|Biodiversity and Conservation|
source ref: biobook.html
|NUMBER AND SIZE OF PROTECTED AREAS
PROTECTION BY INTERNATIONAL AGENCIES
HABITAT PROTECTION BY FEDERAL AGENCIES
Management Decisions Concerning Public Lands
HABITAT PROTECTION BY THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA
HABITAT PROTECTION BY NON-GOVERNMENT AGENCIES
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has classified and analyzed areas that have various degrees of biodiversity protection. Areas that are established primarily to maintain biological diversity are in IUCN categories 1-5 (scientific reserves, national parks, natural monuments, nature reserves, wildlife sanctuaries). In other categories, 6-8, the focus is on controlled resource exploitation while retaining limited but significant commitment to maintain biological diversity. These include multiple-use areas such as National Forests.
1 square mile = 640 acres
1 hectare (ha) =
In all of the IUCN management categories there are 9,869 sites larger than 1,000ha (about 4 square miles), protecting a total of 6.3% of the earth's land surface. A large piece of this is Greenland, which contains the world's largest national park, 270,000 square miles, consisting mainly of snow.
Protected areas in IUCN categories 1-5 now exist in 124 countries and in all of the world's biogeographic realms. However, 15 biogeographic provinces have no protected areas.
Protected areas are only really protected if they receive funding which allows them to achieve their objectives. While the U.S. spends $2 billion on protected areas, most of the developing countries spend less than $500,000. In a survey of 98 national parks, 73% reported that they were understaffed and many protected areas don't have enough funds for equipment and supplies. Protected areas are also extremely small compared with the original extent of the type of habitat being preserved.
Protected areas face a number of other problems. In 84 areas listed as Threatened by IUCN's Commission on National Parks and Protected Areas, activities including poaching, mining, settlement, military activities, acid rain and other threats have made it difficult or impossible to achieve the conservation objectives.
The Protected Areas Information Service of the World Conservation Monitoring Centre has a detailed account of protected areas worldwide and statistics on the areas protected in each country. The main agency dealing with protected areas worldwide is the World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA) , which is one of the six Commissions of the IUCN.
Man-made obstacles including highways and other developments threaten 59 percent of wildlife corridors in California. When corridors are blocked, the isolated populations of animals and plants are likely to suffer from the same kinds of genetic problems that face species reduced to small population sizes. This problem is especially acute with top predators such as mountain lions and bobcats, whose population densities are naturally and inevitably low. The isolation can also make it difficult for these animals to find enough food. To counteract these problems, biologists are promoting the idea of maintaining or re-establishing wildlife corridors to connect protected areas.
The United Nations has developed a system for designating some areas as "Biosphere Reserves", which represent the world's varied ecosystems and provide opportunities for scientific research and sustainable economic development based on ecological principles. Each reserve is intended to contain the following parts:
"(a) a legally constituted core area or areas devoted to
long-term protection, according to the conservation objectives of the biosphere reserve,
and of sufficient size to meet these objectives;
(b) a buffer zone or zones clearly identified and surrounding or contiguous to the core area or areas, where only activities compatible with the conservation objectives can take place;
(c) an outer transition area where sustainable resource management practices are promoted and developed."
The "United Nations World Network of Biosphere Reserves" now consists of 411 sites in 94 countries. Eighteen new sites in 13 countries were added in 2001.
There are 90 Biosphere Reserves in the United States, including 29 national parks. The Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary is the closest one to UCI.
The Statutory Framework of the World Network of Biosphere Reserves
The World Heritage Committee of the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) was established to implement the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage signed in Paris in 1972. It determines the inclusion of both cultural and natural sites on the World Heritage List, which contains 582 properties as of December 1998. Governments signing the Convention pledge to conserve the listed sites within their territories. Their preservation then becomes "a responsibility shared by the international community as a whole".
