Community conservation: ‘HIMBY’ not ‘NIMBY’

Posted by Margaret Stanley @mc_stanley1

I recently participated in a community conservation forum, when a community engagement colleague coined the acronym ‘HIMBY’. I was exasperated by what I perceived as the community not being able to see the ‘big picture’ of evidence-based strategy around pest management and restoration.

 “It’s the opposite of NIMBY [Not In My BackYard]” she said. “It HAS to be In My BackYard – HIMBY”. And she’s dead right. This particular scenario is increasingly raising its head as community groups voraciously compete for conservation funding and action.

Of course we desperately need highly activated communities to be engaged in conservation and restoration. We can enhance biodiversity over a larger area with limited resources when community groups and volunteers give their time and energy for free. It’s also important to have place-based conservation – this allows a sense of ownership and community buy-in that allows sustainability of people and groups over time. Ecologists have long since recognised that ecological science alone won’t solve conservation problems, and social science and community partnership is a critical cog in the conservation wheel.

However, we also need to remind our communities about the risks of ‘HIMBY’ and community-based conservation. One of the major risks of a national emphasis on community-based conservation is that funding could be diverted away from areas that don’t have people – then we could end up in a situation where much of our conservation action is not taking place on land that is representative of different ecosystem types/biodiversity. In fact, we know that community conservation is biased towards coastal forest ecosystems, where people are concentrated.

At a local level, where funding and resources are prioritised and allocated within regions or cities, ‘HIMBY’ is alive and well. Community groups within cities/regions are understandably vying for resources. However, prioritisation of pest management must incorporate more than community activation. Firstly, it must be cost-effective and have preventative outcomes, rather than the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff. We should prioritise prevention. The Treasure Islands programme which funds pathway biosecurity to prevent pest invasion on Hauraki Gulf Islands both 1) protects assets with previous large investment in removing pests (e.g. Rangitoto-Motutapu Islands) and 2) prevents new invasions, thereby saving money in the long term. We know how cost-effective it is in medicine to vaccinate rather than belatedly treat the disease.

Given the impacts of Aotearoa-New Zealand’s invasion debt, we have to continue to ‘treat the disease’ and reduce pests and restore habitat. But the ‘where’ should be decided strategically. Yes, the degree to which a community is activated is a key factor in prioritisation along with other cultural and societal factors, but ecological factors (beyond our backyards), such as level of pest infestation, the value of the conservation assets within sites, and habitat connectivity, should be key factors in deciding where conservation actions should take place to achieve the best outcomes for biodiversity across the city or region.


Invasion Curve Animation  – explains the principles of prioritization for pest management based on cost-effectiveness (You Tube: ‘ Invasion Curve Animation Biosecurity Council of WA’).

Although we’re primed as humans to be highly attached to ‘our backyard’ and want the best outcomes for it, we need to see the wood for the trees. This is why larger-scale conservation visions, such as the North-West Wildlink and Cape to City are becoming increasingly important. If we can all buy into the larger landscape scale conservation vision, then we will be willing to see that the priorities for action/$$ spent might not be in our backyard, but over the fence, in someone else’s backyard. We’ll also understand that by taking action in the neighbour’s backyard, we will benefit from the biodiversity spilling over into our backyard.

Time to look up from our backyards and take on the larger vision.

Dedicated to the champion work of conservation staff within agencies engaging with communities, and also to those champion activators within our communities, rallying people to conservation action!

Margaret Stanley

Dr Margaret Stanley is an Associate Professor in Ecology, School of Biological Sciences, University of Auckland. Most of her research is applied ecology, working to improve outcomes for biodiversity.

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If a tree falls in the forest, and no one hears it…

The demise of long-term population monitoring

Posted by Margaret Stanley @mc_stanley1

“Is there any evidence that an introduced insect – other than a social insect – has caused the decline of a native species in New Zealand?”

A feeling of total frustration and helplessness came over me when I heard those words – while standing before an EPA panel deciding whether to allow a generalist insect predator into New Zealand for biocontrol of a crop pest.

