Cajun Food & Conservation Planning: Minutes of the Spring 2016 ASMT meeting
Revising the ISA
- The team discussed options for revising the Integrated Science Agenda in breakout groups for Terrestrial & Aquatic Habitats.
- In the Terrestrial Session, participants determined that revisions should proceed in pieces depending on partner interest and should follow at least 7 principles.
- In the Aquatic Session, participants focused on information needs including things both inside (e.g. connectivity) and outside (e.g. water balance) what is currently in the ISA. The team suggested developing pilot projects to “paint the picture of what is needed” & show the benefits of new approaches & tools.
Advancing the Blueprint
- The team reviewed the Blueprint process & issues raised in the 7 in-person workshops. Several of the issues raised are best dealt with by revising the ISA. To deal with remaining issues, tentative support was given to:
- Splitting the current draft Blueprint maps (action opportunities) in to separate maps for each action (management, conservation, & restoration)
- Elevating the emphasis on private lands by limiting the role of public lands.
- Todd presented several options for defining Focal Landscapes, including optimization algorithms, hot-spot analysis, decision trees, and hybrid approaches. The team decided a combination of approaches was best – begin with a decision tree approach (transparent & relatively quick), then follow up with an optimization approach for comparison.
- The team discussed how to identify science projects for FY16 and beyond.
- The team agreed with the Staff’s assessment of priorities to advance the Blueprint with FY16 funds (once we get them). These include funding the Southeast Resource Assessment Partnership (SARP) to expand an aquatic connectivity analysis to cover the GCPO and hiring postdocs to develop species-habitat models.
- The team proposed a pre-proposal process for future years.
Revisions to ISA will begin as soon as practical. Open Pine and Forested Wetlands are priorities on the terrestrial side.
Revisions to the Blueprint maps will begin immediately, but will include input from the online review. Updated Rule Sets and maps will be available for review in May. A Draft Rule Set for identifying Focal Landscapes also will be available for review in May.
The Adaptation Science Management Team (ASMT) met in person last week in Lafayette, Louisiana to discuss 3 main objectives: Developing an updated Integrated Science Agenda, Advancing the Conservation Blueprint process, and science need priorities for 2016. In the process, we got to sample some great Cajun food. Many thanks to Steve Hartley & John Tirpak for cooking up the crawfish at the social. Also, thanks to Blair Tirpak for helping us coordinate the meeting room reservations & other logistics.
Revising the ISA
Todd provided an overview (ISA Overview_Apr2016.pdf) of how the GCPO’s Integrated Science Agenda (ISA) was developed in 2012-13 created (as best he could remember – much of the documentation is missing) and what the current version contains. The ISA as become our foundational planning document, underpinning our conservation planning by providing (1) a more explicit statement of the LCCs shared vision (defining habitats & species), (2) initial statements of conservation targets through the definition of Desired Ecological States and Amount goals, and (3) a standard for habitat assessments (i.e. the Ecological Assessments project) through definition of the Landscape Endpoints (Amount, Configuration & Condition). We have been building on this foundation in our design efforts (i.e. the Conservation Blueprint) using the habitat assessments to define where in the region we have opportunities for actions (management, protection and restoration). Next steps of the design process will include developing focal landscapes and monitoring schemes to evaluate success towards the vision of landscapes capable of sustaining natural and cultural resources.
From the beginning, it was envisioned that the ISA would be a living document with updates occurring regularly as we increase our understanding of the landscapes of the GCPO. Efforts to develop the Ecological Assessment project and the Conservation Blueprint have revealed shortcomings of the current ISA (version 4) in terms of its transparency & defensibility. The ASMT split into terrestrial and aquatic sections to discuss how to address these issues and produce version 5 of the ISA. In both cases, the team heard updates on the Ecological Assessments; the aquatics group also got an update on SARP’s project to suggest revisions to the ISA.
The team settled on several desired principles to include in the revision, including (1) moving from binary thresholds to ranges (i.e. good/fair/poor rather than in/out), (2) allowing ranges for Landscape Endpoints) for each habitat to vary by sub-geography, (3) segregating Landscape Endpoints into classes or tiers (e.g. endpoints that can be assessed via remote sensing vs. site-level conditions that species need but are not necessarily drivers of management), (4) allowing Species Endpoints to vary by sub-geography within habitats, (5) seizing the opportunity to add plants to the list of Species Endpoints where possible, (6) better aligning landscape and species endpoints through data analysis, and (7) allowing updates for each habitat system to proceed independently in each sub-geography. Further, the team did not see value in doing a complete overhaul of the ISA in the next year. Allowing sections to be updated depending on partner interest & data availability was preferred.
On the aquatic side, discussions revolved more around understanding audiences, identifying threats, and identifying pilot projects to demonstrate the value of LCCs to the aquatics community. A short list of aquatic priorities for the LCC partnership included:
- Better information on barriers to aquatic connectivity (see Science Needs discussion below)
- Better information on water balance (groundwater, ponds, etc.)
- Identification & prioritization of streamside management zones (SMZ)
- Better information on water Temperature
- Complete habitat information (underwater structure, substrates, depth, etc.)
