Habitat Fragmentation Edge Effects: When Having an Edge is Not a Good Thing (Part 2 of 2)

In last week’s post, we looked at some of the science behind edge effects and why edges, in the context of habitat fragmentation, are not a good thing. Today we’ll look at some strategies that businesses can implement to help manage edge effects.

Business Strategies for Managing Edge Effects

To address the issue of edge effects, corporations typically use one or more of the following four strategies:

Avoidance: The first—and best—strategy that companies can adopt to address edge effects is a simple one: Avoid the construction of buildings, roads, trails, power lines, pipelines, etc. in areas with high-quality habitat for species that are classified as endangered, threatened, or vulnerable to extinction.  This avoidance strategy may also be extended to a high-quality habitat for species that are classified as “species of concern,” depending on the health of the populations of those species as well as the degree and types of potential impacts.  To identify these “avoidance zones,” you’ll need to conduct a biodiversity assessment to collect data about the species that are in the areas where you hope to develop or operate.  

Minimization: For land that is not categorized as an avoidance zone, corporations shift their attention towards minimization strategies that reduce the duration, intensity, and extent of their impacts for biodiversity and wildlife.  For example, some oil and gas corporations take steps to reduce the width of land cleared for the construction of a pipeline or road.  In another example, the State Grid Corporation of China implemented an “Electricity Caravan” concept to minimize environmental impacts in a fragile plateau environment in the area of Sanjiangyuan National Nature Reserve (pictured below), known as “the water tower of China”.  This project between Golog and the main grid of Qinghai needed to adhere to strict environmental and water protection requirements.  To do this, workers from SGCC Qinghai Electric Power Company didn’t build any roads or bridges, but used horse caravans known as “Electricity Caravans” to transport the material and facilities needed for the project.  This alternate mode mode for transporting materials also served to reduce edge effects compared with the normal practice of building a road or bridge.

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Rehabilitation and Restoration: In situations where avoidance and minimization are not practical or feasible, companies may turn to a third strategy: rehabilitation and restoration.  With this strategy, a company attempts to rehabilitate degraded ecosystems or restore cleared ecosystems in areas that have previously been cleared, developed, or neglected.  In another example from China, The China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) pursued an ecological restoration effort as part of its Western Pipeline project.  As soon as the new pipes were laid down and buried, CNPC planted vegetation in an attempt to restore the original landscape.  In addition, CNPC adopted a higher design grade, increased the pipeline burial depth, enhanced the anti-corrosion grade of the pipes, and installed cut-off valves to prevent oil leakage in the event of any accidents.  Since the project was launched in 2004, CNPC has followed up with monitoring and remediation measures on an annual basis to ensure that the restoration effort is a success.

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Biodiversity Offsets and Voluntary Compensatory Actions: If avoidance, minimization, and restoration strategies aren’t a viable option, then companies may turn to a fourth strategy: biodiversity offsets and voluntary compensatory actions.  The concept of a biodiversity offset is relatively simple. A company has a proposed project that will result in negative impacts to biodiversity at the target site.  To offset that loss, the company enters an agreement to protect biodiversity at another site.  The result is no net loss of biodiversity or, preferably, a net gain of biodiversity from the perspective of species composition, habitat structure, ecosystem function, and cultural values of biodiversity.  Biodiversity offsets differ from philanthropic donations and other compensatory actions by linking the offset to the biodiversity impacts of a specific project.  With voluntary compensatory actions, there is no formal link between the actual biodiversity impacts of the company’s development activities and the biodiversity gains from purchasing land for conservation.

Are these strategies “profitable conservation” strategies?

The short answer is, it depends.  From a business perspective, the business case is not always attractive.  In some industries, businesses are encouraged, and sometimes required, to implement these strategies in order to obtain permission to operate in certain areas.  The permission to operate in these areas can lead to huge financial gains.  In other cases, these approaches have fewer tangible benefits to the bottom line, but they can be effective risk-management strategies that are well received by regulators, customers, employees, and the local community.

From a biodiversity and wildlife perspective, anything that we can do to minimize impacts to the habitat they depend upon is a good thing.  However, the reality is that the cumulative impact of development projects is taking a toll on the health of wildlife populations throughout the world.

Parting words and coming attractions

Well there you have it!  I hope this two-part blog series gives you a better idea about the topic of edge effects, why it matters from a biodiversity perspective, and the steps that businesses can take to minimize edge effects during planning and construction activities.

Thanks for reading!

Mark

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Mark Aspelin is the Founder of Corporations for Biodiversity and author of the highly rated book “Profitable Conservation: Business Strategies That Boost Your Bottom Line, Protect Wildlife, and Conserve Biodiversity.”