Tag Archives: ecology

My Public Comment on “Review of Certain National Monuments Established Since 1996”

Wind Whistle Rock in Bears Ears National Monument. Photo by Tim D. Peterson, from: http://wilderness.org/photo-gallery-utahs-bears-ears-region-natural-cultural-treasure Wind Whistle Rock in Bears Ears National Monument. Photo by Tim D. Peterson, from: http://wilderness.org/photo-gallery-utahs-bears-ears-region-natural-cultural-treasure

The Department of the Interior is currently conducting a review of 27 National Monuments. This review may lead to recommendations to alter their status, size, or eliminate them entirely. In fact, the review of Bears Ears National Monument has already led Secretary Zinke to recommend a reduction in its size.

The public comment period is open until July 10th. Comments can be submitted online by clicking “Comment Now.”

Here is my comment.


National Monuments and other protected lands are part of our national heritage. The proud tradition of preserving these ecological and culturally important lands has made the United States a model nation for conservation around the world. From Giant Sequoia to Bears Ears, National Monuments not only preserve crucial ecological services, but also provide tangible economic and cultural benefits to neighboring communities. By setting aside National Monuments, the U.S. has used the precautionary principle appropriately to preserve our most precious and irreplaceable resources: biodiversity, healthy watersheds, gorgeous landscapes, and culturally significant treasures. National Monuments also serve as a boon for local economies, drawing tourists and generating revenues. By offering abundant opportunities for recreation, Americans and international tourists alike can refresh their minds and bodies in nature.

Modifying National Monuments to temper regulations, reduce their acreage, or eliminate them would jeopardize these benefits. Such changes could put these ecologically and culturally valuable lands at risk of development, disturbance or loss of wildlife, degradation of ecosystem services, and erosion of local tourism revenues. Boundary changes to protected lands in the United States and around the world have been studied as part of an effort to understand the legal changes that Downgrade (temper regulations), Downsize (reduce), and Degazette (eliminate) protected areas. Such legal changes are known as PADDD (Protected Area Downgrading, Downsizing, and Degazettement) events (Mascia and Pailler 2011). Research to date has shown that PADDD events are primarily driven by industrial scale-extraction and development (Mascia et al. 2014) and can lead to accelerated deforestation (Forrest et al. 2015).

Peer-reviewed research has demonstrated that reducing the size of protected areas can have tangible and long-lasting ecological consequences. A study analyzing the downsizing history of Yosemite National Park (Golden Kroner et al. 2016) demonstrates that forests which were removed from the National Park and transferred to private landowners (in 1905 and 1906) are now more highly fragmented by roads today than forests which remain protected – either within Yosemite National Park or as Wilderness Areas nearby. Forest fragmentation is a well-understood threat to global biodiversity, contributing, among other impacts, to population isolation, edge effects, and reduced diversity and abundance of sensitive species. Research on Yosemite National Park shows the legacy effect that the reduction of a protected area can have for ecological consequences. Notably, this work also demonstrates the benefits of federal-level protected areas and their potential to effectively preserve large tracts of land and watersheds for generations.

Given the importance of and benefits provided by National Monuments, coupled with the potential consequences of change, I urge the Department of Interior to preserve the 27 National Monuments that are under review and avoid tempering their regulations, reducing them in size, or eliminating them.

• Golden Kroner, Rachel E., Roopa Krithivasan, and Michael B. Mascia. 2016. Effects of Protected Area Downsizing on Habitat Fragmentation in Yosemite National Park (USA), 1864 – 2014. Ecology and Society 21(3).
• Forrest, Jessica L., Michael B. Mascia, Sharon Pailler, et al. 2015. Tropical Deforestation and Carbon Emissions from Protected Area Downgrading, Downsizing, and Degazettement (PADDD). Conservation Letters 8(3): 153–161.
• Mascia, Michael B., and Sharon Pailler. 2011. Protected Area Downgrading, Downsizing, and Degazettement (PADDD) and Its Conservation Implications. Conservation Letters 4(1): 9–20.
• Mascia, Michael B., Sharon Pailler, Roopa Krithivasan, et al. 2014. Protected Area Downgrading, Downsizing, and Degazettement (PADDD) in Africa, Asia, and Latin America and the Caribbean, 1900–2010. Biological Conservation 169: 355–361.


