Applying Ecological Gap Analysis as a Tool for Restoration Planning
CitationAmend, Meredith. 2017. Applying Ecological Gap Analysis as a Tool for Restoration Planning. Master's thesis, Harvard Extension School.
AbstractFollowing oil spills, such as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, or the release of other hazardous materials, natural resources and their services can be lost or diminished. Under several federal statutes, natural resource trustees (e.g., federal and state governments) responsible for managing these resources may assess natural resource damages and devise restoration projects to compensate for those losses (U.S.C. §2701 et seq.). During the traditional restoration planning process, natural resource trustees rely on submissions from resource managers as well as the public to identify potential restoration projects. While human resources such as these can be valuable sources of local information, a number of shortcomings have been identified with this process.
This thesis explores how ecological gap analysis – a well-established geospatial analysis developed to identify areas for species conservation – can be used to objectively identify and prioritize locations for natural resource restoration. In order to demonstrate this, injuries to brown pelicans following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill were examined as a case study. A modified ecological gap analysis was used to identify and prioritize areas for land acquisition and breeding habitat enhancement restoration projects. These areas were then compared to brown pelican restoration projects selected by the Deepwater Horizon natural resource trustees. I hypothesized that the modified gap analysis would identify different areas and priorities for restoration than what has been identified by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill natural resource trustees to date.
After executing the modified ecological gap analysis, large areas of brown pelican habitat were identified for potential acquisition in all five Gulf states. The modified gap analysis also facilitated prioritization of these areas based on local land prices and development pressure. In addition, brown pelican nesting colonies were prioritized for breeding habitat enhancement projects based on a series of factors: reproductive output, predator risk, erosion risk, and development pressure.
Unlike land acquisition projects, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill natural resource trustees have previously implemented breeding habitat enhancement projects. These project locations were compared to the locations identified by the modified gap analysis and a number of differences were identified. Primarily, most of the projects were implemented in Texas, an area identified as a low priority by the gap analysis. In addition, most of the projects did not occur on the most productive or the most threatened breeding colonies, and three projects (out of eight) occurred in areas that had not been identified as brown pelican colonies.
These results show how a modified ecological gap analysis approach can address limitations of the traditional restoration planning process. In addition to providing a comprehensive view of restoration opportunities, it can also improve transparency by outlining the specific decision rules that are used to identify and prioritize those opportunities. While this approach cannot replace all aspects of traditional restoration planning, particularly for large restoration efforts like the one for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, it can be a valuable supplement to that process.
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