Mediterranean marine sanctuary coming to life
Resistance to U.N. Land Designations. The United Nations has no control or jurisdiction over sites designated as World Heritage Sites, RAMSAR Sites or Biosphere Reserves. However, by making these designations, the U.S. does promise to protect the designated area and regulate surrounding lands if necessary to protect the designated site. The program has been attacked in the U.S. on the grounds that it threatens American sovereignty and private property rights and that "By using these international designations, the Executive Branch is able to guide domestic land use policies without consulting Congress." For this reason Rep. Don Young (R-AK) has introduced "The American Land Sovereignty Protection Act," which rescinds the existing designations unless Congress individually authorizes each site before 2001. The Bill was passed in the House in 1997, but has not been acted on in the Senate. It was reintroduced for the 106th Congress and has been approved by the U.S. House Committee on Resources.
Opposition to the current process stems from the fact that the land designations are negotiated solely between the United Nations and the Executive Branch, that local citizens who might be affected by the designations are often not consulted and that broad-based public input is not required. Opponents argue that "The Biosphere Reserve program is not even authorized by a single U.S. law or an international treaty. That is wrong. Executive branch appointees cannot and should not do things that the law does not authorize." The American Land Sovereignty Protection Act would require Congressional approval and public input for these land designations within U.S. borders.
See lecture on deserts
This agency was discussed in the lecture on forests. Lands managed by the Forest Service (300,000 square miles) are shown on the map.
Decisions on public lands management almost always reflect attempts at compromise. Management of the Interior Columbia Basin Ecosystem (ICBE) provides an example of this. The ICBE covers over 100,000 square miles that encompasses 24 percent of the National Forest System (NFS) lands and 10 percent of the public lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in the nation. By the early 1990s several issues were being hotly debated concerning ICBE management practices. These included the documented damage to forest health caused by timber harvesting and its associated need for new road construction on previously roadless lands, the adverse effects of livestock grazing on rangeland health, the collapse of the Snake River salmon population and their subsequent listing as endangered under the ESA, the need for bull trout protection, the dependence of local economies on resource harvesting, the threats to species associated with old forest structure, and the existing treaty and trust responsibilities to American Indian Tribes.
In July 1993, President Clinton directed the NFS and BLM to establish the Interior Columbia Basin Ecosystem Management Project. Scientific reports, as well as over 10,000 public comments, were incorporated in two Draft Environmental Impact Statements (DEIS). Seven alternative plans were evaluated and one "preferred alternative" was selected to be the basis of the final plan. Idaho State BLM Director Martha Hahn described the selection as one that would allow "citizens to share the many values and uses of the Federal public lands. Among the seven alternatives, it strikes the best balance of actively restoring forest, rangeland and watershed resources, while providing resource goods and services to people. It also seeks to involve the public, other levels of government, and tribes in the decision making that affects public lands." The preferred alternative includes provisions for aggressive restoration of forests, rangelands and watersheds through active management, thinning of over-dense forests and setting of controlled fires during cooler seasons to decrease risks of large and more severe wildfires which have plagued the region in recent years, an increased effort to stem the tide of noxious weeds, restoration of riparian areas as well as larger watersheds to healthier conditions, conservation of populations of native fish like bull trout, salmon and steelhead, and more use of "big picture" watershed and ecosystem management perspectives in decision-making.
Not all interested parties agree that the plan is a good one, though. The Wilderness Society feels that the Plan falls short in addressing some fundamental problems such as:
Logging levels: The management plan proposes doubling the amount of timber the Forest Service has offered for sale in recent years. 45% of the total NFS and BLM budgets would be spent on activities to support commercial timber harvest.
Old growth forests: The Plan provides no significant protection for the remaining stands of old growth forest in the region.
Roadless areas: The Plan does not specifically protect these areas from logging, road construction, or other commercial activities.
Fish populations: The Plan does not provide any specific protections for the regions that still have robust fish populations ("aquatic strongholds").
Local economies: The plan ignores the role of environmental amenities in attracting residents, businesses and jobs to the region, choosing to equate more logging with greater economic well-being.
Because of the readiness of the Forest Service and the BLM to cater to the timber and cattle industries, in many cases it has taken citizens' lawsuits to get the government agencies to enforce the law or even to obey the law. Grazing takes toll on spotted owl.
