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Conservation in Practice 1270 Conservation Biology, Pages 1270–1275 Volume 17, No. 5, October 2003 A Checklist for Wildlands Network Designs REED F. NOSS The Wildlands Project and Department of Biology, University of Central Florida, Orlando, FL 32816–2368, email Abstract: Systematic conservation planning requires rigorous methods. Methodological rigor and scientific defensibility are enhanced by conceptual frameworks, standards, and criteria for guiding and ev
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   Conservation in Practice   1270  Conservation Biology, Pages 1270–1275 Volume 17, No. 5, October 2003   A Checklist for Wildlands Network Designs  REED F. NOSS  The Wildlands Project and Department of Biology, University of Central Florida, Orlando, FL 32816–2368,email   Abstract:  Systematic conservation planning requires rigorous methods. Methodological rigor and scientific defensibility are enhanced by conceptual frameworks, standards, and criteria for guiding and evaluating in- dividual plans. The Wildlands Project is developing wildlands network designs in various regions across North America, based on the goals of rewilding—restoration of wilderness qualities and intact food webs—and biodiversity conservation. The project employs such modern conservation planning tools as spatially ex-  plicit habitat and population models and site-selection algorithms. I created a checklist to assist staff, contrac- tors, and cooperators with the Wildlands Project in the development of regional conservation assessmentsand wildlands network designs that are consistent with currently accepted standards for science-based con-  servation planning. The checklist also has proven useful in the peer review of plans. The checklist consists of eight general standards, each of which includes several specific criteria that relate to the qualifications of  staff, choice of biodiversity surrogates and goals, methodological comprehensiveness and rigor, replicability,analytic rigor, peer review, and overall quality of scholarship. Application of the checklist is meant to be flex- ible and to encourage creativity and innovation. Nevertheless, every plan must be scientifically defensibleand must make the best use of available data, staff, and resources. Moreover, some degree of consistency is re- quired to link individual plans together into a continental-scale network. The checklist may provide a tem-  plate that other conservation organizations, agencies, scientists, and activists can adapt to their programs.  Key Words:  biodiversity, conservation planning, focal species, representation, reserve design, site selection, wildlandsLista de Control para el Diseño de Redes de Tierras Silvestres  Resumen:   La planeación de conservación sistemática requiere de métodos rigurosos. El rigor metodológico y la defensibilidad científica son reforzadas por marcos conceptuales, normas y criterios para guiar y eval- uar planes individuales. El Proyecto Wildlands está desarrollando diseños de redes de tierras silvestres envarias regiones de Norteamérica, con base en metas de restauración de cualidades silvestres y redes alimenti- cias intactas y conservación de la biodiversidad. El proyecto emplea muchas de las herramientas modernasde planeación de conservación tales como modelos de hábitat y poblaciones espacialmente explícitos y al-  goritmos de selección de sitios. Compuse una lista de control para asistir al personal, contratistas y colabora- dores del Proyecto Wildlands en el desarrollo de valoraciones regionales de conservación y en el diseño de re- des de tierras silvestres que son consistentes con las normas de planeación científica de conservaciónaceptadas actualmente. La lista de control también ha sido útil para la revisión por pares de los planes. Lalista contiene ocho normas generales, cada una de las cuales incluye varios criterios específicos que se rela- cionan con la capacitación del personal, selección de substitutos y metas de biodiversidad, comprensión yrigor metodológico, replicabilidad, rigor analítico, revisión por pares y calidad general de escolaridad. Laaplicación de la lista es flexible y alienta la creatividad e innovación. Sin embargo, cada plan debe ser cientí-  ficamente defendible y debe hacer el mejor uso de datos disponibles, personal y recursos. Más aun, se re- quiere de cierto nivel de consistencia para ligar los planes individuales a una red de escala continental. Lalista puede proporcionar un templete que otras organizaciones, agencias, científicos y activistas puedenadaptar a sus programas de conservación.  Palabras Clave: biodiversidad, planeación de conservación, especies focales, representación, diseño de reservas, selección de sitios, tierras silvestres   Paper submitted November 11, 2002; revised manuscript accepted March 28, 2003.   