The way Dan Perlman sees it, Noah had it easy: two of each vital species, alighting after the flood was over. Today, the earth's biological legacy is threatend as never before, intensified by the impacts of climate change. But limited resources for environmental protection and conservation means we can't possibly save everything. "Clearly, we need to set priorities," Perlman said at a Lincoln Lecture last month, where he shared new methods for managing multiple biological and social objectives in conservation.
Working with the Sonoran Institute and the joint venture Western Lands and Communities, Perlman, a visiting fellow who teaches conservation biology and ecology at Brandeis University, has posed the question of what is most important on a site-specific basis. Data is important, using GIS and other means, to determine what's at stake -- the land to be conserved, the number of species, existing conditions for working landscapes including agriculture -- but ultimately it's up to multiple local stakeholders to apply community values and sort out what's possible.
At the Monetzuma Land Conservancy in Colorado, a scoresheet was developed to organize the many goals of agricultural land, natural resources, and scenic open space, in judging proposals for donated land or conservation easements. The Morongo Basin Open Space Group, managing the southern California area including Twentynine Palms, the Joshua Tree National Park, and the US Marines Air Ground Combat Center, similarly used voting and discussion to reach consensus -- down to such details as whether mountain mahogany outranks sagebrush as a conservation priority. "There was a lot of horse-trading going on," Perlman said.
A big-picture approach is necessary, he said, to move on from simply identifying species, for example, deemed to be important -- an expensive endeavor. Saving the clasping leaf doll's daisy costs $58,000 per year, the California condor $5 million, the Pacific salmon $80 million, and the whooping crane $125 million. The money runs out and the species towards the bottom of the checklist are out of luck. "We have to think on multiple levels," said Perlman, whose EcoLibrary site includes a library of images of ecosystems worldwide.
The full video of the lecture is available here.