The Wilderness Act of 1964 is an important supplement to the laws establishing and regulating National Parks, Forests and Refuges as well as BLM lands. It was enacted in response to the failure of the Forest Service to control timber harvesting on its lands. It enables Congress to designate areas within each of these systems as Wilderness Areas, subject to further restrictions. This places substantial limits on the "multiple use authority" that several of the managing agencies have. Wilderness Areas are "areas where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain" and they are to be managed for "the preservation of their wilderness character". Commercial enterprises and permanent roads are prohibited. Local groups are trying to increase the amount of Wilderness Area in the Cleveland National Forest, in order to prevent an 8-lane freeway being built through the wilderness to connect residents of cheap housing in Riverside County with high-paying jobs in Orange County.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) is the principal Federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting, and enhancing fish and wildlife and their habitats. The agency is responsible for enforcing Federal wildlife laws, administering the Endangered Species Act, managing migratory bird populations, restoring fisheries, and conserving and restoring wildlife habitat such as wetlands.
The USFWS manages the National Wildlife Refuge System, the only system of federally owned lands managed mainly for the conservation of wildlife. Its primary purpose is to "preserve, restore and enhance in their natural ecosystems all species of animals and plants that are threatened or endangered". Other goals are to "perpetuate the migratory bird resource" and to "provide recreational experiences oriented toward wildlife". At 144,000 square miles, the National Wildlife Refuge system is about the same size as the National Parks system and is claimed to be the world's largest and most diverse network of lands and waters dedicated to wildlife. There are 511 refuges in the system, including representatives of every major type of habitat in the country, supporting at least 63 endangered species. Fishing and/or hunting is allowed at about half of the sites. The USFWS also manages thousands of small wetlands and other special areas, and operates 66 fish hatcheries.
In September 1997 the House and Senate both passed the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act, and the President signed it into law. The legislation establishes for the first time that conservation of fish and wildlife is the basic mission for the nation's wildlife refuges. "Wildlife-dependent" recreation, including "hunting, fishing, wildlife observation and photography, or environmental education and interpretation" are recognized as priority uses of the refuges and are allowed if they are found to be compatible with conservation and the purposes of a particular refuge. The Act requires that the Secretary of the Interior ensure that the "biological integrity, diversity and environmental health of the system is maintained for the benefit of present and future generations of Americans." The only other system of federal lands with an explicit statutory direction to conserve biological diversity is the National Forest System.
Other requirements established by the Act are:
monitoring of the status and trends of wildlife populations on all refuges;
continued expansion of the System in order to conserve the nation's ecosystems;
identification of conservation threats to individual refuges and actions necessary to address those problems
The National Wildlife Federation provides regular legislative updates on the Wildlife Refuges.
Many of the NWRs have been established to protect habitat for an individual species, for example the National Elk Refuge in Jackson, Wyoming, or to provide a site for reintroduction of a species to an ancestral or otherwise suitable territory. In 1934-35, 31 musk-ox from Greenland were released on Nunivak Island, part of the Yukon flats National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. Now more than 600 of the animals inhabit the refuge. The Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas is being used for the recovery program for the whooping crane, which was almost extinct in 1923 but whose population is now about 100. National Wildlife Refuges have also helped some seriously depleted populations of birds and mammals, including beaver, wood duck, sea otter, and dozens of shorebirds.
Another example is the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge established by Congress in 1989 to protect the vanishing breeding beaches used by sea turtles. These undisturbed stretches of beach are essential to the survival of loggerheads (listed as a threatened species) and green turtles (listed as an endangered species) in North America. Even the endangered leatherback turtle occasionally used this refuge as a nesting site. The USFWS, The State of Florida, Brevard and Indian River Counties, and the private Mellon Foundation have joined forces to purchase additional beachfront acreage in order to increase the size and effectiveness of the Refuge.