Conservation Biology  Volume 17, No. 5, October 2003    NossChecklist for Reserve Design   1271  Introduction   As broad-scale conservation planning evolves, efforts areunderway to make the process more systematic, scientif-ically defensible, and rigorous. These efforts include theestablishment of conceptual frameworks for planningand the setting of standards and criteria to guide andevaluate individual plans (Groves et al. 2000, 2002; Mar-gules & Pressey 2000; Poiani et al. 2000). Although con-servation biologists recognize that each case study is inmany ways unique, there are enough commonalitiesamong cases that a degree of standardization of planningmethodology is useful. Here I present a checklist usedby a conservation organization, the Wildlands Project,for quality control of its regional wildlands network de-signs (WNDs).The Wildlands Project is a long-term effort to protectand restore the ecological integrity of North America.Most of the planning thus far has taken place in the western United States and Canada, northern Mexico,and the northeastern United States and Canadian mari-time provinces. Formed in 1991, the Wildlands Projecthas involved a mixture of scientists and activists commit-ted to ambitious, long-term conservation (Foreman et al.1992; Noss 1992). Compared with other conservationgroups, the project places more emphasis on maintain-ing, buffering, and connecting existing wilderness areas;“rewilding” landscapes that have been compromised by such factors as habitat fragmentation and loss of largecarnivores and natural disturbance regimes; and com-municating the ecological values of wilderness (Soulé & Noss 1998; Soulé & Terborgh 1999; Foreman et al.2000  a  , 2000  b   ). As a means to the end of rewilding North America, the Wildlands Project has consistently invoked the concept of a continental-scale network of core reserves connected by broad habitat linkages (Noss 1992; Soulé & Terborgh 1999).The continental-scale network, in turn, is composed of alinked system of regional-scale WNDs, most of which areorganized into subcontinental “megalinkages.” Protectingand restoring populations of large carnivores and other po-tential umbrella and keystone species has been a dominanttheme of all WNDs. Reconciling the rewilding approach, with its emphasis on carnivores, other large animals, andbroad-scale natural processes, with the more traditionalmethods of biodiversity conservation has been one of thegreatest challenges for the Wildlands Project, but it is also what distinguishes its approach from that of most other conservation groups (Soulé & Noss 1998). The current WND methodology integrates three general approaches toconservation planning that, in the past, usually have beenapplied separately: (1) protection of special elements; (2)representation of environmental variation; and (3) conser- vation of focal species (see Noss et al. 1999, 2002). Moreinformation on the Wildlands Project can be obtainedfrom the website: checklist presented below has proven useful for guiding the development of WNDs along scientifically defensible paths and for assuring some consistency among WNDs developed for different regions. In addi-tion, the checklist provides a practical and convenientmeans for peer reviewing WNDs. For example, thechecklist was used to peer review a plan for the state of Maine (Long et al. 2002) and resulted in a revision thatrelied on more-defensible species-habitat models andother biodiversity surrogates than earlier drafts. Thechecklist also guided development of the WND for theNew Mexico highlands (Foreman et al. 2003) and sev-eral other plans in preparation. I present the checklisthere, to a broader audience, without pretense that this isthe one best way to do conservation planning. Rather, Ihope that the general approach and some of the criteriacan be adapted by other scientists, activists, organiza-tions, and agencies involved in regional and continentalconservation planning to help make their demanding jobs somewhat easier.   The Checklist   I created the checklist to help staff, contractors, and co-operators with the Wildlands Project develop regionalconservation assessments and WNDs that are consistent with currently accepted standards for systematic, sci-ence-based conservation planning. The checklist con-sists of eight general standards, each of which includesseveral specific criteria. A plan could fail to meet severalcriteria across standards and still pass the evaluation.Limited time and funding, for example, will result inmany plans falling short in some areas. Nevertheless, fail-ure to meet most of the criteria for one or more generalstandards would suggest that substantial revision is re-quired to improve the plan. For instance, failure to per-form dynamic modeling of population viability for focalspecies would not doom a plan, but failure to state ex-plicit goals, use the best available information to mapsuitable habitat for focal species, conduct a representa-tion assessment, and make the plan available for peer re- view would be unacceptable.The checklist was not designed to establish a rigid setof standards to which all plans must adhere. Indeed, thescience of conservation planning is evolving rapidly andshould not be hemmed in by inflexible rules and proce-dures. The Wildlands Project encourages creativity andinnovation so that the methodology will continue to im-prove. Moreover, regions that differ in their physical en- vironment, biogeography, ecology, and land-use history also will differ in the kinds of analyses and plans appro-priate for them—for example, in the relative weightgiven to protecting existing wildness versus rewildingor to each of the three tracks of special elements, repre-sentation, and focal species. Nevertheless, every plan    1272   Checklist for Reserve DesignNoss  Conservation Biology  Volume 17, No. 5, October 2003  must be scientifically defensible and must make the bestuse of available data, staff, and resources. Some consis-tency across plans is also necessary for their effectiveintegration into a continental-scale design for North  America.