Early warning systems for biodiversity

These are challenging times. The dizzying pace of environmental change has been joined by political and public policy instability which could undermine decades of progress. In these times, environmental organizations need to work much more closely together across public, private, academic and non-profit sectors to achieve our goals.

We have early warning systems for tsunamis, epidemics, economic collapse – so why not for population declines and extinction?

The concept of an “early warning system” for biodiversity is easily grasped by policymakers, economists and the public, who understand risk and uncertainty. Biodiversity monitoring and research – sometimes hard for policymakers to appreciate – is therefore much more easily understood as part of an early warning system, a desirable basis for minimizing risk.

Systems like this are needed at the best of times, but especially now, with significant public policy shifts, and threats to the integrity of public lands and waters.

PBI’s coalition in Cascadia

We at PBI are building an exciting broad-based early warning system coalition in the Cascadia / Emerald Corridor Region of the USA and Canada. The system will bring strong science and citizen science to support wise public policy, planning, and habitat management in times of rapid environmental change.

As climate change intensifies, we need to understand the impacts on ecosystems and species, so we can take appropriate action. Not all species are negatively affected by climate change, land fragmentation, policies or other factors. Ill-informed management actions or policies can inadvertently worsen a situation. We need to track change and understand its impacts adequately, to take proactive conservation action.

Our Cascadia EWS coalition is being designed, developed and implemented by agency, academic, non-profit, communications, media and policy translation partners led by our executive director.

An early warning system for biodiversity:

  • guides sound environmental policy, planning and management (and targeted research)
  • is driven by policy and environmental change monitoring and research needs
  • helps keep biodiversity from ‘falling through the cracks’ of thinly-resourced agencies
  • uses both professional and (well-designed) citizen science - building awareness, passion and skill in volunteers, and connecting science, policy, volunteer and media communities
  • provides a valuable source of high-quality data for conservation biology/global change ecology research
  • is an integrated online platform or portal where component datasets remain under the control of data providers, but are made available to support public policy, planning and management.

We started a design and development process with partners and stakeholders in 2017.  So far, our core academic partners include the University of Washington, Western Washington University, University of British Columbia, and Stanford University.  Agency partners and collaborators include NOAA, WDFW, WA State Parks, Puget Sound Partnership, and others under discussion.

Funding:  We need to undertake detailed budgeting with partners, but currently seek roughly $290,000 to develop and initiate the Cascadia pilot phase, and $1.55m/yr to implement it.  Roll-out and adaptation in other areas will be budgeted based on lessons learned, data availability and other factors.