Last Wednesday, March 3, 2021, I had a chance to present some of my research at the Haub School of Law’s Faculty Development Workshop. I sent a draft of a manuscript I’m co-writing with one of my grad students (the student is first author) regarding using species distribution models in local management decisions a few days ahead of time, then gave a 20 minute presentation on the topic. After my presentation, we had a Q&A / discussion. This manuscript is the culmination of a NYS DEC Hudson Estuary Program grant I received several years ago to study the potential role of road culverts in connecting amphibian and reptile habitat. (I’m planning on doing more work with culverts in the future, but this will wrap up this first project. I submitted the final project report to the state about 1.5 years ago.) The main jist of the paper is that we developed SDMs for 16 focal species in our region, used those SDMs as estimates of habitat suitability for these species, then identified locations of culverts that overlap those distributions and cross under roads. Our management guidance is to focus on culverts that overlap with several species distributions and cross under roads.
I was keen to present this work to my colleagues at Pace’s Law School, because I thought they would have some thoughts and insights on how to move from an academic article to application of the findings. And I wasn’t disappointed! Several great ideas and suggestions came up during the discussion. Here are some of them, in no particular order:
- We use a few gis layers to mask our SDMs to account for features not in the climatic layers used in the actual modeling, such as roads, locations of wetlands, lakes, streams, etc.. The question came up whether we could use other layers, such as information re: water quality or environmental justice priority areas, into our prioritization scheme. Adding just about any geospatial information is pretty straight forward, but this brought up the fact that we really don’t know what’s important to the community and stake holders unless we communicate with them directly. So, one major next step to having this information being used by decisions makers seems to be community meetings. I have a few contacts within the Pocantico River Watershed Alliance, and this might be a first step here.
- Some of our discussion centered on why decision makers and municipal managers may even consider using the information provided in our models to prioritize culvert management. This is an important issue to address. The prioritization scheme we came up with is conservation focused, but managers have lots of competing priorities - in this case, the top one is likely flood mitigation. I think there are a few ways to approach this. First, here in NYS, there are occasionally grants through DEC that are focused on fixing infrastructure for the sake of increasing aquatic connectivity. With our results, we now have a readily available list of culverts that could be considered high priority for these kinds of grants. Second, there are more culverts in our region of need of work than there will be funds, so some prioritization has to happen. Perhaps biodiversity considerations could act as tie-breakers when choosing which culverts to work on. Third, I think getting this information to Conservation Advisory Councils / Boards (another NY local thing) could help with making conservation priorities part of the decision making process.
Overall, I thought we had a great conversation, my law colleagues gave me some great ideas. And perhaps more importantly, they gave me a bit of inspiration to take the next steps of bringing this work back to the stake holders here in our region. I’ll put it on the to-do list.