A lot of conservationists try to maintain an ecosystem that would exist without human intervention, but climate change is affecting every ecosystem globally. How can conservationists respond to climate change while still maintaining a "natural" ecosystem?
Rather than trying to preserve protected areas such as national parks as little pictures of a past to which we cannot return, conservation science and practice are examining how we can conserve ecosystem function, such as fire, and individual species across landscapes under potential future scenarios. Integration of historical and projected climate change trends and ecosystem changes and future vulnerabilities into resource management can allow us to manage ecosystems and species under climate change. Fire management re-targeted to areas of higher risk of catastrophic fire under climate change, conservation of potential climate change refugia for endangered species, invasive species control targeted to areas more vulnerable under climate change, and other measures can help conserve ecosystems and species.
When I was, young and fantasized about becoming a wildlife filmmaker, I imagined I would be living in some remote wilderness meticulously documenting the wildlife that lived there. But it soon became clear that my idea of wilderness was in grave need of revision. In my travels around the world it became clear that our influence extends to every corner of this globe, and there are few natural ecosystems, if any, that are not in some way managed by humans. While working on our most recent film in Yosemite National Park, I asked a few forest ecologists this same question, how do you manage the forests of the Sierra’s in the face of a rapidly changing climate? They told me that they are now looking at climate models to help craft conservation strategies based on what they think the future climate may be. Part of that strategy is to identify refugia, places where special environmental circumstances may enable some species to survive as the climate grows warmer. During past climatic events it is believed that these refugia allowed some communities of species to survive, while others in the surrounding area, passed into extinction. But this is just a piece of that conservation puzzle, and curbing carbon emissions must be a part of that solution, because every species has a tipping point from which recover is impossible. An interesting read that has made me think a lot about our role in conservation (not specifically climate change) is Jon Mooallem’s book: “Wild Ones: A Sometimes Dismaying, Weirdly Reassuring Story About Looking at People Looking at Animals in America” a fascinating and thought provoking read.