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Environmental benchmarks vs. ecological benchmarks for assessment and monitoring in Canada: Is there a difference?

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Abstract

Environmental benchmarks are widely used in Canadian environmental assessment as a standard against which to monitor air or water quality in response to human activities in the environment. Recent work in Canada has developed the concept of ecological benchmarks as a complement to environmental benchmarks. However, implementation of ecological benchmarks may be challenging. This paper presents an analogy between ecological benchmarks and the more commonly used environmental benchmarks, as an attempt to increase understanding and use of ecological benchmarks in resource management, assessment, and monitoring. Ecological benchmarks, and their corresponding indicators, will be challenging to identify and use. However, through the use of the principles of adaptive management, effective ecological indicators and benchmarks can be established. Although it is essential that ecological benchmarks are site-specific, the analogy and general principles outlined here are applicable to assessment and monitoring in any part of the world.

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... Accurate, timely and cost effective evaluation of ecological integrity depends on using appropriate monitoring programs with suitable indicators (Noss 1990; Niemi & McDonald 2004). The selection of indicators for visitor monitoring depends on their ability to inform clearly defined objectives (, Wiersma 2005) and there are a number of key issues that need to be taken into consideration when selecting indicators (Table 8). 1. It is difficult to select appropriate ecological indicators for diffuse, and difficult to detect impacts of visitors (), particularly across multiple spatiotemporal scales (). 2. Impacts should be prioritised prior to selecting indicators (Jennings 2005) as failure to do so may result in unrealistic goals being set that cannot be achieved. ...
... As a result indicator values may not be static and should also be subject to revision and modification based on the best available information. 4. Selection of appropriate indicators is often hampered by poor objective setting (Dale & Beyeler 2001) as well as the failure to recognise the complexity of ecological systems (Yoccoz et al. 2001). 5. Ecosystems are complex and as a result monitoring programs should be rigorously designed and implemented (Wiersma 2005). Of concern is the scale at which indicators are selected. ...
... Furthermore, current trends in aquatic ecosystem assessment call for an increased focus on the application of functional or ecosystem process indicators, rather than structural (community composition) indicators. 6. Ensuring that potential indicators meet an array of selection criteria is a critical step in the development framework (Monz et al. 2003) and extensive lists of such criteria have been compiled previously (Belnap 1998, Dale & Beyeler 2001, Miller & Twining-Ward 2005, Wiersma 2005) (Table 9). This process is captured in our integrated framework (Chapter 5). ...
Technical Report
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... The selection of indicators for visitor monitoring depends on their ability to inform clearly defined objectives (Buckley 2003;Wiersma 2005) and there are a number of key issues that need to be taken into consideration when selecting indicators. ...
... Monitoring programs should be rigorously designed and implemented (Wiersma 2005) to ensure that potential indicators meet an array of pre-selected criteria (Dale & Beyeler 2001;Buckley 2003;Miller & Twining-Ward 2005;Wiersma 2005) (Table 4). Table 4: Summary of criteria for selecting ecological indicators from recreation ecology literature and the frequency of reporting in the literature. ...
... Monitoring programs should be rigorously designed and implemented (Wiersma 2005) to ensure that potential indicators meet an array of pre-selected criteria (Dale & Beyeler 2001;Buckley 2003;Miller & Twining-Ward 2005;Wiersma 2005) (Table 4). Table 4: Summary of criteria for selecting ecological indicators from recreation ecology literature and the frequency of reporting in the literature. ...
Article
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Article
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... Without information about acceptable levels, an indicator cannot be used to make management decisions. Only by systematically separating acceptable measured values of indicators from unacceptable values can managers identify those ecosystem components that require management attention (Kelly and Harwell 1990;Niemi and McDonald 2004;Wiersma 2005). ...
... In part, this occurs because the long-term goals and objectives of many management programs are not clearly specified (Dale and Beyeler 2001;Niemi and McDonald 2004). Although a number of studies have pointed out the need for comparing indicator values to established benchmarks (Jackson and others 2000; Niemi and McDonald 2004;OECD 1993;Schaeffer and others 1988;The Heinz Center 2002;US GAO 2003;Wiersma 2005), few programs have actually achieved this goal. The overwhelming majority of indicators programs simply present trends in indicator values over time (US GAO 2004). ...
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Article
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... However, the extent to which the current landscape configuration differs from the estimated natural range of variation is perhaps surprising, and the accuracy of natural range of variation remains uncertain. The difficulty of estimating the natural range of variation in managed landscapes emphasizes the importance of studying areas that are relatively unaffected by human activities to increase understanding of natural conditions (Wiersma 2005). ...
Article
Successful implementation of the natural disturbance model for timber harvest is hindered by the lack of strategies to approximate landscape fire pattern. In the forests of Alberta, Canada, the fire regime is dominated by large fires that create large regions of same-aged forest. Current forestry practices disperse harvest blocks across the landscape, causing increased fragmentation as compared with fire. Aggregating harvest blocks is one potential strategy to improve approximation of natural landscape pattern. We used a simulation approach to compare landscape pattern created by aggregated harvest strategies, the current dispersed harvest approach, and the natural disturbance regime for a 270a000aha forest landscape in northeastern Alberta. Compared with dispersed harvest, aggregated strategies increased compatibility with natural landscape pattern by reducing fragmentation. Capacity to aggregate harvest declined when the constraint of maintaining a constant proportion of deciduous to coniferous harvest was included. We conclude that aggregated harvest can improve implementation of the natural disturbance model by bringing several landscape metrics closer to the conditions that fall within the natural range of variability. Aggregated harvest alone, however, performed poorly at maintaining interior old forest, emphasizing that an explicit old-forest strategy is also required.
