May 02, 2008 Features & Images » Feature Story

Unnatural preservation, Part II 

Should we be managing nature in preparation for an environmental future that no one can fully predict?

click to enlarge "We want future generations to say, 'They didn't get it all right, but the got some of it right.'" - Eric Higgs
  • "We want future generations to say, 'They didn't get it all right, but the got some of it right.'" - Eric Higgs

Page 4 of 5

"How is it we find respectful ways of intervening, of removing invasive species, or planting or translocating species? How do we do that in our deeply respectful way?" Higgs wonders. "We want future generations to say, ‘They didn't get it all right, but they got some of it right.' (A. Starker Leopold, the ecologist who shaped the preservation policy for U.S. Parks) certainly made many mistakes, but he was an individual who kind of had it right. I'd like to think that contemporary restorationists would blaze that kind of trail."

With that in mind, National Park Service trailblazers all over America are holding meetings, conferences and symposia to incorporate climate change into a scheduled revision of overall park policy. The Park Service has created a Task Force on Climate Change to figure out what, if anything, to do about threatened park resources.

Officials with the Golden Gate National Recreation Area along California's North Central Coast, for example, are preparing to study the question with a series of global warming-themed staff meetings scheduled throughout next fall.

The agency is still sidestepping some of what's at stake, however. When asked what it was doing to preserve wildlands in the face of global warming, the Park Service's climate change coordinator boasted of a program called Climate Friendly Parks, which seeks to reduce parks' carbon footprint by doing things like installing low-flow toilets. Addressing the threat to ecosystems by reducing parks' resource consumption is like treating a cancer patient by telling her to cut back on food additives. Scientists are well aware of this apparent lack of direction in the agency's response to climate change.

"There's kind of a chaotic feeling right now. Everyone understands the situation is really problematic. We need to start. We can't wait to act until things start dying," Graber notes. "But we don't know what to do."

Leigh Welling, the Park Service climate change coordinator, puts it a different way.

"It's a scary thought," says Welling. "Managers are looking at their job and saying, "Oh jeez, how do I do my job?'”

Some naturalists have a one-word answer to that question: Differently.

One of the predictions of global warming is that there will be changes in the wind patterns and ocean currents that move nutrients to places where creatures can reach them. "In May of 2005, and roughly the same time of year in 2006, we had highly unusual wind patterns and ocean currents that were atypical," said Ellie Cohen, executive director of PRBO Conservation Science, the organization that monitors birds on the Farrallon Islands.

Readers also liked…

  • Death in the Alpine

    Social media is changing our relationship to risk, with deadly consequences
    • Jun 10, 2018
  • Mind Maze

    How young adults are navigating the path to mental health in Whistler
    • Mar 25, 2018

Latest in Feature Story

© 1994-2019 Pique Publishing Inc., Glacier Community Media

- Website powered by Foundation