Simply preserving habitat is often not sufficient to ensure successful sea turtle proliferation. Loggerhead and other sea turtles nest along the 24 miles of undeveloped beach and wetland of Canaveral National Seashore in Florida. Egg predation, primarily by raccoons, has become a serious threat to turtle survival. "Under natural conditions, sea turtle nests should exist in such concentrations that natural predators like raccoons wouldn't decimate populations," says Dr. Robert J. Warren, a wildlife ecologist at the University of Georgia. "But human development along the coast has removed so much of the nesting environment that every nest is critical." Compounding the raccoon problem is the fact that the normal predator/prey balance of the coastal ecosystem has been disrupted by the elimination of red wolves and panthers, which once preyed on raccoons, by human activity. Achieving the 60% sea turtle hatch rate for lands within the National Park Service mandated by the Loggerhead Turtle Recovery Plan has been difficult. In a recent study conducted at the Canaveral National Seashore, however, turtle egg losses were kept to under 8% by covering nesting sites with screening to keep out raccoons and other predators.
Loggerhead sea turtles go the distance
A similar approach to protecting Kemp's ridley sea turtle is being tried. Since the primary breeding ground for this sea turtle is in Rancho Nuevo, Mexico, it cannot be protected by a National Refuge. The final Recovery Plan approved by the National Marine Fisheries Service in 1992, however, called for cooperative efforts between the U.S. and Mexico. During the April to September nesting season, teams of conservationists patrol 80 miles of Rancho Nuevo beach three to five times a day, locate newly laid eggs, and remove them to fenced corrals where they are counted, reburied and monitored during their 42-62 day incubation. Hatchlings are released soon after birth to begin their lives at sea. 1997 saw the largest arribada (massive nesting event) since the inception of the program at Rancho Nuevo. In 1996, 2,080 nests, 186,000 eggs and about 120,000 hatchlings were recorded. So far in 1997, more than 2,170 nests and 212,000 eggs have been protected. The hatchling count for 1997 is expected to exceed 30,000. Recent scientific studies show a steady rebuilding of the Kemp's ridley population.
The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) includes a coastal plain that serves as the spring calving ground for the 150,000 caribou in the Porcupine river herd. The refuge also provides a year-round home for Musk oxen, a summer home to many migratory bird species, and is the largest polar bear denning area on land in the United States. Unfortunately, the Bush administration is eager to open up this pristine wilderness area to oil and gas exploration and drilling. A Bill to open up the coastal plain to the oil and gas industry has passed in the House of Representatives but faces strong opposition in the Senate. In October 2001 Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton testified to a Senate Committee on this issue, arguing in favor of oil and gas exploration in the refuge and completely ignoring scientific data from USFWS (her own agency!) on the potential harmful effects of oil drilling on caribou. Members of the Gwich'in tribe are concerned that oil drilling activities will divert the migration path of the herd away from their villages, making it difficult for them to continue to use the caribou as their primary food source.
The goals of the National Marine Sanctuary Program are "to provide enhanced resource protection through conservation and management of the Sanctuaries that complements existing regulatory authorities; to support, promote, and coordinate scientific research on, and monitoring of, the site-specific marine resources of the Sanctuaries; to enhance public awareness, understanding, appreciation, and wise use of the marine environment; and to facilitate, to the extent compatible with the primary objective of resource protection, multiple uses of the National Marine Sanctuaries." However, commercial fishing is still allowed in these "sanctuaries".
Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary
Marine Protected Areas
The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968 has allowed protection of the free-flowing nature of over 10,000 miles of rivers in the U.S., which otherwise might have been dammed and channeled. The flow of over 600,000 miles of river is blocked by an estimated 60,000 dams. The Act prohibits dam construction and limits streamside development in order to preserve the character of each stretch of protected river. More than 60,000 miles of river qualify for inclusion but are not yet included.
The National Parks system includes National Parks, monuments, seashores, lakeshores, rivers, recreation areas, parkways, and several kinds of historic sites. There are 334 units in the National Park system, totaling 140,000 square miles.
The best known are the 48 national parks, selected mainly for their spectacular scenery, which cover about 73,000 square miles. They are intended "to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wildlife therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations". In 1988 a survey revealed that over 120 endangered or threatened species were known or suspected to occur in more than 140 units of the National Park System. The bald eagle nests, migrates, or winters in 71 parks, the peregrine falcon in 59. But most of the species are very restricted. Seventy-four are found in only one or two parks.