- Better information on unseen threats (e.g. pharmaceuticals) – could help explain the noise in some assessments of impacts
The approach tentatively adopted by the terrestrial group of testing aquatic Landscape Endpoints with species data was discussed. However, without clarity on “what tools are needed in the toolbox” it’s difficult for some folks to see the value of continuing down that path. Thus, it was suggested that developing pilot projects within focal landscapes may be the best approach to demonstrating the value of LCCs to the aquatic community. Such pilot projects could “paint the picture of what is needed” relative to data collection, demonstrating current tools, and developing new tools.
Advancing the Blueprint
The team got an update on the Blueprint Workshops and a summary of responses (Blueprint Overview & Decisions_V2.pdf). In general, the workshops attendees appreciated the opportunity to engage in the Blueprint process, the transparency of the decision rule approach, and including the identification of restoration and conservation priorities in the process. However, the devil is in the details and many issues were raised, including (but not limited to):
- Protection implies the ability to maintain, but current trends in staffing call that into question.
- Protection & Restoration are not mutually exclusive categories – we often protect then restore, even on private lands.
- We are biased towards protected lands because we identify the need for big patches which often only occur on public lands, then give higher ranks to areas in or near public ownership.
- Our representation of protected lands is problematic – some areas are missing from the Protected Areas Database, we have limited information on easements, we have essentially no information on Land Trusts, and DOD doesn’t necessarily want their holdings to be identified as part conservation estate.
- The Condition Index (i.e. current habitat condition/quality) emphasizes landscape conditions over site condition such that a large patch of poor quality is ranked higher than a slightly smaller patch of high quality.
- Patch size thresholds (especially for Forested Wetlands) are too restrictive & may not be applicable in all sub-geographies.
- The species listed in the ISA raised all kinds of concerns, including
- Having species on the edge of range or not ranging over the whole region,
- Having generalist species that don’t necessarily reflect habitat quality, and
- Missing species reflective of important habitat components (e.g. includes darters & other benthic species but no minnows or other water column species).
- Included sources of Risk differ considerably in terms of management options – combining them into a single index obscures this complexity.
The ASMT discussed many of these issues. Several issues (e.g., #5-7) require focused discussion that will occur as part of the ISA update. Others can be dealt with now, and the team tentatively supported the idea of breaking the current draft Blueprint maps into separate decision support tools for maintenance, protection and restoration. Tentative support was also given to the idea of de-emphasizing protected areas in order to elevate private land conservation in the Blueprint, with the caveat that existing acquisition boundaries are a high priority for protection. The team did not support trying to drill down into public lands to determine purpose of individual parcels (e.g. timber management vs. natural area preservation); this question is best asked at a more local scale.
The team also discussed next steps in the Blueprint process, including the development of focal areas for the LCC (Blueprint Focal Landscapes & Next Steps.pdf). These focal areas are intended to serve 2 purposes. First, they should identify the “best places for shared actions” and encompass enough conservation actions to achieve the habitat goals in the ISA. Second, they should serve as incubators of innovation for co-production of science, shared decision making, monitoring effectiveness of conservation actions, and evaluating the success of the partnership. The team discussed 5 options for designating focal areas ranging from optimization modeling to decision rules. These approaches vary in terms of complexity, effort, and transparency. Ultimately the team decided a combination of approaches was best, starting with a decision rule approach and following up with an optimization approach for comparison.
The team discussed both short term & long term needs and approaches to fill those needs. The Staff have been assessing needs and have also received several requests for funding - mostly from current project PIs. In the short term (i.e. this year’s funds – which still haven’t arrived yet), the team agreed with the staff’s recommendations for highest priority needs. The first need included hiring postdocs to perform analyses related to revision of the ISA and to develop species-habitat models to support scenario planning for the Blueprint. The second need included working with SARP to generate better spatial information on aquatic barriers and subsequently develop a decision support tool to support aquatic connectivity assessments. Discussions on aquatic threats during the ISA revision session further supported funding this project. In the unlikely event that funds are available beyond these projects, the team decided to defer to staff’s evaluation of what projects would be most beneficial for advancing the Blueprint.
In the long term, the team favored a Request For Pre-proposal process. This decision recognizes the perpetual uncertainty in annual appropriations and reduces the burden on applicants and reviewers. The general outline of the process include having Staff work with the ASMT to identify 1-3 priority topics in the fall. Requests for brief preproposals (i.e. 1 page) would be announced in winter. Preproposals would be ranked in spring and once appropriation levels are known, full proposals would be requested from top ranked preproposals. It was envisioned that this process would operate every other year, with alternate (odd) years available for pursuing unfunded pre-proposals or emerging needs.
The current draft Blueprint maps (i.e. maps ranking maintenance, protection & restoration) are available for review on the CPA and Staff will be giving a webinar on how to provide comments on line on Monday 4/25 at 1 PM Central. That review period will last until May 10th. Meanwhile, staff will be working to develop updated decision rule sets for mapping and ranking conservation actions (e.g. restoration) based on workshop responses and ASMT comments. These will be presented back to the ASMT in mid-May along with any new revelations from the CPA reviews. Staff will also begin working on a rule set for delineating focal areas for the LCC for presentation in mid-May. Changes requested by the ASMT in mid-May will be incorporated ahead of the Steering Committee meeting in mid-June.