Sunday, June 15, 2014

Protected areas in history

H-Environment's latest Roundtable Review is of Peter S. Alagona's After the Grizzly: Endangered Species and the Politics of Place in California  (UC Press, 2013) (we mentioned the book in a post last year). Laura Watt writes in her contribution that Alagona's "marvelous book... gives a detailed history not only of how species often become proxies for broader environmental debates, but also how protected areas, usually publicly owned, have become the go-to solution for almost all wildlife management conundrums."
Alagona reminds us that this landscape approach did not begin with the ESA.  He traces it all the way back to the last California grizzly, “Monarch,” to die in captivity. Having been captured on orders from William Randolph Hearst, and then settled into his new home at the San Francisco Zoo, Monarch’s fate seemed regretful to his captor, reporter Allan Kelly, who recalled feeling that “he ought to be free in his native mountains” (17).  From there, scientists like Joseph Grinnell and his students, wildlife managers in state and later federal agencies, and environmental advocates and activists increasingly presumed that habitat preservation was the key to species’ recovery from the brink of extinction.
AfterTheGrizzly-PeterAlagona.jpgExcept that in many cases, they were wrong.  Alagona describes reserves as necessary but insufficient, and concludes that results to date have been mixed.
Protected areas are legally bounded but ecologically porous, meaning that the ecological relationships within them can and will change over time, and creating them can often be politically controversial, particularly they are established to the detriment of local communities. Yet this “protected areas paradigm” remains dominant in conservation work and advocacy. 
In some ways, it seems that endangered species pose management questions we simply do not have answers for, either ecologically or politically.  Alagona quotes Aldo Leopold as writing that “the government can’t buy ‘everywhere,’” and that “…a protected area paradigm that attempts to wall off wildlife and confine its management to a small community of experts risks doing the exact opposite of what Leopold advised” (232).  Yet it is not always clear what alternatives we have.
 He describes Habitat Conservation Plans (HCPs) as having become the central feature of the law’s implementation, yet these planning processes are often unwieldy, expensive, and slow, particularly when they attempt to incorporate both public and private lands, multiple jurisdictions and participants, and multiple listed and unlisted species.  Many have been stalled in the drafting stages for years, or even decades, and even once signed, many (including the first HCP, written for San Bruno Mountain just south of San Francisco) are now requiring major modifications, as both the science and the funding strategies have proved inadequate.  Experiments allowed under the ESA’s “safe harbor” policy, like the construction of artificial dens for San Joaquin Valley kit foxes by Paramount Farming Co. in 2002, have proved to be limited; only a year later, the company expressed frustration with the complexity and pace of the process, and doubted whether they’d do it again (192).  So even though Alagona’s central conclusion, that a more integrated approach is needed, one that includes humans as part of the ecological picture, and considers private as well as public lands, the path forward is not entirely clear.  However, understanding the path we have taken historically to arrive here is a crucial first step of the journey.   

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