The Parks service is finding more and more that this policy is inherently contradictory: if the parks are enjoyed by the number of people that want to enjoy them, it is impossible to leave them unimpaired. The Management Policy calls for the perpetuation of the native animal life of the parks and the maintenance of the "natural abundance, behavior, diversity and ecological integrity of native animals" (plants are not mentioned!). Hunting is prohibited within all but the recreation areas, but fishing is generally permitted throughout the system.
The National Park Service does not have a system for inventory or monitoring of wildlife within the parks. But it did carry out a survey in 1980 on the state of the parks. A number of threats to park wildlife were identified including direct threats from hunting and poaching, competition from exotic species, harassment, and habitat destruction; and indirect threats from air pollution, adjacent land development, and excessive visitor use.
The National Park Service Home Page
PARKNET:The National Park Service Place on the Web
Natural Science Resource Management NPS Nature Net
NPS Natural Resources Wildlife and Plants Home Page
The California desert covers 39,000 square miles and contains some of the most outstanding scenic, cultural, ecological, scientific and recreational resources in the nation. There are sand dunes, extinct volcanoes, 90 mountain ranges, the world's largest Joshua tree forest and over 100,000 archeological sites.
The area supports over 760 species of wildlife, including the endangered desert bighorn sheep and the desert tortoise.
The California Desert Protection Act, sponsored by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), was signed into law on October 31, 1994. The bill designates two new national parks -- Death Valley and Joshua Tree -- and one national preserve -- the Mojave. Mohave was originally proposed as a National Park but was downgraded to a Preserve in order to allow hunting and fishing.
Desert bighorn sheep is not a real taxonomic category; it includes four subspecies of bighorn sheep that live in desert regions. They are extremely well adapted to desert conditions. They can survive during summer on desert shrubs and dry grasses, which is extremely poor forage. They can survive temperatures over 115 degrees, and can survive without water for three days under these conditions. Their population has been reduced from an estimated 1 million at the beginning of the 19th century to about 10,000 in about 100 separate herds in several western states today; i.e. the population has been reduced to about 1% of its former size. This is mainly due to hunting and to diseases such as pneumonia, scabies and sinusitis caught from introduced sheep. Habitat fragmentation is also a serious problem for desert species like the bighorn. In the past they would migrate large distances to find water after a spring dried up; now many of these options are closed off by habitat loss and fragmentation. BLM allowed mining; recreation, pipeline and power line rights of way that interfered with sheep movements. A mysterious bacterial disease is threatening to wipe out the remaining animals of this species.
The desert tortoise has also suffered a serious population decline, although exact numbers are not available. At one time they ranged over most of southern California's deserts, and probably existed at population densities of thousands per square mile. They have been completely lost from some areas including the Coachella and Imperial Valleys, and in other areas their numbers are falling by about 10% per year, largely due to a fatal respiratory disease that was introduced to wild populations by pet animals that were returned to the wild.
The California Desert Protection Act helps these and other desert animals by protecting their habitats.
What the Act Protects
The California Desert Protection Act protects 6.37 million
acres previously managed by the BLM. The legislation:
Allows increased access for off-road vehicles;
Allows the military to continue testing, training and research activities including low-level flying, and to expand its use of lands in the California desert;
Maintains the rights of property owners to build and expand their homes;
Continues livestock grazing in park areas (but this is being limited);
Protects all active mines and valid mineral claims;
Maintains hunting opportunities on approximately 10 million acres of public land.
By adding lands formerly administered by the Bureau of Land Management, the California Desert Protection Act expanded the boundary of Joshua Tree National Park toward the rim of an inactive open-pit iron mine. Soon afterwards it was revealed that Riverside County was planning to turn the pit into the world's largest landfill, accepting 20,000 tons of garbage a day for 100 years by rail from Los Angeles and Orange Counties. In late 1997 the approval was overturned in the courts, and the future of the plan is undecided.
