2018 Conservation Forum

THE CGC CONSERVATION COMMITTEE

11TH ANNIVERSARY FORUM

UNDERSTANDING BIODIVERSITY

 

Following are highlights of the presentations:

BROOKE LEE BATEMAN
Director of Climate Watch
National Audubon Society
Dr. Bateman focused on how birds are affected by biodiversity. Climate shapes species ranges. Half of all the birds in the United States are imperiled by shrinking and shifting habitat ranges. Changes in climate have resulted in warmer temperatures, different rain patterns, rising sea levels, extreme weather events and natural disasters. Birds are spending winters farther north as temperatures rise and are moving east as droughts followed by heavy rains destroy optimum breeding grounds and habitats. Some species are threatened with extinction. Biodiversity can be improved by managing urban green spaces, parks and by building more green roofs. Controlling invasive plants and pests, protecting migration patterns and habitats, and limiting development and fragmentation can lessen the threat to endangered species.

KARENNA GORE
Director of the Center for Earth Ethics
Union Theological Seminary
Ms. Gore commended The City Gardens Club for the good work to benefit nature that our women-run organization has accomplished over the 100 years since our founding. Her presentation addressed biodiversity from a moral and ethical perspective, and highlighted a movement that has been building among spiritual and religious leaders to focus on our moral obligations to non-human life and future generations. Eastern religions do not make as much of a distinction between humans and the rest of the world as do Abrahamic religions, which view humans as stewards over the earth. The latter has created an opportunity for the exploitation of land and indigenous people. We live in a value system based on a distortion of Christian-Judeo morals. The concept of infinite growth and technological progress is a myth. Ocean acidification from burning fossil fuels is a form of chemical warfare and slow violence. If all developing countries reached the consumption levels of the developed world, we would need three-and-one-half earths to sustain us.

EMILY NOBEL MAXWELL
Director, Urban Conservation Program in New York City
The Nature Conservancy                                                                        
Ms. Maxwell’s speech focused on biodiversity in urban areas. Biodiversity connects people with nature and creates a stable and sustainable environment. We face challenges from climate change and global warming. By the 2080s, there will be three times the number of heat waves and one and one half times the intensive rain events we see now. Along with storm surges and rising sea levels, these changes will pose a threat to species movement and migration. New York City has been doing a great job in conservation and biodiversity. The City has an incredible opportunity to act as a role model for other cities, largely because of its vast and diverse animal and plant species, its distinct habitats and numerous parks. Work is under way in New York to improve biodiversity.  The National Urban Wildlife Refuge, the only entity of its kind to be funded by the National Park Service, is an underutilized asset. Since hurricane Sandy, The Nature Conservancy has been working with the NPS to install 28,000 new native plants and shrubs for migratory birds. The NC is also working to restore oyster reefs, and it is looking at green roofs — where they are and where they should be. There is vast rooftop space available in New York. Climate change and global warming will threaten species movement and migration. Within cities, consumption patterns, e.g., of coffee and sugar, significantly impact biodiversity.

DON J. MELNICK
Thomas Hunt Morgan Professor of Conservation Biology, Department of Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Biology
Columbia University
Dr. Melnick targeted the loss of biodiversity and described many ways in which it has impacted humans. There has been a dramatic increase in land and sea temperatures, with rising sea levels that have sped up over time. An increase of 20” to 36” in sea level will modify everything that’s going on in this world. Wildfires are becoming very common. In 2017, 10,000 acres burned in the U.S. and five million in Western Canada. Since 1972 over one billion acres of tropical forest has been lost, which is approximately the loss of one Central Park every 15 minutes. Seventy five percent of coral reefs have been destroyed or threatened, leading to a decline in fisheries. Environmental degradation is a major national security issue. Approximately 600,000 deaths occur per month worldwide because of indoor and outdoor air pollution. A success story: the New York City watershed is one of the great environmental success stories of all time and should be used as a model.

ANA LUZ PORZECANSKI
Director of the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation
American Museum of Natural History
Dr. Porzecanski focused on understanding why biodiversity is important to humans and to conservation. Humans need biodiversity. It has shaped our identities, our evolution, and underpins our wellbeing. But biodiversity is declining around the world. We are the key driver of the system, and our changing lifestyles, deforestation and, especially, emission of greenhouse gases, are changing the climate and increasing our vulnerability. Some argue that our staggering demands are now 1.6 earths. Until we acknowledge the long-term cost, we can buy time by establishing protected areas such as marine, which have been shown to make a difference. While climate change is a global challenge, it can be worthwhile to aim efforts at the local level: Indigenous local communities steward land and seascapes that hold up to 80% of the planet’s biodiversity. One of the challenges for conservation is how to effect change in a way that takes human rights and wellbeing into account and allows us to coexist with nature in sustainable and just ways.

WILLIAM STANLEY FALLON SCHUSTER
Executive Director
Black Rock Forest Consortium
Dr. Schuster stated that overall biodiversity is driven by habitat diversity. Biodiversity is measured by the number and abundance of species present, species richness even or if one predominates, and the number of functionally different species. The energy flow is from the sun to plants, to herbivores, predators, and larger animals.  Avian diversity is correlated with habitat diversity and forest size. Too many deer result in a decrease of native plant and arthropod diversity, but these rebound after the natural return of carnivores. More acidic ponds and streams exhibit lower fish, amphibian and reptile species diversity. The loss of oaks decreases the diversity of soil microbes, soil arthropods and small mammals. Management can impact biodiversity, but soil moisture plays an important role. Improvement comes with harvesting resources properly, maintaining ecological productivity, caring for the organisms below ground, restoring functionality and enhancing ecological connectivity.

For summaries of the 2017 CGC Conservation Forum, click here.