... Others have concurred that monitoring should be hypothesis driven and that monitoring should be viewed as a systematic program that is set Avian Conservation and Ecology 5(2): 13 http://www.ace-eco.org/vol5/iss2/art13/ up to assist in the evaluation of the effects of a given human activity or set of activities on the environment or on a particular ecosystem (Wiersma 2005;Nichols and Williams 2006;Francis et al. 2009). Monitoring should not be viewed as an activity in isolation or as simply inventory work, but rather as a key part of an adaptive management process (Nudds 1999;Wiersma and Campbell 2002;Nichols and Williams 2006;Francis et al. 2009;Nudds and Villard 2009). ...
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... Sustainable management can derive economic benefit at minimum ecological cost, while protected areas can maintain sensitive ecosystem components and provide insurance against uncertain impacts of sustainable management strategies. Further, both approaches can contribute to adaptive management, whereby the behaviour of managed ecosystems is compared to that of naturally functioning ecosystems (i.e., protected areas) to develop a deeper understanding of the ecosystem dynamics essential for sustainable forest management (Wiersma 2005). ...
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... The hypothetico-deductive method proceeds by formulating a hypothesis in a form that could be falsified by empirical evidence. As a result, many researchers suggest that crowdsourcing (being a typical data collection endevour that involves people) should be targeted and hypothesis-driven (Francis, Blancher, & Phoenix, 2009;Goodman & Paolacci, 2017;Nichols & Williams, 2006;Wiersma, 2005). ...
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... In the context of climate change, disturbance frequency (e.g., wildfire, insect infestation) is expected to increase 24,25 . PPAs serve as important benchmarks against which broader-scale changes (particularly anthropogenically caused changes) can be evaluated 26 . Consequently, baseline data characterizing historic rates of disturbances in PPAs relative to their greater park ecosystems (GPEs), as well as relative to their broader ecological context (e.g., ecozone), would be useful for future monitoring efforts. ...
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Chapter
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Chapter
Full-text available
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Large natural disturbances such as insect outbreaks and fire are important processes for biodiversity in forest landscapes. However, few methods exist for incorporating natural disturbances into conservation planning. Intact forest landscapes, such as in the North American boreal forest, can produce large natural disturbance footprints. They also have the potential to support large reserves but size estimates based on natural disturbance are needed to guide reserve design. Historical fire data have been used to estimate minimum dynamic reserves, reserve size estimates based on maintaining natural disturbance dynamics and ensuring resilience to large natural disturbance events. While this has been a significant step towards incorporating natural disturbance into reserve design, managers currently lack guidance on how to apply these concepts in areas where fire is not the dominant natural disturbance. We generalize the minimum dynamic reserve framework to accommodate insect outbreaks and demonstrate the framework in a case study for eastern spruce budworm ( Choristoneura fumiferana ) in the Canadian boreal forest. Our methods use geospatial analysis to identify minimum dynamic reserves based on a set of spatially explicit initial conditions, and simulation models to test for the maintenance of a set of dynamic conditions over time. We found considerable variability in minimum dynamic reserve size depending on the size of historic budworm disturbance events and the spatial patterns of disturbance-prone vegetation types. The minimum dynamic reserve framework provides an approach for incorporating wide-ranging natural disturbances into biodiversity conservation plans for both pro-active planning in intact landscapes, and reactive planning in more developed regions.
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We studied the effect of habitat fragmentation on the richness, diversity, turnover, and abundance of breeding bird communities in old, boreal mixed-wood forest by creating isolated and connected forest fragments of 1, 10, 40, and 100 ha. Connected fragments were linked by 100 m wide riparian buffer strips. Each size class within treatments and controls was replicated three times. We sampled the passerine community using point counts before, and in each of two years after, forest harvesting, accumulating 21 340 records representing 59 species. We detected no significant change in species richness as a result of the harvesting, except in the 1-ha connected fragments, where the number of species increased two years after isolation. This increase was accounted for by transient species, suggesting that the adjacent buffer strips were being used as movement corridors. Diversity (log series alpha index) was dependent on area in the isolated fragments only after cutting, having decreased in the smaller areas. Turnover rates in the isolated fragments were sig- nificantly higher than in similar connected or control areas, due to species replacement. Crowding occurred in the isolated fragments immediately after cutting, but two years after fragmentation, the responses in abundance of species varied with migratory strategy. Num- bers of Neotropical migrants declined in both connected and isolated fragments, and resident species declined in isolated fragments. Most species in these groups require older forest, many favoring interior areas. Abundance of short-distance migrants, most of which are habitat generalists, did not change. Overall, although there was no decrease in species richness from our recently fragmented areas, community structure was altered; maintaining connections between fragments helped to mitigate these effects. Nevertheless, the magnitude of the fragmentation effects we documented is small compared with those observed else- where. Birds breeding in the boreal forest, where frequent small- and large-scale natural disturbances have occurred historically, may be more resilient to human-induced habitat changes, such as those caused by forest harvesting. However, these results should be in- terpreted with caution. First, they are short-term and address only broad-scale community responses based on species richness and relative abundance. Second, the study area was embedded in a landscape where large areas of old, mixed forest are still available, potentially dampening any local-scale impacts of fragmentation.
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