Conservation works better when local communities lead it, new evidence shows

I received a link to this article just about the same time I was hearing about the re-Monumentization effort and the language of the Reconciliation bill.  Another Biden Administration claim, for example,  here “promise that they would summon “science and truth” to combat the coronavirus pandemic, climate crisis and other challenges.” And that raises the question of course “what specific scientific studies support this claim?” and “who determines what is truth?” What’s the role of “science” compared to other views and interests?

Here’s a link to a Conversation article.

And here’s the abstract.

Debate about what proportion of the Earth to protect often overshadows the question of how nature should be conserved and by whom. We present a systematic review and narrative synthesis of 169 publications investigating how different forms of governance influence conservation outcomes, paying particular attention to the role played by Indigenous peoples and local communities. We find a stark contrast between the outcomes produced by externally controlled conservation, and those produced by locally controlled efforts. Crucially, most studies presenting positive outcomes for both well-being and conservation come from cases where Indigenous peoples and local communities play a central role, such as when they have substantial influence over decision making or when local institutions regulating tenure form a recognized part of governance. In contrast, when interventions are controlled by external organizations and involve strategies to change local practices and supersede customary institutions, they tend to result in relatively ineffective conservation at the same time as producing negative social outcomes. Our findings suggest that equitable conservation, which empowers and supports the environmental stewardship of Indigenous peoples and local communities represents the primary pathway to effective long-term conservation of biodiversity, particularly when upheld in wider law and policy. Whether for protected areas in biodiversity hotspots or restoration of highly modified ecosystems, whether involving highly traditional or diverse and dynamic local communities, conservation can become more effective through an increased focus on governance type and quality, and fostering solutions that reinforce the role, capacity, and rights of Indigenous peoples and local communities. We detail how to enact progressive governance transitions through recommendations for conservation policy, with immediate relevance for how to achieve the next decade’s conservation targets under the UN Convention on Biological Diversity.

Now there’s at least two interesting things about this paper. It uses “Indigenous and local communities” as a unit. Here within the US, there seems to be great interest in empowering Indigenous communities (at least as long as they agree with certain interests) but perhaps, not so much, local communities. If a community doesn’t want, say, wind turbines, they may be called NIMBY’s. If they do want to produce wood products, they are not in the pockets of extractive interests. And I know that people in local communities disagree among themselves, as do Native Americans. And who wins is ultimately a political/privilege question. Still, I think this would argue for some kind of process that involves all these affected parties directly and transparently.

In the paper, conservation is a bigger idea than what we might think of conservation.. it’s kind of “everything good.”

This review builds on the idea that beyond its environmental objectives, conservation serves to support the rights and well-being of IPLCs. We wish to explore not only the social outcomes of conservation, but also the social inputs, including values, practices, and actions (specifically of IPLCs) that may shape the social and ecological outcomes of conservation. In so doing, we adopt a definition of well-being that is holistic and adaptable to different contexts, encompassing not only material livelihood resources such as income and assets but also health and security as well as subjective social, cultural, psychological, political, and institutional factors (Gough and McGregor 2007). All of the latter elements are increasingly considered as potential social impacts of conservation (Breslow et al. 2016).

(my bold)

It strikes me in focusing on local-led efforts, the Biden Admin 30×30 is following along with these concepts (perhaps “the science”). On the other hand, there appear to be political forces at work to assuage interests who feel quite differently about local processes and involvement (not sure what degree of Tribes), as per re-Monumentization and the Reconciliation bill. It will be interesting to watch how the Administration navigates these tensions through time.

The Princeton Study, Solar and Wind Buildout and Landscape Transformation (Including Federal Lands)

Retired Smokey Bear commented about the proposed buildout of wind and solar in Virginia, which reminded me of the Princeton study. There’s a good New York Times article, which probably has a paywall but I included some maps and excerpts from there.  You can check out the Princeton study itself here.  It’s jam-packed with information of all kinds.

The Princeton study has several scenarios, and the maps here are based on the “Princeton Net-Zero America High Electrification scenario, which assumes that the United States will essentially phase out coal use and drastically reduce natural gas and oil use. The scenario also assumes the United States will use geologic sequestration to capture and store one metric gigaton of carbon each year by 2050. It also assumes there will be widespread adoption of electric vehicles in 2050 and high levels of building electrification.”

I believe you can scroll down on the maps to see your own part of the country, but I couldn’t figure out how. That’s why I’m using the NY Times maps below, for which wind is blue and solar is orange. Note that western forested areas in the PNW and northern California don’t have much to speak of, but for the interior West is looks like overlap with sage grouse terrain. Also note the midwest and east coast.  It seems that the brunt of this buildout will not occur on the coasts (except offshore) so there could be an element of Coastalism that crops up as the buildout occurs (if it does). If you read the comments, it looks like many think alternatives are rooftop and along existing highways and other previously manipulated habitat. If you didn’t think decarbonizing is ultimately an engineering/construction practical problem, this discussion might lead you there. Or back to nuclear. Which reminds me of this effort in Wyoming, which is being built to access the infrastructure and workforce of an existing coal mine.

Wind and solar needed by 2050 (NY Times map)
Solar and Wind today (from the NY Times)

Getting the permits

And back to our federal landscapes concerns.