In the past few sessions of Congress some of the members have
been using "riders" as a means of passing various kinds of anti-environment
measures. Riders are appendices that are added on to existing Bills that have a high
probability of passing, usually because the Bill is needed to keep government programs
operating. In 1998 many such riders were attached to the Omnibus Budget Bill, including:
the Quincy Logging Bill, which will double the amount of logging in three National Forests in California's Sierra Nevada mountains
a provision that prevents the Interior Department from requiring companies to repair damage caused by mining
a measure that betrays the Clean Air Act by mandating a four year delay in the phase-out of the pesticide Methyl Bromide, a chemical that has serious health effects and contributes to ozone depletion
an item that would allow grazing on 25 million acres of public lands without environmental review
a provision that worsens pollution and speeds global warming by preventing the Department of Transportation from improving fuel economy standards
a provision that limits E.P.A.'s ability to enact new programs to curb global warming pollution
a provision which limits the environmental review process and facilitates building the Foothill Toll Road through pristine wildlands in Orange County California
Many more damaging riders were removed prior to final passage, through the efforts of the Administration and environmental leaders in Congress.
Virtually every national park established in the United States has been shown to increase tourism and raise the visibility of the natural attractions available. The National Park Service estimates the three new national parks will provide more than $215 million in sales, $27.5 million in tax revenues from tourist expenditures, and create more than 4,000 new jobs.
The U.S. population of buffalo numbered at least 60 million in the early 1800s, but hunters had reduced it to about 300 animals by 1894. There is only one free-ranging herd of buffalo, which was derived from 23 ancestors in 1902 and lives in Yellowstone National Park. Careful stewardship increased the herd to about 3,500 by the start of the 1996/1997 winter, but by June 1997 the number was down to 1,692, because of a combination of natural and unnatural causes. A severe winter in 1996/97 caused hundreds of animals to starve to death. It also caused the animals to wander farther afield than normal in search of food. But Yellowstone National Park's Interim Bison Management plan calls for the slaughter of all buffalo leaving the park's northern boundary, because about half of them have brucellosis, a bacterial disease that causes miscarriages and can lower milk yield. Theoretically the disease can be transferred to domestic cattle either sexually or through exposure to infected blood and tissue from the birthing process. Although no cases of transfer to cattle from buffalo in the wild have been documented, Montana is afraid of losing its "brucellosis-free" certification from the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), which allows ranchers to sell their cattle without the need for costly testing procedures. 1,084 buffalo that wandered on to private lands or National Forests were shot or sent to slaughter in 1996 because of fear of brucellosis. As of 3/1/99, seventeen bison had been killed this winter.
The State of Montana and the National Park Service are beginning negotiations on a long-range plan and final environmental impact statement that will guide bison management.
Natural Resources Defence Council and the California Native Plant Society provide regular updates on the legislation affecting National Parks and other protected areas in the U.S.
A fund called the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) has helped enormously with habitat and endangered species protection. The funds, up to $900 million per year, come from the sale of surplus federal property, motorboat fuels tax, and lease fees paid to the Department of the Interior by oil companies engaged in offshore drilling. However, in most years only a fraction of the funds available have been spent as intended - for example, in 1998 the amount appropriated was only $62 million.
60% of the LWCF funds go to the states but have to be matched dollar for dollar. California leads all other states in the amount of acreage purchased with these funds. Since 1966, California has received $983 million from the fund and set aside 4700 square miles of local and State parkland with matching Land and Water grants. Parks added to the state system include: Humboldt Redwoods, Montana de Oro, Anza Borrego and Santa Rosa Mountains, as well as the Meiss Lake, Antelope Valley and Mendota wildlife areas. Many critical, though less extensive areas have been acquired by the State's cities and counties, including Anadel Farms in Sonoma County, North Bay Beach in Marin Co., Riverfront Park in Contra Costa County, Baylands in San Mateo County, Santa Monica Mountains in Los Angeles County, Santa Ana Regional Park in Orange County and San Elijo Lagoon in San Diego. It also helped to establish the Redwoods National Park and Rocky Mountains National Park as well as several others.