(1)Scientists and other experts are intimately in- volved throughout the planning process, from theinitial formulation of goals and hypotheses to thecompletion of the design and, in some cases, itsimplementation.(a) One or more scientists who hold advanced de-grees in conservation biology, ecology, or re-lated fields—or possess equivalent levels of professional experience—are primarily respon-sible for the development of the methodology and identification of the corresponding targets(elements), goals, and hypotheses.(b) Experienced personnel with expertise in geo-graphic information systems, site-selection algo-rithms, habitat suitability, population viability analysis, and other modeling approaches andsoftware conduct the analyses and produce themaps.(c) A qualified scientist from an appropriate disci-pline assumes primary responsibility for inter-preting the data, constructing alternative and fi-nal WNDs, and writing associated reports andarticles.(d) A Ph.D.–level conservation biologist, or some-one with equivalent professional experience,supervises the planning process and has vetopower over the plan.(2)The methodology is rigorous and systematic, withinthe constraints imposed by broad-scale conserva-tion planning, and seeks to address the stated goalsand questions.(a) Goals, objectives, hypotheses, and research questions are all made explicit from the start.Nothing is hidden. In addition, goals are defensi-ble and correspond to the organization’s mis-sion.(b) Goals reflect an emphasis on retaining existing wildness or rewilding, in addition to assuringreasonably comprehensive conservation of biodiversity.(c) Conservation goals are explicit and stated inquantitative terms, such as percentages, area,and predicted population size.(d) Multiple goal scenarios—different combinationsof quantitative goals—are developed and their effects on site selection thoroughly explored.(e) Whenever appropriate, research questions areposed as testable hypotheses and hypothesesare tested rigorously with appropriate statisticaltechniques. Results of hypothesis tests are pre-sented as answers (however provisional) to im-portant conservation questions.(f) Choices about the features to be used as surro-gates for overall biodiversity (i.e., targets) aremade carefully and are well substantiated (Mar-gules & Pressey 2000).(g) Planning units—preferably a hexagonal grid or,alternately, watersheds or other natural units—are of appropriate size to capture relatively homo-geneous segments of a heterogeneous landscapeand are of identical size or fall within a narrow range of sizes (in order to avoid area effects).(3)Methodology includes the three tracks of specialelements, representation, and focal-species analy-sis. In addition, existing or potential threats tobiodiversity are addressed.(a) Special elements selected as targets include im-periled, rare, unique, or otherwise high-value el-ements for which reasonably reliable data areavailable in the study region. Examples includeglobally critically imperiled (G1), imperiled (G2),and vulnerable (G3) species and plant commu-nities recognized by The Nature Conservancy and NatureServe (Noss & Cooperrider 1994;Stein & Davis 2000); endangered taxa listed by other organizations such as governments or the World Conservation Union (IUCN); such criti-cal wildlife sites as bird rookeries, winteringconcentration areas, and migratory staging ar-eas; old-growth forests and other endangeredecosystems; wetlands and watersheds impor-tant for aquatic biodiversity; key sites for the op-eration of ecological processes (e.g., distur-bance initiation and export zones, flood and wind corridors); roadless areas; and sites con-sidered sacred by indigenous peoples.(b) Representation targets include both biotic (e.g., vegetation) and abiotic (e.g., geoclimatic)classes. If possible, vegetation types are strati-fied by the abiotic classes over which they aredistributed so as to capture samples of completeenvironmental gradients. Explicit representa-tion goals are set for each vegetation or biotic/ abiotic type, with higher goals assigned to typesknown to have declined more in area or quality since human settlement (Noss et al. 1995). If available, an aquatic habitat classification isapplied, with goals set for representing each aquatic class at targeted levels (Noss et al. 2002).