New study: Effects of protected area downsizing on habitat fragmentation in Yosemite National Park

yosemite image

The centennial of the National Park Service’s provides an opportunity to reflect on the history of parks and prepare for the next 100 years.                                                                                                                                                               Image: http://www.wallpaperup.com/153388/Yosemite_National_Park_waterfall_forest_mountains.html

My colleagues and I just published a new study in Ecology and Society highlighting 150 years of history of Yosemite National Park. We documented seven legal changes that altered the boundaries of the park – both reductions and additions. We found that Yosemite lost 30% of its original area from when it was established in 1890. We also found that some lands which were removed from the park were subsequently re-protected as wilderness due to the passage of the 1964 Wilderness Act. Forests which were downsized from Yosemite and remain unprotected are more highly fragmented by roads today. Higher road density indicates that the ecosystems are more degraded. Roads may also inhibit migration as species attempt to adapt to climate change.

Coverage of this story can be found on Human Nature, Mongabay, and VICE.  

This piece is part of a broader research effort on protected area downgrading, downsizing, and degazettement (PADDD) which focuses on legal changes to protected areas around the world.  Learn more at PADDDtracker.org and follow @PADDDtracker on twitter.

New study: protected areas conserve mangroves and avoid blue carbon emissions

Kate Fuller (Marine Photobank) http://www.grida.no/photolib/detail/young-red-mangrove-tree-in-the-benner-bay-mangrove-marine-sanctuary-virgin-islands_5c521

Mangroves are an important storehouse of carbon. Source: Kate Fuller (Marine Photobank) http://www.grida.no/photolib/detail/young-red-mangrove-tree-in-the-benner-bay-mangrove-marine-sanctuary-virgin-islands_5c521

What’s a good strategy to combat climate change and save species simultaneously? One possible approach is to focus on protecting lands that store lots of carbon and that also provide excellent habitat. A flagship example of this type of ecosystem is the mighty mangrove. Mangroves provide an incredible wealth of ecosystem services: they serve as habitat for species, and even protect coastal areas from storms. Mangrove root structures offer unique underwater habitat, safeguarding breeding grounds for fish that local people depend on. Furthermore, these coastal ecosystems store a vast wealth of carbon. The carbon that is stored in mangroves (and other coastal and marine areas) is known as blue carbon. The carbon isn’t actually blue, of course. The term blue carbon is used to distinguish the carbon stored in coastal ecosystems from that stored in terrestrial ones. Blue carbon is found worldwide and is perhaps an underappreciated part of a solution to combat global climate change.

Global distribution of blue carbon. http://thebluecarboninitiative.org/category/about/blue-carbon/


Using policies, how can we harness the power of mangroves to store carbon and deliver climate mitigation benefits (not to mention climate adaptation benefits such as buffering from storms)? One approach is to set aside mangroves as protected areas. By drawing boundaries around mangrove habitats and preventing coastal development, perhaps we can realize some additional benefits in the form of blue carbon storage. This approach is worth investigating: are protected areas actually effective at preserving mangroves that store carbon? The first study to examine this question was published this week in Ecological Economics (Miteva et al. 2015). Miteva and her team used a quasi-experimental approach, incorporating matching and difference-in-differences methods. These approaches take into consideration the non-random locations of protected areas on the landscape. Simply comparing protected to unprotected areas would not yield accurate estimates of the causal effects of protected areas. Using matching (with both covariates and propensity scores in this case) allowed researchers to compare “apples to apples,” comparing villages that were protected with similar villages that were unprotected.

The researchers used covariates, factors correlated both with the treatments and outcomes, to select appropriate control villages. The covariates they chose included: the distance to markets (ports and cities), agricultural suitability proxies (length of rivers, slope, elevation), and socio-economic factors (e.g. poverty). They also examined how both marine protected areas (MPAs) and species management areas (SMAs) fared in terms of effectiveness. After completing a series of different statistical manipulations and robustness checks, Miteva and her team demonstrated unequivocally that overall, protected areas were significantly effective. In particular, MPAs were effective at reducing mangrove loss from both 2000 to 2006 and 2000 to 2010. However, species management areas were less effective – they did not have a significant effect during either time period.