An important Southern California project helped by the LWCF was the 20 square mile Coachella Valley Preserve near Palm Springs, established to protect the endangered Coachella Valley fringe-toed lizard. LWCF funds have been used in similar ways to acquire habitat for the Devil's Hole Pupfish, the Mississippi sandhill crane, the San Joaquin kit fox, the Florida manatee, the American crocodile, and Hawaii's forest birds.
Every five years, the US Congress votes on an enormous legislative package of agricultural programs called the Farm Bill. Included in this are funds for the USDA's Wetlands Reserve Program and the Conservation Reserve Program, both of which offer farmers financial incentives to take farmland out of production to preserve wetlands and grasslands for wildlife.
The Wilderness Society has issued a report describing the U.S' 15 Most Endangered Wild Lands. It describes the problems facing the nation's most endangered national parks, national forests, national wildlife refuges and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands, and makes recommendations for protecting them.
California is the most biologically diverse state in the U.S., with 40,000 species. It is also one of the most degraded. It has 47 major habitat types and about 380 distinct natural communities. However, very few of these are healthy and thriving. The Nature Conservancy considers half of the communities rare or threatened. Some of them are almost completely gone. And when habitats are reduced, there is a high risk of species extinction. A general rule of thumb is that a 90% reduction in area of a given ecosystem results in a 50% loss of species. At least 33 species or subspecies of animals and about 30 species of plants have gone extinct because of habitat loss in California. As of 1990, there were 320 species listed as endangered or threatened.
The State of California's Department of Fish and Game (DFG) manages 625 square miles of habitat, in 60 wildlife areas and nearly 70 ecological reserves throughout the state. Upper Newport Bay is the closest one to us. Traditionally, DFG have managed their wildlife populations for hunting and fishing, and their main source of revenue has been from hunting and fishing licenses and federal taxes on outdoor and sporting goods. These sources have been declining with lower popularity of these sports.
During the 1980's the DFG started to realize that many people were interested in "non-consumptive uses of wildlife", meaning watching, studying and photographing rather than killing wildlife. In fact, surveys showed that more people were using DFG properties for non-consumptive uses than for hunting and fishing. In response to this, the California Wildlands Program was established in 1988 to generate funds from non-consumptive use. This means visitors will pay a daily or annual fee for using DFG properties, and the Department will also raise funds by selling special native species stamps.
The State Park System (run by the California Department of Parks and Recreation) also protects a certain amount of wildlife habitat. It includes over 250 parks, historic parks, and recreation areas totaling over 1,500 square miles. It "preserves and interprets representative examples of California's Natural and scenic landscape and its ecosystems for public recreational, inspirational, educational and scientific purposes." The emphasis is on recreation, but the system does include wilderness areas and natural preserves, often within the confines of larger state parks. Hunting is prohibited; in fact all wildlife is protected in State Parks.
The State Park system has identified nine major "landscape provinces and seascape provinces" in California, each with characteristic geology, vegetation and climate. We are in the coastal strip, which has a fairly good representation in parks. Their analysis of provinces indicated that the southwest mountain and valley province was underrepresented, and for this reason Chino Hills State Park was established. It includes areas of most of the habitat types in the province, including coastal sage scrub, chaparral, oak woodland, etc.
The California Natural Communities Conservation Planning (NCCP) program was proposed in 1992 by the Irvine Company and adopted by the Wilson Administration, mainly in an effort to avoid state listing of the gnatcatcher and to allow development of its coastal sage scrub habitat. The goal is supposedly to protect entire ecosystems, so that the Endangered Species Act will not have to be used. It is being applied first to Coastal Sage Scrub, as a prototype for other habitats. It asks developers to enroll and to sign voluntary agreements to protect Coastal Sage Scrub, in return for permission to develop other areas without fear of environmental lawsuits.
Natural Communities Conservation Planning
Coastal Sage Scrub Restoration in the San Joaquin Freshwater Marsh Reserve
The details of NCCP were worked out between the administration and the Irvine Company speaking for the developers. During these negotiations, most of the requirements built into the original agreements were removed. In the original plan, local governments would require developers to get approval from state and federal wildlife biologists. In the final version, it only requires them to take the biologists' advice seriously. And during the negotiations, about 3,700 acres of coastal sage scrub were destroyed. Many environmentalists feel that this program had no teeth and was mainly a tactic to delay listing of the gnatcatcher. The developers were simply planning to enroll land that they did not plan to develop anyway. The program did not prevent listing of the gnatcatcher, although it was listed as threatened rather than endangered. UCI is participating in this program.
