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Is There Potential for the Historical Range of Variability to Guide Conservation Given the Social Range of Variability?

Jonathan R Thompson, Harvard University; Oregon State University
Sally L. Duncan, Oregon State University
K. Norman Johnson, Oregon State University


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Using the historical range of forest conditions as a reference for managing landscapes has been proposed as a coarse-filter approach to biodiversity conservation. By emulating historical disturbance processes, it is thought that forest management can produce forest composition and structure similar to the conditions that once supported the native biota. A recent project was designed to integrate social and ecological findings to investigate the important relationships between the state of ecological understanding of a region, the state of the region’s biodiversity, and the state of the region’s social understanding of how it might be managed for biodiversity conservation into the future. The project relied on established concepts of the historical range of variability (HRV) and developed the concept of the social range of variability to help explain the interaction of social and ecological assessments, particularly their interaction to create future ranges of variability. The Oregon Coast Range, where a rich history of HRV research has been completed starting with paleoecological reconstructions of the historical fire regime, was one of five sites in the United States that were selected as case studies. We found land development and impending climate change to be major hurdles impeding the use of the HRV as a management regime. We also found that the complexities and uncertainties of management preclude the use of any single tool to tackle landscape-scale challenges and suggest that land management needs to become a continuous process of negotiation.

Key words

future range of variability; historical range of variability; social acceptance; social range of variability

Copyright © 2009 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087