The current working draft of the framework is organized as a two-axis grid
. The three items on the first axis indicate that biodiversity must be analyzed and protected at the species level, but also the ecosystem level and at a still-broader level: a larger landscape made up of multiple ecosystems.
On a second axis, the draft framework provides a list of key factors that resource managers might want to assess across some or all of those interlinked spatial scales. An analysis might begin with an assessment of the current state of species and ecosystems and then move on to modeling future conditions. With that knowledge in hand, resource managers might refine models to help predict where species find more suitable habitat if a changing climate makes existing habitat unsuitable.
A model might then be further refined to show where corridors exist for movement to a new habitat or where new corridors might be created. Where species cannot move, can some areas within existing protected areas still provide a form of refuge? Are there essential landscape features—soil, geology, streams—that could be especially critical to preserving some forms of biodiversity?
According to Schmitz, a key goal in deploying the Framework is “to help head off conflicts through thoughtful land use planning.”
“If we can think about how landscapes can be connected to others that will allow species to move, policymakers might find that it’s better to protect certain parcels of land now before there are conflicts with development,” he adds. “Think of those spring peepers we love to hear. Maybe things are getting really difficult in the southern part of their range, but conditions have become more favorable to the north. Could a future shopping mall end up on a site that the species would need as a steppingstone? The point isn’t to preclude development that addresses human needs, but to be able to develop in a smart way. Maybe it makes more sense to make plans today so that mall will end up in a better spot.”
ingleton points out that the framework can help shed light not only on protecting biodiversity in parks, national forests or other public lands, but also help inform groups like the Nature Conservancy and Open Space Institute that acquire critical habitats on private land (of particular importance in the eastern United States where public lands are far more scarce than in the West.) “You can use private capital to acquire land, but you’d want to know if it will continue to be of importance. You could use the framework to help prioritize conservation purchases based on whether those habitats will serve your purposes in the future,” he says.
The science panel’s efforts were funded by the Doris Duke, Kresge and Wilberforce Foundations. These funders have also sponsored a series of initial pilot projects aimed at refining the framework
by testing it in modeling and planning efforts. One project, for example, by the Florida Natural Areas Inventory, was aimed at evaluating how to indentify habitats important for protecting biodiversity in the face of future rising sea levels
in that state. Another project will analyze a range of issues related to the survival of two species
of carnivores, the fisher and the martin, in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains. That included mapping areas that could provide climate stability and thereby serve as “refugia” for these predators, areas that might need to be managed to reduce threats such as wildfire, as well as ways to maintain connections between habitats to allow the species to shift their ranges if need be. Yet another, focused on federal lands overseen by the BLM, will evaluate how species could move to more suitable habitats across the transition zone
(or “ecotone”) between the Mojave Desert and the adjacent Great Basin.
The projects are only preliminary attempts at deploying the framework. Still, says Schmitz, “some of them have already provided useful insights that could motivate conservation action.” As an example, he notes that the project in Florida has “helped identify where strategic investment in new conservation habitat should be made and how to connect current and future habitats so that species can migrate and adapt as sea levels rise.”
Similarly, the project on BLM lands in the Mojave and Great Basin has already begun to improve understanding of how “climate change will reshuffle species between these two desert landscapes.”
Meanwhile, the science panel has received what Singleton called “very preliminary” inquiries from such entities as the U.S. Department of the Interior and the President’s Council on Environmental Quality about how the framework could be used on a much larger scale, say, to tie together efforts of multiple agencies across entire regions, or nationally. “A planning tool scalable to a national level—that’s a potential use of the framework we hadn’t originally even considered.”