees restoration as an assumption that we can restore a degraded system back to what nature intended it to be. Nature however, does not have any intentions or blueprints for a system, and although modern biologists are aware of this, they still act as if nature had a plan which they understood argues Katz. Although Katz and Elliot are from the discipline of philosophy, the issue that man-kind overestimates her ability to restore nature has been voiced by restoration biologists to.

Hilderbrand et al. (2005) outlines what they perceive as the 5 myths of restoration ecology. The myths can be summarized as:

• The carbon copy myth: The idea that we can restore a system to a previous ideal state.

• The field of dreams myth: The idea that biotic composition will follow automatically if only the physical structure is restored.

• The myth of fast forwarding: The idea that we can accelerate the development of a system by controlling dispersal and colonization by for example sowing.

• The myth of the cookbook: The assumption that a successful restoration-case in one area can be performed at another site with similar result.

• The myth of command and control: The idea that we have the know-how and foresight to control and manage ecosystems structure and function now and in the future.

Finally the authors propose a sixth myth that they see as widely held by today’s society. This is the myth of the Bionic world, which is the belief that science and technology will eventually solve the problems caused by human exploitation. (Hilerbrand et al. 2005). Although the myths presented by Hilderbrand et al. bears many similarities to Katz and Elliot’s statements of man kinds overestimation of her capacity to control nature, Hilderbrand et al. are clear in their support for restoration, and they believe that as long as we are aware of the limitations of each myth, we have a higher chance to succeed in our efforts to restore degraded systems.

One problem with both Elliot’s and Katz position is that although we are prone to overestimate our ability to restore ecosystems, the choice to not restore is a choice for status quo (Allison, S.K 2007). With hardly any ecosystem being unaffected by human actions, we are seldom in a choice were we can preserve what is natural, but more often forced to choose to restore a degraded area to a system that either existed prior to the disturbance, or a system that is better than the current one, even if it did not exist prior to the disturbance. The basic mistake that both Elliot and Katz make, is in my opinion, that they fundamentally fail to see what the starting position is, and therefore makes a comparison between the virgin ecosystem, and the restored.

Hilderbrand, R. H., Watts, A.C., Randle, A.M. 2005. The myths of restoration ecology, Ecology and Society 10(1):19

Katz E. 1997. Nature as Subject. Human Obligation and Natural Community. Rowman and Littlefield: Lanham.

Elliot, R. (1982). Faking nature Inquiry, 25 (1), 81-93 DOI: 10.1080/00201748208601955

Allison, S. (2007). You Can’t Not Choose: Embracing the Role of Choice in Ecological Restoration Restoration Ecology, 15 (4), 601-605 DOI: 10.1111/j.1526-100X.2007.00271.x

Friday, April 29, 2011

That sinking feeling: CO2 emission after fen drainage substantial

A new paper by Leifeld et al. 2011 calculates the amount of carbon lost from a temperate peatland after drainage. A convenient method of estimating the amount of carbon lost has previously been to assume that it is roughly 50% of the total amount of volume lost, but the authors show that this can vary a lot even within the narrow climate zone of their study in Switzerland. After drainage, water goes out, and the ground subsides. Part of it is due to simply the fact that the water is lost and the peat is compressed. The other part is due to oxidation of the organic matter, that previously had been preserved in the very anoxic condition (think bogmen).
The authors show that in their fen that was drained 140 years ago, the annual subsidence of the ground has been 0,8-1,6 cm per year. So what does this mean for carbon loss. Well, it turns out that the amount of lost carbon is between 2,5-5,5 metric ton annually per hectare. Now assuming that the one who drained the peatland would have to pay for these emissions we would have to multiply the amount of C with 3,7 to get the amount of CO2. We are here making the assumption that all C go out as CO2. Then we end up with an annual release of 8,25-18.15 ton CO2 per hectare. Offsetting that CO2 would today cost roughly 53-117 euro per hectare annually. Considering that the amount of drained peatlands in the world are large (think Netherlands), it ends up being quite a lot. Hopefully we can be able to turn these carbon sources back to carbon sinks by restoring them, but unfortunately it is not always successful. One of the most important lessons of this is therefore to conserve the functioning peatlands we have. It is also of importance to not allow further drainage. In Sweden forestry owners are allowed to restore the ditch to the original depth, which is false thinking. The peatland has subsided since the drainage, and therefore making the ditch as deep as it was originally will take it even further down into the peat. It ought to be self evident that FSC forestry should not include “ditch-rinsing” but unfortunately it is allowed.

Leifeld, J., Müller, M., & Fuhrer, J. (2011). Peatland subsidence and carbon loss from drained temperate fens Soil Use and Management DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-2743.2011.00327.x

Friday, April 22, 2011

Fill it up, a Finnish approach to fen restoration

An interesting and well conducted study on restoration of managed pine fens in Finland has recently been published in Applied vegetation science by A.M Laine et al. In general the drainage operations done for forestry in Finland were more systematic and more effective than they were in Sweden as one can see from the graph below.

The common method in Sweden for blocking drainage ditches is a wooden dam, which may or may not be reinforced with a plug of peat and/or mineral soil. In Finland this is also done, but another approach is also used. They simply fill up the ditch, and it can be combined with a buried wooden dam that extends into the side of the ditch and redirects water into the peatland.

The finish study is a 4 year vegetation monitoring study, with one monitoring conducted prior to the restoration in 2006, and the remaining monitorings conducted in 2007-2009. Water level change was also measured.

