COS 81-3 - Identifying conservation priorities based on wildland values to inform landscape-scale management in Alaska's changing Arctic

Thursday, August 11, 2016: 2:10 PM
124/125, Ft Lauderdale Convention Center
Timothy J. Fullman1, Jason C. Leppi1, R. Travis Belote2 and Gregory H. Aplet3, (1)The Wilderness Society, Anchorage, AK, (2)The Wilderness Society, Bozeman, MT, (3)The Wilderness Society, Denver, CO

Across the globe, the Arctic is facing some of the most rapid changes in climate and other anthropogenic impacts. Knowing where key wildland values and vulnerabilities occur across landscapes is a first step in developing effective conservation strategies that accommodate changing conditions. Arctic Alaska contains vast pristine areas that remain relatively untrammeled, but due to oil and gas potential the region faces ongoing pressure for development. By recognizing and mapping wildland values and threats, strategies can be created that balance environmental conservation and development. Complicating this goal, however, are the uncertain but imminent impacts of climate change that may alter current values and strategies. We spatially overlay available data to create a quantitative measure of prioritization for the North Slope of Alaska in light of human development and climate change. Five wildland values are considered: wildness, ecosystem representation, wildlife biodiversity, subsistence use, and connectivity. We then use the relationship between wildland values and climate change to inform future management decisions and manage risk due to climate change uncertainty.


Wildness values tend to be high across the North Slope except in the vicinity of communities and the Prudhoe Bay development complex. Analysis of ecosystem representation shows high levels of underrepresented habitat (rare in the current protected area system) in the coastal plain of the National Petroleum Reserve – Alaska. Terrestrial vertebrate species richness tends to be higher along the coast and in riparian corridors. While subsistence activities occur across the study area, they are most strongly concentrated near communities and along coastal areas and major river corridors. Incorporating a spatial representation of climate change risk provides location-specific suggestions for which management approaches may be most appropriate (e.g., hands-off preservation, restoration, ecological innovation and experimentation). In situations of high uncertainty it is prudent to take a "portfolio approach" to conservation, where risk is spread among potential management responses and monitoring is established to enable adaptive management as future changes are revealed. In any case, compiling spatial data on wildland values and risks offers a tool to defensibly prioritize future conservation actions and management decisions in light of anthropogenic impacts and climate uncertainty.