Conservation techniques and protected areas.

 Part A This part A we’ll be discussing a variety of conservation tools, including translocations and reintroductions, as well as the often-related captive breeding programs. These practices can generate a lot of questions both within and without the conservation community, and in some cases be quite controversial for many reasons (people worried about their safety and livelihoods, animal welfare concerns, etc.). Reintroduction, reinforcement, and introduction programs might as a group be some of the more controversial conservation programs out there. Maybe the classic example of this conflict is the reintroduction of gray wolves to Yellowstone National Park. From an ecological perspective, the program is a success — wolves have re-established themselves in the region, and the ecology of YNP has shifted back to closer to what it was like before their extirpation. At the same time, however, controversy over the wolf population is on-going and has developed over time (more recently conflict over wolf hunts in the region has been at the forefront of the discussion). This example does highlight the need to take a holistic approach to any sort of reintroduction/reinforcement/introduction program — you need to not only be concerned about the biological and ecological variables at play (quality of habitat, presence of threats, source of the reintroduced population, behavior of released animals, whether to use a soft or hard release, etc.), but also the social — are you able to get support for the project from local communities? What stakeholder groups might object to the project, and how might you gain their support? Let’s not forget plants. Establishing new endangered plant populations can be vital to their survival. In many cases, these projects are somewhat simplified because there is usually – but not always – less conflict over them — the concern over wolves is just not the same as the concern over wildflowers, although certainly land-use questions can come into play. Botanical gardens and arboreta often play an important role in projects like this, either by leading the project or providing the plants and seeds to be reintroduced. Although at one point these gardens were primarily used for enjoyment, increasingly their attention is turned to conservation efforts. Some of these institutions also run seed banks, where seeds for rare species are collected and preserved for future propagation — basically captive breeding programs for plants. Seed banks are also found as stand-alone institutions, and sometimes are devoted to saving agricultural crops. Earlier this semester we discussed the conflict over pharmaceutical products developed using indigenous knowledge, who owns the rights to these substances, and who should profit from them. In part because of this, some countries have all but stopped allowing biological material to leave their country, which can make banking seeds of both wild and domesticated plants difficult. That aside, maintaining “captive” populations of plants can be much less controversial than maintaining captive populations of animals. There are some important questions that need to be answered when developing a captive program for wildlife: * What is the end goal? Reintroduction, or just maintaining a captive population? * If reintroduction, what obstacles might prevent this from taking place? Is there suitable protected habitat, or are there plans for that to happen? Is there a disease (like chytrid for amphibians) that needs to be dealt with before reintroductions can take place? Is it a realistic goal to create a captive breeding program with the hope, but not certainty, that one day reintroductions will be possible, or should captive breeding programs only exist if there’s a clear path forward? * If maintaining a captive population, should this be a goal? Should resources be used to maintain a population that would be kept for human education and entertainment? Can a captive program focused on maintaining a captive population be considered a conservation program? If the focus is on education, how best can the institutions involved make sure that educational goals are met as well as possible? If the focus is on entertainment, are there ethical questions about this? * How best can the population be maintained for the purposes of reintroduction? * What population size is needed to prevent inbreeding and maintain genetic diversity (remember, a large part of conservation is preserving evolutionary potential)? * How might the behavior of the animals change to the point where they wouldn’t survive in the wild? * Logistics * How will this project be funded? How will it continue to be funded over time? * Where will the population(s) be located? How will they be protected?