This article was featured in the 2022 Autumn Newsletter by Zack Simek and Rob Williams-APIPP/SLELO.

Is the health of our Priority Conservation Areas (PCAs) getting better, worsening, or maintained as a result of our invasive species protection & management strategies? Answering this important question first requires a benchmark. To achieve this, the SLELO PRISM has been developing a scorecard for each PCA based on current analysis.

The Process

The first step is to describe the PCA and become oriented with the natural characteristics of the PCA. We describe the acreage, habitat types, terrestrial and aquatic, we map it and if available we mark the boundary and describe the Highly Probable Areas or HPA’s where invasives are most likely to occur.

We then use The Nature Conservancy’s resilient and connected network (or RCN) database that identifies where plants and animals have the best chance to adapt to a changing climate. This compares a site’s resilience, connectedness, and landscape diversity.

We also look at the sources and quantities of carbon stored at the PCA. For example, in one of our PCAs (Lakeview WMA), we estimate over 155 metric tons of stored carbon which is equivalent to CO2 emissions from 64 million gallons of gasoline consumed or 629 million pounds of coal burned.

Next using multiple sources including work by New York’s Natural Heritage Program, we look at native species communities and their state ranking which reflects their rarity. We then insert our invasive species abundance and management knowledge and we do this for both aquatic and terrestrial invasive species.         By comparing resiliency, connectedness, and diversity with invasive species extent or density the total score is the average (RCD+IS).

Example

  • Lakeview Wildlife Management Area PCA
  • RCD Score (1.18 + 1.08 + 1.35) = 1.20 = A (95)
  • IS Density Score (s) – A (95)
  • Yellow Iris – A (95)
  • Swallow-wort – A (95)

Total Score= (95 + 95)/2 =95=A

 

Ecological Restoration Factor

An ecological restoration factor may be included based on the success or failure of native plant recovery and can be accounted for either by natural succession or intentional restoration. If the observer notices the recovery to natives, the individual can add a (+) to the score. If the observer notices the return to non-natives, the individual can add a (-) to the score. This now becomes a Discretionary Restoration Adjustment or DRA. 

95=A + DRA=A+

 

Outputs

If target invasives are being reduced then forest health, carbon and biodiversity are presumably sustained. If a new IS such as an insect enters the system or if the abundance of an invasive plant increases, then the site might be “regressing”. If IS are reducing, there are no new introductions and native species continue to thrive, then the PCA is likely to be improving. So, this becomes our (Health Profile or Benchmark Score). At Lakeview PCA we are now seeing after 11 years of treatment – a 33% reduction in the extent of sites managed for swallow-wort, which indicates we are progressing in a favorable direction.

 

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