Matt Holloran: Collaboration, thoughtfulness needed for sustainability
The loss, degradation and fragmentation of natural habitats as a result of human activities are resulting in dramatic declines in wildlife populations throughout the western U.S. The scientific evidence overwhelmingly suggests that most wildlife respond negatively to increased human presence in an area. This is especially true when people venture repeatedly into seasonally-sensitive habitats like winter range, nursery areas or migratory corridors.
Even in situations where the disturbance seems minimal — for example, a well pad or single-track trail — the impacts to wildlife can be substantial. These impacts are the indirect effects of disturbance that can result in the functional loss of habitat and increased wildlife mortality extending far beyond the disturbance itself.
Wildlife populations require large landscapes for survival. Yet, because most of the actual impacts to and management done to conserve natural resources occur at local scales, the conservation of a landscape is, in practice, the stitching together of local decisions such that the accumulation of those decisions results in functioning systems. As such, communities play the pivotal role in the management of our wildlife and wild lands; they are the literal foundation of landscape-scale conservation.
I was raised on a ranch near Steamboat Springs and received my doctorate studying the response of wildlife to anthropogenic activity. Since then, I have spent my career studying and developing proactive solutions to wildlife-human conflicts in western communities. As such, I have been keeping up with the debate surrounding the Mad Rabbit trail expansion project and have two specific concerns:
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- There is more than enough information in the scientific literature to establish that the trail expansion as proposed is likely to impact wildlife negatively.
- Though the National Environmental Policy Act is a useful planning tool at large scale when deployed properly, it is generally ineffective at assessing impacts of smaller-scale projects, particularly when using the minimal Environmental Assessment process as proposed.
The process itself leads to the divisiveness seen in the debate. To really progress in conservation and community sustainability, the process needs to change.
First, the potential impacts to wildlife of activities like trail expansion need to be robustly and adequately assessed. Second, stakeholders in the community need to come together and develop holistic, countywide conservation plans.
We need to work collaboratively and thoughtfully at the community level to ensure the increasing demands on our wild lands occur in such a way that wildlife are not negatively impacted.
Matt J. Holloran, PhD
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