Their results show, as have many previous studies, that the hydrological restoration occurs quickly. The only species group that responded positive to the restoration was Carex species. Surprisingly Sphagnum species decreased after restoration, and the authors speculate that it may be so that the excavators used damaged the Sphagnum cover, and that it has not yet recovered. Alternatively it may be that the increase in water level has had a negative effect on Sphagnum fuscum and Sphagnum russowi.

It should be said that 3 years after the restoration is not a very long time, and as a German restoration ecologist I know said ”Have patience. The results after 4 year can be quite boring, but the vegetation continues to develop far longer than the time period of a PhD study. It would be interesting to see how this develops in the longer term.

Laine, A., Leppälä, M., Tarvainen, O., Päätalo, M., Seppänen, R., & Tolvanen, A. (2011). Restoration of managed pine fens: effect on hydrology and vegetation Applied Vegetation Science DOI: 10.1111/j.1654-109X.2011.01123.x

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Alleged wolf attack north of Stockholm

All newspapers are reporting about an alleged wolf attack on a family out on a walk in the forest in the outer part of the extended Stockholm area.

Two wolfs came and the couple claim that one wolf bit the dog and took it to the forest, while the other went for the child in the stroller. The woman took up the child from the stroller and put the stroller between herself and the wolf, and the wolf apparently ran away.

This took place in a known wolf-area and that the wolf reacts to a dog is not odd, but there has never been an attack on humans for more than 100 years. At the same time several thousands seek emergency help every year due to attacks by dogs, not to mention wasps. The hyperbole in some of the newspapers which for sure the Hunters Association will spin further on is out of proportion.


Thursday, April 14, 2011

Population Viability Analysis vs. opinion

A great embarrassments during the Biebrza workshop was that not so surprisingly the odd Swedish wolf hunt has reached international fame. Few are against allowing farmers to protect their animals during an ongoing attack, but what happened in Sweden was that open license hunting on wolfs have occurred two years in a row, with the peculiar argument that it is supposed to reduce our severely inbred wolf population, were the average wolf pup born since 1997 has an inbreeding coefficient of 0,25, equal to full sibling mating (Liberg et al 2004).

The wolf population consists of roughly 200 individuals, and the parliament has set a target level of 210 individuals. 27 wolfs were licensed to be shot in 2010, and the hunters shot all of them. This year the hunt occurred again despite an impending legal case on the way with the European Commission taking legal actions against Sweden for violating environmental laws. The environmental minister has repeated the lobby-groups argument to the EC, that Sweden needs wolf hunting to reduce inbreeding.

The conclusion so far from the first two years hunting has been that the hunters have not been able to shoot the most inbred individuals (apparently they neither had pink fur nor a second head), but instead happened to shoot the most genetically valuable ones.

The government had ordered an investigation into the minimum number of wolfs needed to secure the population in Sweden, and this Monday the result came. 450 wolfs, is the minimum needed to sustain a healthy conservation status. It is safe to say that this number is based on some sort of PVA built on real biological data. The Hunters Association of course launched their own number, which is 200 individuals based on nothing else than their opinion unfortunately.

Apart from this they also want compensation for deers that are caught by predators.

I have no problem with hunting. Like many Swedes with roots in rural Sweden I see it as something that offers safe food from animal that have fared far better than their counterparts in the supermarket. And with a moose-population at a stable level between 300000 - 400000, despite 1/3 being shot every year, it is fair to say that this is a sustainable use.

What is going on now however is nothing but a tragedy, were an ecologically incompetent lobby-group for hunters has managed to convince the environmental minister that reducing a population reduces inbreeding.

Hopefully the European Commission will convict Sweden, and bring an end to this tragedy.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Biebrza workshop

The workshop in Biebrza National Park was very inspiring research wise, and the bonus of getting to see the mighty Biebrza spring flood was jaw dropping in the true sense of thee word.

For Swedish standards it is hard to comprehend the size of management that is done in Biebrza. 10 times the area that is mown in Sweden is mown only in Biebrza in order to preserve the Aquatic warbler. To mow such a large wet fen the managers in Biebrza have chosen to use redesigned PistenBully´s that are normally used preparing ski slopes.

The wildlife in Biebrza includes 3 wolf packs, out of which 1 is residing in the area were we stayed. Unfortunately we did not get the chance to see any, but we did find a little grass snake warming itself in the sunshine.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Final stretch

Back to Poland, and since I left, a cat has moved into the corridor outside the lab. The rumor has it that someone at the botanical garden showed mercy on the little one during the extreme winter. It feels now that the final stretch of the PhD studies is starting. I am submitting a formal request to have the finishing-process opened, and will have to write an essay in Philosophy and pass an English test. None are very much related to restoration ecology. On Friday I am heading to a work shop on restoration in Biebrza, were I will present results of my last years result, and hopefully get some final input on how to improve our paper before it is send in for peer-review.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Blunt boars

Have spent a week in southern Sweden in the region of Småland and to my surprise the boars have been very unshy recently. The neighbor found first one boar eating from his birdhouse in the garden during broad daylight. Later he found two boars in his garage. It is almost unnecessary to mention that of course his field has received some serious plowing by the boars.

This male boar passed by my house 6 in the evening.
It is a fairly big male boar.

Considering that boars were extremely rare 20 years ago in this area, it has now become a very different situation.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Some kind of monster

Sitting up late working with a manuscript about peatland restoration that will be submitted before summer hopefully. The project started out with one folder and one excel sheet, but now it consists of dozens of excel sheets, word documents, R-files, Canoco-files, and several image files of graphs that during some part of the project have been considered as potential candidates to include. What was one folder, is now a giant matrix of folders and subfolders that is becoming increasingly harder to navigate. A sign that it is time to finish this project.