Bringing it home: management evaluation matters

This spring 2017 semester, members of LCI’s Lab of Landscape Ecology and Conservation Biology (LLECB) have been tasked with exercising their science communication skills by preparing a brief presentation for the lab group with the theme “why my science matters.” After sharing and receiving feedback, presenters have honed their messages and created blog-posts to share their thoughts with a larger audience.

Bringing it home: management evaluation matters

by Martha Sample

A few months ago, I finished up a Master’s in Environmental Sciences and Policy, and defended my thesis on Exotic Conifer Removal in Patagonia, Argentina. Currently, I’m working for LCI on a few research and collaborative planning projects, but I’m also thinking about the future and trying to envision what I want my next (and hopefully more permanent) transition to be. So, when I think about “why my science matters,” I have to first decide how to define my science– is it my specific thesis project? The broader context into which my thesis work fits? The things I aspire to do and accomplish in my career?

Well, I’m not planning on moving to South America, and I’m not terribly interested in pigeon-holing myself into the world of non-native tree plantation management, but my thesis research is also a case study in conservation planning, monitoring, and evaluation: areas of enduring interest and passion for me. So, I want to frame the question of “why my science matters” more as a look into “why what I studied in grad school matters in terms of what I want to focus my career on,” and consider why my research and management interests matter for applied conservation practice.

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During the past few years of this Master’s program, my thesis research dealt specifically with the reasons for- and impacts of- removal of non-native trees in an area where they are considered an invasion threat. But, the aspect of this project that I hope will continue to be ‘my science’ in the future is the role of non-native/invasive species management (as well as other specific ecological challenges) within the framework of conservation planning, and the importance of how we prioritize management interventions in complex social-ecological systems.

So, what’s the connection? One of the rationale for my thesis project was the fact that exotic species management in my study area (Nahuel Huapi National Park in Northern Patagonia, Argentina) appears to be unsuccessful in achieving conservation goals of removing invasive species and restoring native plant populations. I investigated the ecological outcomes of non-native tree removal by evaluating regenerating vegetation, and used that information to quantitatively assess whether or not current approaches had been successful in achieving the park’s management goals.

Though specific to the park where I worked, my project objectives related to much bigger questions about the monitoring and evaluation of conservation management that could (and should) be applied anywhere. Essentially: Is it worth it? Is this furthering ecological conservation? Are the environmental benefits equal to or greater than the costs incurred? Are there other management issues that are more pressing, or where dollars spent would make more positive impact? Or where successful outcomes would be more likely? Are there social issues that take precedence environmental concerns?

These questions are all the more relevant in socio-economic climates where funding for conservation (or just funding in general) is scarce (e.g. developing economies like Argentina, or Trump America) and our one certainty as conservationists is that we will not be able to do everything we hope to. Faced with limited resources, any action can benefit from intentional planning before the fact, as well as monitoring, evaluation, and willingness to adapt management based on outcomes. Making sure that we are being as effective as we can be (while learning from mistakes along the way) ensures that we get the biggest bang for our conservation buck, and encourages stakeholders and the general public to place confidence in land managers and the research that informs their decisions.

The author wades through a sea of Scotch Broom onsite in Nahuel Huapi National Park. Broom is an aggressive invasive shrub that dominates many disturbed areas in the park, like those where exotic conifer trees have been removed.

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