The cowman, who cleans his range of wolves, does not realize that he is
taking over the wolf's job of trimming the herd to fit the range. He has
not learned to think like a mountain. Hence we have dustbowls, and
rivers washing the future into the sea.
Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac
Learning to Think Like a Mountain: Tools for Conservation Practitioners
Biodiversity conservation on military lands does not equate with outright preservation
or the exclusion of military uses. Creatively using an ecosystem management
approach, and working with the military community, have produced impressive
results at many installations, several of which are chronicled in this manual. One
key component is to use an adaptive approach to conservation planning and implementation.
Definitions of adaptive management vary by context, but the commonalities
include the appreciation that "Ecosystems are not more complex than we think,
but more complex than we can think" (Egler 1977). Despite this, we cannot be
stymied by a lack of understanding of all details; we can be very successful working
within this uncertainty.
Adaptive management will be discussed in a later chapter. The basic premises
are: We don't know enough to predict all outcomes. Changing management, and
changing military activities, will undoubtedly result in unanticipated results, as
will purely natural, but unpredictable, events. A key is to capture the learning
from that experience, and build it into our understanding of the systems.
Everything is an experiment; every project provides an opportunity to learn
and improve. This doesn't mean that every activity needs to be designed as a rigorous
scientific experiment. Rather, we must enter into every process with our
eyes open, asking two questions up front: "If this doesn't work out as I expect,
what do I want to know in order to do it better next time?" And, "If this does
work out, what can I learn from this place that will allow me to carry that success
to other situations?"
There is no simple protocol for implementing adaptive management. Managers
from many agencies, and from many countries, have been experimenting and creating
ways to make it more scientific and less of an art. The successful adaptive
manager can call on a number of tools to assist in his or her job. One of these is
the conceptual ecological model.
Developing a conceptual ecological model of the species, ecosystems and landscapes
that are the focus of management activities can be a helpful tool. These
models provide a framework for organizing information and thinking about the
systems, their impacts and threats, and anticipated management responses.
An ecological model is a conceptual representation of a natural phenomenon.
Ecological models are abstractions or simplifications of the real world that portray
the dominant components and key processes. Typically, models define relationships among states (parts of the ecosystem) and transitions (processes that
change the states). These relationships are the basis on which to predict changes
in the targets of conservation work over time, depending upon trajectories of, or
perturbations to, key ecological processes. Ecological models are excellent tools
for generating questions about the behavior of our targeted biodiversity and guiding
decision making for planning and management. These models are also key to
documenting and recording major assumptions and current understanding (Maddox
et al. 1999).
These ecological models, however, are not panaceas for solving every problem
or answering every question. Models are a means of integrating data to comprehensively
understand complex ecosystem dynamics. They are only as good as the
information they are built upon. It would be unwise to think of models as answers
in and of themselves. They are simply powerful tools for organizing and
communicating ideas, synthesizing current understanding and data, discovering
unknowns, and generating hypotheses. In the best of circumstances, they provide
a peek into the future to help guide present decisions (Bestelmeyer et al. 2004).
The most useful models integrate the needs and input of many stakeholders with
different perspectives and goals. This might require a suite of conceptual models,
ranging from a landscape model, showing patterns of disturbance and connectivity,
to forest stand level state-transition models that capture our understanding of
ecosystem response to mechanical thinning and prescribed fire management.
The exceptionally rich prairie grasslands of
the Smoky Hills National Guard Range,
Kansas, are high in biological diversity. The
range supports the largest agricultural outleasing
program in the Air Force, generating
nearly $400,000 annually to support Air
Force natural resources programs. (Photo:
One of the most powerful aspects of conceptual ecological models is that they
create a valuable communication tool that can resonate with many audiences.
Stakeholders who see their concerns integrated into a conceptual model will more
readily see how those issues link to, and impact, others' concerns and issues.
During the past decade the conservation community has collaboratively developed
standards and tools for designing, managing, monitoring and learning
from conservation projects. This effort has resulted in the Conservation Action
Planning (CAP) process and toolbox developed by The Nature Conservancy, and
it has been implemented by conservation practitioners worldwide. The toolbox
was originally programmed in Microsoft Excel, and its current version, and much
supporting information, is available at http://conserveonline.org/workspaces/cbdgateway/cbdmain/cap.
The CAP toolbox has been recently redesigned and reprogrammed by the Conservation
Measures Partnership as the open source software package Miradi. The
software is available at https://miradi.org/.
Proceed to Next Section: Conservation Targets: Planning for Biodiversity