(c) Focal species include ecologically pivotal spe-cies (e.g., keystone species; Power et al. 1996),area-limited species, dispersal-limited species,resource-limited species, and process-limited   Conservation Biology  Volume 17, No. 5, October 2003    NossChecklist for Reserve Design   1273  species (Lambeck 1997; see also Miller et al.1998/99). The number of focal species selected varies according to regional differences in ecol-ogy and data availability. The set should be rea-sonably comprehensive, but not so large as toencourage superficial treatment. A set of 3–10focal species is probably optimal in most re-gions. Wildlands Project staff members assist inthe selection of focal species.(d) Focal-species modeling includes spatially explicitresource-selection functions (RSFs) (Boyce & McDonald 1999) that apply multiple logistic re-gression or other appropriate statistical tech-niques to link distributional data for each spe-cies to regional-scale predictor variables (e.g.,Mladenoff et al. 1995; Carroll et al. 2001). If dis-tributional data are too limited to produce anRSF for a species, spatially explicit expert or conceptual habitat-suitability models are applied.(e) Focal-species modeling includes dynamic, spa-tially explicit, individual-based models (e.g.,PATCH; Schumaker 1998) that provide predic-tions of population persistence over time, iden-tify potential source and sink areas, allow thedemographic value of individual sites to be as-sessed within a broad geographic context, andpredict the demographic and distributional con-sequences of landscape change. Landscape-change scenarios are based on extrapolation of recent trends but include scenarios of both in-creased development and increased conserva-tion (Noss et al. 2002; Carroll et al. 2003).(f) Indicators of threats to biodiversity are identifiedand mapped, to the extent that available data-bases allow. Potential threat surrogates includesocioeconomic data (e.g., human populationdensity, housing density, grazing leases, timber concessions, road density, mines, pipelines,seismic lines, and specific developments) andprojections into the future; information on ex-otic species, pollution, alteration of natural dis-turbance regimes, and other specific stressors;and indices of landscape pattern (e.g.,fragmentation). These indicators may be com-bined into an overall estimate or index of vul-nerability, which when graphed against biologi-cal irreplaceability can assist in the prioritizationof sites for protection (Margules & Pressey 2000).(4)Methodology is well documented and replicable;studies could be repeated by others.(a) A complete list of targets (surrogates, elements)considered in goal scenarios and applied in siteselection is provided.(b) An appropriate site-selection algorithm (e.g.,SITES [Andelman et al. 1999], Marxan [Ball & Possingham undated] or a comparable simu-lated-annealing algorithm [see Possingham et al.2000]) is employed to identify a set of sites thatefficiently meets stated goals. The algorithmshould be capable of providing several alterna-tive solutions, rather than just a single “best” so-lution.(c) The cost equation of the site-selection algorithmis explicit, easy to interpret, and relatively ro-bust, and it avoids confounding variables. A sen-sitivity analysis is performed for components of the cost equation to evaluate the effects of varia-tion in each parameter on total network cost.(d) Assumptions underlying selection of targets, de- velopment and selection of goal scenarios,other aspects of methodology, and interpreta-tion of results are stated clearly and are justified.(e) Limitations of the methodology and data areclearly acknowledged, with additional research needs identified.(f) Subjective decisions involved in selecting goalscenarios, interpreting results, and applyingprinciples of reserve design to construct net- works are well documented and explained.(g) The methodology, however technical, is de-scribed clearly enough to be understood by anintelligent but nonspecialist conservationreader.(h) All data are retained and can be made availableto others who wish to replicate the study or conduct further analyses. (Exceptions occur incases of high data sensitivity, such as precise lo-cations of endangered species vulnerable to col-lection or persecution.)(5)Interpretation and application of results arecongruent with principles (i.e., empirical generali-zations) of conservation biology, demonstrate agood command of relevant literature and theory,and apply the precautionary principle.(a) The analysis explicitly recognizes the extent to which goals have been met in existing reserves(i.e., includes a gap analysis) and compares thatsituation to the goals achieved by each alterna-tive network and/or each priority class of sites or each class or reserve within the final network.(b) The design of the network is consistent with theprinciples and empirical generalizations of con-servation biology (e.g., Meffe & Carroll 1997;Noss et al. 1997) and is justified rigorously in re-lation to selected targets and goals, such asmaintaining viable populations of focal species.(c) The sites in the final network (the WND) are an-alyzed, ranked, and plotted in terms of their irre-placeability for achieving conservation goalsand their vulnerability to destruction or degra-
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