mangrove pa

Overall, the mangroves that were not lost because of the policy intervention of protected areas stored 13 million megatons of carbon emissions. According to the researchers’ estimates, this is equivalent to $544 million (using the social cost of carbon) and equal to taking 344,000 cars off of the road. This study is an excellent contribution to the literature, as it is the only and most current large scale evaluation of protected areas’ impacts on blue carbon. One suggestion to improve future evaluation studies is to include or control for the effects of additional policies, including changes to protected areas and other conservation interventions. At least seven known policies have changed the size or status of protected areas in Indonesia, many of which have affected coastal protected areas (see PADDDtracker.org). Although the known number of instances of protected area downgrading, downsizing, and degazettement (PADDD) events is low in this nation, it is possible that there are many other undiscovered instances. It is important for researchers to continue to explore and document these changes and consider them in analyses. If considered carefully, the incorporation of protected area dynamics could offer new insights to the evaluation literature and improve estimates of protected area performance. 

Instances of protected area downgrading, downsizing, and degazettement (PADDD) in Indonesia. http://www.padddtracker.org/countries/IDN

Instances of protected area downgrading, downsizing, and degazettement (PADDD) in Indonesia. Key: green = downsizing,; orange = degazettement; yellow highlight = proposed PADDD. http://www.padddtracker.org/countries/IDN


Miteva, D. A., B. C. Murray, and S. K. Pattanayak. 2015. Do protected areas reduce blue carbon emissions? A quasi-experimental evaluation of mangroves in Indonesia. Ecological Economics 119:127–135. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0921800915003419

Perspectives on Lion Trophy Hunting

Cecil the Lion. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/zimbabwe/11764395/Zimbabwes-favourite-lion-Cecil-killed-by-hunter-from-North-America.html

Cecil the Lion. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/zimbabwe/11764395/Zimbabwes-favourite-lion-Cecil-killed-by-hunter-from-North-America.html

The recent outrage over the illegal hunting of Cecil the Lion reminded me of an analysis I compiled in 2013 about African lion tourism. A thorough review of the literature at the time demonstrated that the story of trophy hunting for lions is not straightforward as many make it out to be. Yes, the moral argument is clear – hunting of a majestic, endangered animal is wrong. However, the conservation science and sustainability argument is more complex. The income generated from hunting lions may be significant. Hunting a lion for sport costs a tourist between $24,000 and $71,000 – the highest price for any trophy animal. In theory, much of this funding should be directed to the local communities and habitat conservation which should promote the protection of lions and other creatures. However, this element of the argument becomes murky – there are many unknowns about the particulars of the funding streams from the tourists to the local communities. Corruption and private entities may get in the way and the funds may be funneled into the wrong hands. More in-depth economics research is needed to accurately identify and quantify the funding generated from trophy hunting. I fear, however, that research in this particular area would be met with many obstacles, including opaque, non-transparent bureaucratic barriers and perhaps danger to the researcher. We do know a few important facts and figures, however, about lion tourism to date. The excerpt from this report discusses the “No-Hunting” and the “Southern African” models of wildlife management. The no-hunting model is implemented in India and Kenya; wildlife hunting is banned. In the Southern African model (as examined here in South Africa and Tanzania), however, hunting – including trophy hunting – is allowed. Wildlife tourism, both consumptive (e.g. hunting) and non-consumptive (e.g. photography), contribute to the Southern African economy.

Want to know more about the specifics of lion ecology and tourism? Read on.


African Lion (Panthera leo leo)

The African lion (Panthera leo leo) is an iconic predator whose populations have been declining for the past 50 years due to habitat loss and human-wildlife conflict.  Lions depend on large swaths of habitat and prey including zebras, wildebeest, and springbok. They live in prides of four to six members, which consist of related females and their cubs as well as a dominant male. Females hunt and raise young communally. Typically, lions live in open woodlands or scrub and grass complexes where sufficient cover is provided for hunting and denning.  They are found in most countries in eastern and southern Africa, yet they survive in only 22% of their historical range (IUCN 2006a,b; Bauer 2008).

Current and historic range map of the African lion. Source: Panthera 2009.

Current and historic range map of the African lion. Source: Panthera 2009.

