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Large Landscape Resilience by Design

What is the compelling question or challenge?

How to do we design, implement, govern and maintain a resilient environment that will adapt to a rapidly changing climate and provide multiple benefits to humans and biodiversity conservation?

What do we know now about this Big Idea and what are the key research questions we need to address?

Rich Sorkin, co-founder, Jupiter Intelligence recently commented regarding climate change: "We live in a world designed for an environment that no longer exists,". My big idea is that we have the analytical capability to redesign that environment for maximum resilience to change. Often referred to as the Anthropocene, we live in a period where humans are directly changing the environment upon which we depend. We have built our cities, infrastructure, agriculture and nature reserves based upon a stable and predictable climate that is increasingly unstable. We now know, based on numerous studies and reports, including the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, that the climate is changing due to anthropogenic causes, casting doubt on the sustainability of coastal cities, traditional agriculture, and the integrity of biodiversity within fixed boundary areas of nature protection.

The history of conservation has been dominated by the practice of establishing small, medium and large areas that represent some unique aspect of nature (often driven by scenery) and then protecting them from boundary encroachments. Around the world, different approaches and models have been tried, some implementing extreme measures (killing poachers on sight), fencing, captive breeding of endangered animals, and boundary expansions to preserve biodiversity and ecosystem integrity. Whether or not these approaches can achieve long term resiliency is an open question for research.

The concept of stewardship of protected areas as islands in a sea of change may no longer be viable. Climate change, along with other stressors, has forced a reconsideration of the current model of protected area management to address large landscape integration. Learning to manage at the landscape scale, with parks or equivalent protected areas linked with corridors and integrated with communities, transportation systems, watersheds, agriculture, and sustainable economies is a critical component to the future of conservation. While we have powerful analytical tools to envision or even design large landscape connectivity, we do not yet have the political and public policy tools to achieve the “governance” required for it to be sustained and achieve stated goals (such as biodiversity conservation) during periods of rapid change.

The nature near home, green spaces and urban parks have become more recognized as essential components to the quality of human lives. A growing body of research is demonstrating a direct link between a healthy environment and human health. Green infrastructure in cities has been shown to mitigate (cool) increased temperatures, absorb run-off, buffer storm surges, and protect coastal cities.

Using the analytical power of geospatial data and software, coupled with the predictions of climate change (sea level rise, changes in precipitation, hurricane frequency and intensity, wildfire, etc.), current knowledge of multiple values of outdoor spaces (public health, ecosystem services, recreation, climate mitigation, etc.), large landscapes can be redesigned to provide multiple benefits to both humans and nature. Current examples of this concept in practice include the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan which stretches from the farmlands of the Kissimmee River to Florida Bay, over 250 miles to the south. Multiple efforts are underway to restore natural water quality, quantity and timing in the watershed benefiting the ecology of Everglades National Park and the potable water supply of Miami. There are other examples underway, though not yet fully integrated or realized such as the Three Rivers area of China and the Patagonia Region of Chile and Argentina.

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