For an analysis of how well the Southern California NCCP is
working, see a review by the NRDC.
Map of Habitat Conservation Plans in the U.S.
Non-government agencies are also involved in protecting habitat, mainly by buying it. Over 1200 land trusts and conservancies in the United States have preserved over 5 million acres, exceeding the area of the State of New Jersey.
The NRS manages a set of relatively undisturbed examples of the state's natural habitats. They are set aside for education and research by students and faculty from U.C. and other institutions. 33 sites are included in the system. UCI has three reserves - the San Joaquin Freshwater Marsh , the UCI Ecology Preserve, and the Burns Pinon Ridge. The UCI Ecological Preserve Draft Management Plan
The Nature Conservancy is the largest and one of the most successful of the non-government agencies. It works mainly by purchasing areas critical for the survival of locally endangered or threatened species.
The specific mission of the national Nature Conservancy is to "preserve plants, animals and natural communities that represent the diversity of life on Earth by protecting the lands and waters they need to survive". The mission of the Nature Conservancy of California is "to ensure the preservation of the full spectrum of California's natural diversity by protecting biologically sustainable ecosystems, exemplary natural communities, and threatened animals and plants.
Quite often the areas are subsequently transferred to government agencies for management or protection. The conservancy has succeeded in setting aside 8,600 square miles in 1,200 preserves including some in all 50 states (25 in California). It adds an average of about 1.5 square miles a day.
The Nature Conservancy has launched Natural Heritage Inventory programs in nearly all of the states. These are cooperative efforts with state agencies to monitor the status of plant and animal populations.
The biggest Nature Conservancy preserve is Santa Cruz Island off the coast of southern California - shown on the radar image taken from the space shuttle as part of NASA's Mission to Planet Earth. Color variations in the radar image are related to the different types of vegetation and soils at the surface. For example, grass-covered coastal lowlands appear gold, while chaparral and other scrub areas appear pink and blue.
Santa Cruz Island has more than 600 plant species, and 140 land bird species. Of the 85 species endemic to the Channel Islands, nine occur only on Santa Cruz, including the island oak, island fox, and scrub jay. Sea lions, harbor seals and occasionally elephant seals are found in surrounding waters.
The western 90% of the island is owned by the Nature Conservancy and is managed as a unit of the University of California Natural Reserve System.
The gold area occupying about 10% of the island at the east end is the 6,300-acre Gehrini ranch, a historic sheep ranch owned by one family since 1880.
The ecological difference between the Gherini Ranch and the Nature Conservancy preserve can be seen even in the photo from space.
From the land, the east side is like a golf course with a few trees, while the west is covered with high native grasses, coastal sage scrub and lemonade berry and coyote bushes.
In February 1997 Congress passed a law to allow compulsory purchase of the Gehrini ranch for the National Park Service to add to the five-island Channel Islands National Park. It used a so-called "legislative taking" last invoked in 1988, when lawmakers forced a real estate developer to sell a Civil War battlefield instead of building a shopping center.
The park service now plans to restore native plants and shrubs to the east end. But first they need to remove the Gehrini ranch's 13 wild horses, 200 feral pigs and 2,500 sheep that have been destroying vegetation and causing serious erosion problems.
The Nature Conservancy maintains a land preservation fund of $85 million, which they can use for emergency purchase of pieces of land that are crucial to species survival. They also maintain one of the largest species inventory systems anywhere in the world, in which the conservation status of 50,000 species is recorded and updated.
Designing Nature Reserves
GORP - US National Park List
IUCN Biodiversity Program
Parks and Protected Areas Links - Native Americans and the Environment
Table of Contents for The UCSC Natural Reserve
Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance
Northern Prairie Science Center
Grand Prairie Friends
Bureau of Land Management (BLM) National Home Page