Population Status

African lions live on both protected and private lands, although there are fewer lions outside protected areas than in the past. In 1990, 75% of African lions lived outside protected areas, while in 2002, 50% did (Ferreras and Cousins 1996, Chardonnet 2002). This decline may be attributed to high levels of human-wildlife conflict on unprotected lands.

African lions have been listed on the IUCN Red list  as Vulnerable since 1996.  Recent estimates suggest that the lion population has undergone a 30% to 50% reduction over the past two decades with current estimates ranging from 23,000 to 39,000 (IUCN 2012)

Figure 14: Population trend of the African lion. Sources (in chronological order): Myers 1975 (1950 and 1975); Ferreras and Cousins 1996; Nowell and Jackson; Chardonnet 2002; Bauer and VanderMerwe 2004; IUCN 2012; Riggio et al. 2012.

Population trend of the African lion. Sources (in chronological order): Myers 1975 (1950 and 1975); Ferreras and Cousins 1996; Nowell and Jackson; Chardonnet 2002; Bauer and VanderMerwe 2004; IUCN 2012; Riggio et al. 2012.

The African lion is listed on CITES II, which allows international trade with an export permit.  In 2004, a proposal to transfer the lion from CITES II to CITES I (and restrict all international trade) was denied. This meeting drew national attention to the lion population decline and prompted IUCN to organize regional workshops in Africa to assess the status of lion conservation.

Trophy hunting


Walter Palmer and associate with Cecil. http://nymag.com/scienceofus/2015/07/what-drives-trophy-hunters-like-walter-palmer.html

Trophy hunting is permitted in South Africa and Tanzania, but not in Kenya.  Hunting quotas are established by wildlife departments, typically based on rough population estimates (Baker 1997). Trophy hunting of lions generates significant income for local communities, which is attributed to its high market value. Lions attract the highest prices of all trophy species, on average $24,000 – $71,000 (Lindsey et al. 2012). Lions contribute 5-17% to trophy hunting incomes in each country. Trophy hunting tourists contribute additional revenue including fees to hunt other animals, lodging, and transportation.

Lion trophy hunting was recently banned in Botswana; studies have shown that this ban cost the trophy hunting industry 10% of total revenues (US$1.26 million) and has adversely affected community conservation efforts (Lindsey Roulet 2006, Peake, 2004b). A ban on trophy hunting may confer additional costs or losses of revenue to other tourism providers, such as the hotel and wildlife watching industries.

However, trophy hunting may impact population dynamics of lions. Loveridge et al. found that trophy hunters typically target males and therefore skew sex ratios in favor of adult females. As males are removed from the population, males from outside the pride replace them and may commit infanticide (2007).  Interestingly, in certain countries such as South Africa, up to 90% of lions hunted for sport are captive bred (Damm 2005). Lindsey et al. also suggest that the captive-bred hunting industry in South Africa has grown while the number of wild lions hunted has declined (2012).

Local Perceptions and Threats

Lion-livestock conflict a reality for local farmers. http://cml.leiden.edu/news/livestock-depredation-lions.html

Lion-livestock conflict a reality for local farmers. http://cml.leiden.edu/news/livestock-depredation-lions.html

In general, local people perceive lions as a threat to their livelihoods and income-generating opportunities. Lions may prey on livestock, attack people, or otherwise reduce available land for human settlement (Abe et al. 2003).  Lion conservation efforts have not historically involved local communities until recently.  A 2006 IUCN workshop found that local communities support lion conservation actions given that they are given a stake in management.

Threats to lions include poisoning, trapping, and shooters by farmers and herders, habitat loss and fragmentation, scarcity of wild prey, and inbreeding/small populations, improperly managed trophy hunting (Bauer 2008, Trinkel et al 2010). Although habitat fragmentation is listed as a threat, a recent study suggests that lions residing within fenced reserves maintain populations closer to carrying capacity and require $500/Km2 annually for management, while lions in unfenced reserves maintain much lower densities and over $2000/km2 for management (Packer et al. 2013). This suggests that physical separation of lions from human settlements via fences mitigates conflict, reduces management costs and may prevent further declines.

