On and around military installations, habitat trading has emerged as a useful tool for mitigating habitat loss and fragmentation and for its associated benefits to training, reduced management costs, and conservation. Habitat fragmentation has slowed recovery of red-cockaded woodpecker (RCW) populations, which indicates how vital it is that habitat trades are equivalent in both quantity and quality and address the effects of fragmentation. A scientifically defensible habitat trading system that incorporates parameters such as the patch's location in the landscape, the history of the landscape, and the natural history of RCW populations would improve estimations on how habitat fragmentation affects RCW metapopulations. Such estimates could then be used to compare various management alternatives and improve the utility of such habitat trades.
The objective of this SERDP Exploratory Development (SEED) project was to derive a method to trade habitat that incorporates the role of landscape connectivity for population viability and level of scientific uncertainty regarding landscape-scale processes.
A spatially explicit population model (SEPM) was constructed by assimilating existing data on habitat preferences, demography, behavior, and population genetic structure of the RCW. The demographic-genetic SEPM was integrated with landscape equivalency analysis (LEA) to estimate spatially explicit credits that may be traded among landowners. LEA is a landscape-scale approach to resource-based compensation, which often has been used to plan mitigation in a manner that "keeps the public whole" in terms of ecological service flows. LEA uses metapopulation services to analyze tradeoffs between economic and conservation goals set at different spatial scales. LEA calculates tradable credits based on proportional changes in three metapopulation service flows—abundance, genetic variance within breeding groups, and genetic variance among breeding groups. The approach directs the trading of habitat patches within an endangered metapopulation to minimize the effects of fragmentation. The uniqueness of this approach lies in the ability of LEA to incorporate the unequal contribution of habitat patches and areas between patches to each metapopulation service flow. Land parcels providing optimal habitat and key linkages in the landscape contribute greatly to these services flows and are assigned a higher conservation value. Landowners who contribute or could contribute greatly to metapopulation services would benefit from protecting or restoring habitat if a market for habitat credits were established.
Exploring threatened and endangered species protection from a landscape perspective will enable the Department of Defense to achieve species conservation goals while maintaining military readiness. This project specifically aids recovery of the endangered RCW through a comprehensive approach that incorporates regulatory requirements, landscape ecology, and resource economics, ultimately resulting in reduced conservation management costs and training restrictions. (SEED Project Completed - 2007)