The answer to this is “no”. The frustration comes from the fact that we have no evidence, because there is no long-term monitoring of native insect populations in New Zealand. The Dept. of Conservation (DoC) may have data for a few threatened species (perhaps wetapunga?), but not for common insect species – those that might follow the fate of the passenger pigeon if an additional invasive predator is the thing that tips the balance for that population. The example I gave the EPA in answer to that question was anecdotal – the decline of our native mantis as a result of the invasive South African mantis. There’s certainly no long-term population monitoring that has picked up the demise of the native mantis.

The lack of long-term monitoring for non-charismatic species (e.g. bees) has also been lamented in Europe lately, where a massive decline of insects in Germany over the last few decades has been detected by the Krefeld Entomological Society: a group of mostly amateur entomologists, recording insects since 1905. They have recorded declines of up to 80% since the early 1980s – that’s a lot of bird food (if you care only for vertebrates!).

biodviersity weather station

Plans for long-term biodiversity monitoring in Germany (Vogel 2007)

Changes in science funding over the last few decades, and the vagaries of politics, means that long-term population monitoring is no longer ‘sexy’ and not worthy of funding (‘Cinderella Science’: unloved and underpaid). These types of datasets are difficult to maintain because they exceed cycles of funding and government administration. In New Zealand we now lament the loss of amazing datasets that have provided the foundation and impetus for some amazing science around ecology, conservation and pest control: e.g. the Orongorongo Valley dataset, and the long term monitoring of wasps, pests and birds in Nelson.

beech seed

Seedfall of hinau and hard beech trees in the Orongorongo Valley 1968-1991 (Fitzgerald & Gibb 2001)

DoC and some councils do undertake regular biodiversity monitoring where they can, but on a reduced number of taxa (usually birds and vegetation), not often at a population level (except for threatened species), and the data are often held within these organisations, rather than open access sites. Some scientists also try to sneak in a long-term monitoring project where their (often unfunded) time and resources allow.

Instead, community groups in New Zealand, those groups undertaking pest control and restoring ecosystems, are taking up the slack in long-term ecological monitoring. At least for vegetation and birds, they are the ones undertaking regular and long-term monitoring via vegetation plots and bird counts. There is also the rise of citizen science – with large numbers of people recording biodiversity: counting kereru and garden birds. Although scientists are doing what they can to give community groups technical advice, and make citizen science more robust, will the data being collected be robust enough to understand how disturbance, invasion, and climate change are affecting biodiversity? Community restoration often takes place primarily where people are (close to urban centres), and restoration projects are dominated by lowland coastal forest ecosystems. Hardly representative of New Zealand’s ecosystems.

Needless to say, there was great excitement within the ecological/entomological community with the initiation of NZ’s National Science Challenges. The idea was mooted that we could have a Long Term Ecological Research network (LETR) like that funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) in the USA. This network of sites provides the research platforms and long-term datasets necessary to document and analyse environmental change. There are numerous papers that summarise the benefits of long-term ecological datasets, such as: (1) quantifying and understanding how ecosystems respond to change; (2) understanding complex ecosystem processes that occur over long time periods; (3) providing core ecological data to develop, parameterise and validate theoretical and simulation models; (4) acting as platforms for collaborative, transdisciplinary research; and (5) providing data and understanding at scales relevant to management (Lindenmayer et al. 2012). Surely gaining an in-depth understanding of New Zealand populations and ecosystems over time would allow us to understand their resilience to the effects of long-term and large-scale drivers like climate change, and even the effects of new invasive species, such as myrtle rust?

However, it was not to be. And although citizen science and community monitoring is valuable in its own right for specific purposes, it doesn’t allow us to respond to the opening salvo.

If an insect goes extinct in the forest, will anyone know?

Postscript: The EPA decided not to allow import of the predatory insect – not so much because the ecological risk was perceived to be particularly high – but the industry benefits were seen as too low relative to the risk.

 

MargaretDr Margaret Stanley is a Senior Lecturer in Ecology, School of Biological Sciences, University of Auckland and is the programme director of the Masters in Biosecurity and Conservation. Her interests in terrestrial community ecology are diverse, but can be grouped into three main research strands: urban ecology; invasion ecology; and plant-animal interactions.