Root causes of these threats include human population growth, expanding settlement, poverty, and armed conflict which prevents tourism and enables wildlife poaching and illegal trade. Illegal hunting and trade is another issue for African lions. Although comprehensive data sets do not exist, illegal trade in cubs, skins, and body parts is common. Wares are exported to Asia, typically for use in traditional medicine and souvenirs. Illegal hunting and trade persist due to ineffective law enforcement  and lack of motivation (IUCN 2006).

Proposed Listing of the Lion on the ESA

In 2011, a group of conservation organizations (IFAW, the Humane Society of the United States, Humane Society International, Born Free and Defenders of Wildlife) submitted a proposal to list the African lion on the Endangered Species Act.  If passed, import of trophy lions into the US would be banned (except for imports that enhance the species’ propagation or scientific purposes).  The proposal claims that trophy hunting is unsustainable and contributing to severe declines of the lion populations (Place et al. 2011).  The proposal also states that existing regulatory mechanisms such as CITES are inadequate to conserve the species, and that a US listing would attract international attention for the species.  Lindsey et al. 2012 suggest that the reduction of hunting by American tourists would be detrimental to communities that rely on trophy hunting funds to control lion populations and combat poaching. Additional studies have offered alternative actions which may make trophy hunting more sustainable including reducing quotas, improving oversight to prevent illegal activities and setting restrictions to allow for shooting of only the oldest male lions (Loveridge and Macdonald 2002, Whitman et al. 2004, Packer et al. 2011).  As of April 2013, this proposed listing has undergone a public comment period and is under a 12 month review by the USFWS.

African lion conservation: A comparison between models

This case study can be used to compare the effectiveness of the South African (for Tanzania) and No-Hunting (for Kenya) models in terms of their ability to support populations of African lions that generate revenues for local communities.  The lion range in Tanzania covers 92% of the country, 45% of which is located inside protected areas (Mesochina et al. 2010). Tanzania has the largest lion population in Africa (estimated at 16,800 individuals) and is first in terms of lion trophy hunting; about 200 lions are legally harvested each year. This figure does not include illegal harvests (Mesochina et al 2010).  Due to the lack of robust data, it is unknown whether lion populations in Tanzania are declining, stable, or increasing.

The director of wildlife for the Tanzanian Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism recently published an op-ed the New York Times speaking out against the proposed ESA listing (Songorwa 2013). Songorwa wrote that lion hunters pay $9,800 to hunt lions; an average of $1,960,000 (60% of the trophy hunting market) is generated each year (Songorwa 2013).  Listing the species on the ESA and concurrent loss of this revenue would be detrimental to conservation efforts and game reserves in Tanzania.

By contrast, habitat available for lions in Kenya covers less than half of the country  (KWS 2008).  Kenya has been losing 100 lions per year for the past seven years, leaving the country with just 2000 individuals (Barley 2009). At this rate, lions will go extinct in Kenya within 20 years. Lion populations are crashing due to habitat destruction and conflicts with humans. Many rural Kenyan communities are killing lions by poisoning animal carcasses with a pesticide, Carbofuran, which can be purchased over the counter (Mynott 2008).

Furthermore, hunting is prohibited in Kenya and no revenues are generated from trophy hunting. Lions, however, bring in significant revenues from ecotourism.  Annually, Kenya’s 2000 remaining lions could be worth $17,000 each, or $34 million total, in the ecotourism sector (Barley 2009). The beneficiaries of lion tourism include the government and private tourism operators;  however, these stakeholders are not living alongside lions everyday. Landowners who live near lions are more in control of their populations, but do not receive financial benefits and hence do not have the incentive to conserve them (Nelson 2012).

It is difficult to conclude which model (the Southern African or the No-Hunting) is working better for lions based simply on the model itself, but based on lion population abundance and trends, funds generated, and social support, lions are faring better in Tanzania than they are in Kenya. Tanzania has a larger population of lions, is experiencing less steep declines, and generates revenues from both trophy hunting and ecotourism. Tanzania also has more protected areas which means that there is less direct contact between people and lions. However, threats to the lion persist despite the model.  An inclusion of additional countries within the Southern African model could allow for more robust comparisons.


References and the full text of the paper “Comparisons of national wildlife management strategies: what works, where and why?” can be found here. Authored by Rachel Golden, Shalynn Pack, and Ashley Walker.

Do you have updated facts and figures on status or policies related to African lions? Please comment!