Designing broad-scale conservation corridors has become increasingly common as a way of conducting an assessment for achieving targets for the representation and persistence of nature. However, since many of these corridors must traverse agricultural and other production landscapes, planning and implementation are not trivial tasks. Most approaches to conservation assessments in the dynamic world of production landscapes are data-intensive and analytically complex. However, in the real world, donor and other external requirements impose time and budget constraints, and dictate strong stakeholder involvement in the entire planning process. In order to accommodate this, assessments must be rapid, cheap, and the approach and products must be comprehensible and acceptable to stakeholders. Here we describe such an assessment aimed at identifying and implementing a network of conservation corridors in the Gouritz Initiative project domain of South Africa’s Cape Floristic Region hotspot. We used empirical data and expert knowledge to identify a corridor network hypothesized to sustain key ecological and evolutionary processes. We also consulted experts to provide a spatially explicit assessment of the opportunity costs of conservation associated with agriculture, the predominant land use in the region. We used these products to identify categories of land requiring different actions and instruments to achieve conservation goals, thereby moving from the “where” to the “how” of conservation. This information was then fed into the collaborative strategy development process for the Gouritz Initiative. Our discussion emphasizes the lessons that we learnt from undertaking this assessment, particularly lessons regarding the implementation of the planning products. We conclude that at the outset of any planning project, a consensus on the vision must be achieved, a detailed social assessment of appropriate institutions must be undertaken, and a learning organization that practices adaptive comanagement should be established. These institutional and governance requirements are fundamental to successful implementation of conservation-planning products.
During the past two decades, a great deal of effort has gone into identifying priority areas for conservation action, but much less effort has been expended on identifying which actions are appropriate where (Knight et al. 2006b, Wilson et al. 2007). Acquisition of land for strict reservation is not a feasible conservation strategy in most cases (Miller and Hobbs 2002, Rosenzweig 2003), which exacerbates this problem. Indeed, for many parts of the world, particularly in production landscapes, the only realistic conservation strategy is to attempt to achieve land use practices that are compatible with the maintenance of biodiversity patterns and processes in the long term (Redford and Richter 1999, Cowling et al. 2002, Orr 2002). In a similar vein, most conservation assessment research has focused on targeting the patterns of nature, principally species and land classes, rather than the processes that sustain and generate it (Balmford et al. 1998, Cowling et al. 1999, Pressey
et al. 2007). However, it is reasonable to assume that conservation plans underpinned by the achievement of broad-scale process targets, for example, migratory corridors for plants and animals, are more likely to ensure the long term persistence of wild nature than plans that are based entirely on representing pattern features alone (Chetkiewicz et al. 2006). Planning for processes in the complex and dynamic world of production landscapes is the most commonly encountered situation but also presents the most difficulties and is the least researched (Pressey et al. 2007). Assembling data on processes and their spatial surrogates, and on the vast array of relevant socioeconomic factors, is no trivial task (Cowling and Pressey 2003). It is also not trivial to implement routines to identify priority areas and corresponding actions, and to schedule these actions in such a way as to minimize loss of priority habitat. Some recent research has made substantial advances on planning in dynamic landscapes (Costello and Polasky 2004, Meir et al. 2004, Pressey et al. 2004, Polasky et al. 2005, Wilson et al. 2005). However, the approaches are often very complex, data intensive, and not necessarily comprehensible to the land managers and other stakeholders tasked with implementing the outcomes of the plan (Barthel et al. 2005, Hein et al. 2006). One way of overcoming many of these constraints is to use expert knowledge. Local experts can contribute large amounts of information on biological and socioeconomic phenomena that would be hugely expensive and time-consuming to assemble in a more formal way (e.g., Bojórquez-Tapia et al. 2003, Martin et al. 2005, Chalmers and Fabricius 2007). Local knowledge is often verbally transferred from one generation to another, which
contributes long term information that would be very expensive, if not impossible, to acquire
through conventional scientific methods (Agrawal and Chhatre 2006). Also, involving local experts in
the assessment phase of a conservation planning process assists greatly in achieving their endorsement of the process, and the prospects for effective implementation are greatly enhanced if
these experts are associated with agencies responsible for implementing the planning outcomes (Olivieri et al. 1995, Hannah et al. 1998, Dinerstein et al. 2000, Knight et al. 2006b). Multiscale adaptive governance is thus promoted, which leads to resilient institutional arrangements, all keys to the management of common pool resources such as biodiversity (Libel et al. 2006). Social learning takes place when participants share information and question their assumptions, leading to more sustainable solutions and greater awareness of challenges and opportunities (Bawden et al. 2007). However, local knowledge may be biased by experience and values, as has been pointed out on numerous occasions (Kress et al. 1998, Maddock and Samways 2000, Cowling et al. 2003b). Other key challenges associated with local knowledge are its fine-grained resolution and local scope. Scientific knowledge is, however, not immune to similar problems (Fabricius et al. 2006). Here we report on an assessment aimed at designing conservation corridors for the Gouritz area of South Africa’s Cape Floristic Region. The assessment was commissioned by the provincial conservation agency, CapeNature, with the intention of delivering products that could be used to develop a conservation strategy for the region, in collaboration with stakeholders, under the umbrella of CapeNature’s Gouritz Initiative (GI) project (http://www.gouritz.com). It was made clear at the outset that the landscape management model for the project was not one of land purchase for the expansion of the formal protected area system; instead the emphasis was on engaging land owners in stewardship programs that did not disrupt their aspirations to receive economic returns from the use of their land. Such models are common elsewhere, e.g., biosphere reserves (Olsson et al. 2007), and International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Category V and VI protected areas (http://www.iucn.org; Borrini-Feyerabend 1997). Our assessment and planning products were guided by an operational model (Fig. 1) previously developed by Knight et al. (2006a) and expanded by Cowling et al. (2008). We believe that if a conservation planning process misses any of the steps within this model, it will fail to produce user-useful products and will fall short of achieving implementation goals (Pierce et al. 2005, Knight et al. 2006b).
This project was funded by the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) through the Cape Action
for People and the Environment Project (C.A.P.E.; http://www.capeaction.org.za). As with most
donor-driven projects, time and funding were in short supply, six months and $43,000, respectively. Consequently, we used existing vegetation and land use data, and experts from land management agencies and academia to identify a network of conservation corridors that would accommodate the biological processes necessary for the maintenance of wild nature in the planning domain. We also used experts to provide a spatially explicit assessment of the opportunity costs of conservation associated with agriculture, the predominant land use in the region. We used these products to identify categories of land requiring different actions and instruments to achieve conservation goals. This information was then fed into the collaborative strategy development process for the Gouritz region. The discussion emphasizes the lessons that we learnt from undertaking this assessment, lessons that we believe are highly relevant for the cost- effective identification and implementation of conservation corridors in production landscapes.