Many of the places with the best sun and wind resources in the United States are on public land in the southwest and along the Rocky Mountains, so some energy will still need to come from remote areas in the West.

Getting approval to build on federal or state land can be a much longer process than what’s required for private land.

The Interior Department currently has a goal of approving permits for 25 gigawatts of renewable energy on federal land by 2025, but some of the Princeton models propose nearly five times that amount on public land in the coming decades.

How much energy is allowed on public land, and where projects are built, will depend on how the Biden Administration updates the solar and wind energy plans developed during the Obama administration. Those projects allow fast-tracked permitting for renewable projects on certain parcels of federal land for projects.

The existing plans, nearly a decade old, will need to be updated to account for advances in solar and wind technology that allow projects to be built on steeper terrain or to have less of an environmental impact.


The question of whether to strictly conserve land for environmental purposes or make exceptions for clean energy is a thorny one.

Some species, like the desert tortoise and sage grouse, are being pushed to the brink of extinction by global warming and development, including oil and gas extraction, in their habitats. Without careful planning, adding vast solar panel arrays or hundreds of wind turbines where they live could push them over the edge. But so, too, could the continued burning of fossil fuels and rising global temperatures.

Renewable energy developers are required to conduct environmental impact studies and can sometimes offset the harm from new projects. A developer hoping to build wind turbines, for example, could pay to retrofit older, existing transmission lines in the area to make them safer for birds, balancing the toll on the species.

I think solar and wind installations are out for any 30 x 30 initiatives, so those efforts will also reduce the acres available. Perhaps it would make sense to start a national discussion now and delineate zones for solar and wind and transmission, and then start 30×30 ing.

Practice of Science Friday: Getting to Co-Design and Co-Production of Climate Models

From Meadow et al.

We’ve been discussing the RCP 8.5 issue in climate modeling, this week and earlier, which reminded me of this story. A few years ago, I attended a reunion (my class’s 40th) at the Yale School of Forestry (cl and Environmental Studies (now School of the Environment). Jerry Melillo, of Woods Hole, gave a talk about climate modelling.

Jerry showed a slide of “protected areas,” and of course, having worked on the Colorado Roadless Rule for years, I could see from the map that I might not agree with the boundaries. At least not in terms of physically meaningful differences for input into climate models. Imagine how hard it would be to take the non-Wilderness parts of your neighboring forest and make assumptions about what they would or would not contribute to climate change in the next fifty years or more? My question to Jerry was “forest management is a sliding scale, from planting trees after fires and leaving them alone thereafter, to intensive forest management as practiced in the southeastern US with loblolly pine. It’s a dial not a toggle, so how do models of future land use reflect that?” His answer was that IUCN had made the determination of what was protected, and he was using their numbers. Of course, determining something is a toggle when it is a dial is a value judgment, not a scientific finding. And folks might choose toggle due to computational convenience, not proximity to validity.

Roger Pielke, Jr. and Justin Ritchie wrote a comprehensive historical account of the development and use of RCP’s, including definitions of the relevant jargon. From a history of science/sociology of science perspective. It has been the best guide I’ve found to try to understand “is our work (land-use) an input, output or both?” There are even flowcharts! Roger and Justin have a few suggestions (these are only some):

*Despite the presence of thousands of IAM scenarios in the community, and the motivation to proceed with ‘one model one vote’ dynamics where all models are assessed equally with no explicit probability statements, more regular attention needs to be given to a much simplified set of near-term, policy relevant scenarios, similar to how IEA issues three scenarios on an annual basis: a Current Policies Scenario (high), a Stated Policies Scenario (baseline) and a Sustainable Development (policy) scenario.

(I see this as fewer but more realistic options, done more frequently to reflect changes and course-correct assumptions, some of the same preferences we would have for any planning effort.)

*More work is needed to reconcile long-term narrative pathways based on an idealized year 2100 end-point with what policy makers need to know about the next few years and decades. While there are an increasing number of scenarios focused on the role of Paris Agreement NDCs through 2030, there is a significant gap in the literature for scenarios that address developments before 2050 in the context of today’s policy environment. This gap is created by an excessive focus on long-run, full century scenarios, driven in large part by the needs of the physical science modeling community.

There seems to be a need for policy folks to say “nope, that solution isn’t working for us, how about trying …?” Not sure that there is the direct connection among groups for this discussion to take place. Remember the idea of “co-designed, co-produced research” with stakeholders and policy makers?

* Climate research and assessment would benefit from a more ecumenical and expansive view on relevant knowledge. The IPCC scenario process has been led by a small group of academics for more than a decade, and decisions made by this small community have profoundly shaped the scientific literature and correspondingly, how the media and policy communities interpret the issue of climate change. The dominant role of this small community might be challenged in order to legitimize a broader perspective of views, approaches and methods.

It would be handy IMHO if that were to be a role of (at least some of) the new climate $ in the President’s budget proposal. I can imagine a multi-stakeholder group at the regional level asking questions like “what do we want from climate models to help us plan mitigation and adaptation strategies?”. How can we use our local and regional knowledge as input into the process? What have scientists learned that can be helpful to us, and what else do we need to know?

As it turns out there is quite a bit of literature on co-design and co-production of climate science. You can go into Google Scholar and search on “climate science co-production.” That’s how I found the Alison et al. paper that yielded the Table 2 above.