Managing Reserves


Although industrial development is prohibited within protected areas, most reserves are expected to support tourism and recreation, and many allow hunting, fishing, and trapping (Fig. 8.9). These activities are not necessarily incompatible with conservation objectives; it is the type, intensity, and extent of use that determines the impact (Pickering 2010). For example, there is a significant difference between hiking along designated trails and unrestricted all-terrain vehicle use. The amount of infrastructure needed to support tourism and other activities is also an important factor. Roads, in particular, are a serious threat to biodiversity, given their many deleterious effects (see Chapter 5).

Photo of cabins
Fig. 8.9. Parks must strike a balance between maintaining ecological integrity and supporting tourism with its attendant need for infrastructure. Credit: M. Quinn.

Internal threats may also include the legacy of anthropogenic disturbances that occurred prior to reserve establishment. This is a common problem with new protected areas in the Agricultural South, where ecosystems have often been converted to agricultural use. In northern areas, the cumulative legacy from earlier mining, oil and gas, and forestry operations is often a concern. Legacy effects can also include changes in species composition and age structure resulting from long-term fire suppression (Baker 1994).

External threats, arising from industrial activities in the adjacent working landscape, are also a concern. Common examples include water pollution flowing in from upstream mines and mills, acid rain, and altered water flow patterns from dams. The working landscape can also act as a sink for wildlife populations, because dispersing animals may experience increased mortality upon leaving the reserve (Wiersma and Simonson 2010). The level of threat rises with the degree of habitat degradation in the working landscape, especially in the immediate vicinity of the reserve. Small reserves face the greatest risk because they have the most exposed edge relative to interior habitat (Fig. 8.6). Finally, invasive species and climate change can also be of concern.

Taking Action

The conservation measures used for countering threats to ecological integrity within reserves are similar to those used on the working landscape. To mitigate the impacts of recreation and other visitor activities, managers can place restrictions on the types and amounts of activities that are permitted and where they can take place. To reduce the legacy effects of past anthropogenic disturbances, managers can implement restoration programs, including species reintroductions. Prescribed burns can be used to recreate natural ecological patterns that have been altered by long-term fire suppression (Baker 1994). In severely compromised sites, managers may need to replace the ecological function of missing keystone species through artificial means. For example, they may have to cull species that lack predators or introduce domestic species to emulate natural grazing.

In addition to the direct mitigation of threats, managers can support the maintenance of ecological integrity through public outreach and education. Helping visitors understand the reason for restrictions on recreation and other activities improves compliance (Marion and Reid 2007). In addition, interpretive programs and positive visitor experiences bolster public appreciation for nature. This translates into increased environmental awareness and support for parks and conservation efforts in general.

External threats are more challenging to deal with because park managers have no authority over activities that occur in the working landscape. Managers can appeal to other levels of government for support, and they can engage directly with external land users in collaborative planning initiatives. Special management zones along park boundaries can be helpful in buffering external impacts. Internal programs can be implemented to mitigate unavoidable threats.

For management efforts to be efficient and effective, they should be supported by monitoring (Hockings 2003). Monitoring is also needed to support the ecological benchmark role of protected areas, allowing them to serve as reference points or “controls” for management activities occurring in the working landscape.

The management of reserves is subject to a variety of constraints. Though managers set the rules on permissible activities within reserves, they do not have a free hand. Managers must work within the basic parameters set by the legislation that supports each class of park. Moreover, tourism operators, user groups, and conservation groups often seek to advance specific agendas and expect to be consulted on proposed management actions.

Another important constraint is the availability of funding and technical capacity. Management interventions and monitoring cannot be undertaken without adequate financial support. In most regions, available budgets are considerably less than what is required for effectively identifying and responding to all threats (Lemieux et al. 2011). Therefore, managers usually must prioritize their efforts.


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