Natural Resource Conservation in Agricultural Landscapes: Challenges and Opportunties (Part I) (hosted by TWS)

Agriculture is a major industry in North America ranging from row crop to livestock production. By 2050, the world’s population is expected to reach 9.7 billion people resulting in increased agriculture intensification to meet this nutritional demand. Increased climate variability is also expected to affect water availability, nutrient uptake in plants, pest occurrences, and plant diseases. Additionally, U.S. net farm income is down 12% in 2018 from the previous year. These challenges for increased food production, environmental protection, climate variability, and economic uncertainty require innovative solutions to achieve sustainable agroecosystems. Therefore, we (natural resource professionals) must engage with a variety of stakeholders to maximize biodiversity and agricultural production to meet current and future demands. Presentations will focus on historical and current science within various agricultural systems including direct and indirect effects of agriculture on our natural resources. Additionally, presentations/discussions will focus on innovative solutions and partnerships to achieve sustainable agroecosystems in the 21st Century. This symposium will include two parts over two days.  The first part/day of this symposium will include historical context and presentations on the direct and indirect effects of agriculture on wildlife and fisheries.  Both days of the symposium will include discussions relevant to the day’s topics.

1:10PM A Historical Perspective on Natural Resource Conservation in Agricultural Landscapes
  John Carroll
Agricultural ecosystems are largely a human created construct. Although they mimic some natural ecosystems, they can both help and hinder wildlife conservation efforts. Agriculture in North America has been in place for more than 10,000 years. More dramatically, agriculture changed landscapes with European exploration and settlement of the continent. The 19th and into the 20th centuries saw both extensification, which is area expansion of agriculture, followed by intensification, which is more production per unit area, in those regions most suited to modern production. Retraction of agriculture in mainly the eastern forested regions of the continent has reduced agriculture impacts in many regions. After exploitation of North American landscapes from the 17th to 19th centuries, focus of agriculture has been more on intensification. Mechanization, plant breeding, crop specialization, transportation to markets, control of water and soil fertility, and pest control have all contributed to dramatic increases in productivity, specialization, and reduction in crop diversity. During much of the 20th century wildlife managers and conservationists have depended on two basic principles, accidental by-product, and government farm programs. With continued human population pressure and per capita environmental footprint, these paradigms are at risk. Programs to purposely reduce agriculture production while creating many opportunities for wildlife conservation on the edge of agriculture may be a final product of the 20th century. We are moving toward the need to re-think farm landscapes and adopt some principles that have seen some traction in other countries. That is, recognition that we need to more overtly link commodity production with farm ecosystem services as opposed to considering wildlife conservation benefit being in conflict or at best an accident of land use. Concepts of precision conservation, nurse and cover crops, conservation headlands, and beetle banks will likely become far more important to our farm landscapes in the future.
1:30PM Influence of the CRP and National-Scale Coordinated Management on Northern Bobwhite and Grassland Birds
  John Yeiser, Thomas Dailey, Molly Foley, James Martin
Northern bobwhite (Colinus virginianus) and many grassland birds have declined for decades in agroecosystems. The National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative’s (NBCI) Coordinated Implementation Program (CIP) is designed to provide a model for remedying bobwhite declines, and to-date 24 projects in 19 states exist. Participating states do habitat management at focal sites and compare the vegetation and bird population responses to a paired reference site. We studied a subset of these projects in Iowa, Kentucky, Missouri, Nebraska, and Ohio to determine the contribution of the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) to CIP. The CRP is the nations largest private land conservation program and may be key to ensuring effects of conservation permeate throughout landscapes. We report population responses of bobwhites and grassland birds, during 2013-18, to vegetation structure, landscape characteristics, management, and amount of CRP in the surrounding landscape. We provide recommendations for increasing efficiency of the CRP, for example, re-enrollment strategies, for meeting stakeholder objectives.
1:50PM Gulf Hypoxia and Nutrient Reduction Strategies – Is There Anything Fishy Going on in Iowa?
  Jeff Kopaska
Historical accounts of Iowa’s aquatic resources paint a picture of what Iowa’s rivers, streams and lakes were like at the time of settlement. Unfortunately, the physical and biological components of these aquatic systems had already been degraded by the time of the first scientific surveys in the late 1800s. Erosion and sedimentation issues that began in the 1800s still plague Iowa’s rivers and streams today, in the form of streamside alluvial deposits that are phosphorus laden and subject to streambank erosion. Iowa currently is undertaking efforts to reduce nutrient flux out of the state via our streams and rivers, but restoration of other components of stream ecosystems such as hydrology, geomorphology and biology is lacking. Including nutrient reduction/stream restoration practices that enhance fish populations and fish habitat can provide short term and long term measurable improvements to Iowa’s aquatic resources.
2:10PM Agricultural, Invasive Species, and Altered Hydrology Impacts on Fish Assemblages of a Large River
  Mark Pyron
The Wabash River is a large river in the US Midwest that experienced decades of degradation by industrial and municipal sewage, rowcrop agricultural practices, and hydrologic alteration. Despite the steady pressure of agricultural practices during the last century that led to significant declines in fish diversity, the largest change in fish assemblages was associated with rapid shifts in municipal nutrient loading and invasive bigheaded carps. For instance, of the original 151 native fish species only three species have experienced local extinction. This means the modern assemblage of this river is more intact than many comparable regional rivers. However not all the changes are positive or support the idea of recovery. Primary production underpins the productivity of large rivers and in the Wabash, the phytoplankton assemblages that were dominated by high quality green algae in the 1970s, have become primarily diatoms and lower nutrition-quality blue-green algae as nutrient and invasive species loads have built up. I provide conservation actions to maintain or improve the conservation value of the Wabash River ecosystem based on analysis of long-term datasets from the Wabash River.
2:30PM Impacts of Agricultural Landscapes on Fish Physiology
  Jamilynn B. Poletto
In heavily-altered ecosystems such as those located throughout agriculturally-dominated landscapes, anthropogenic factors have drastically changed available habitats for many native fishes and global climate change has resulted in changes to environmental characteristics, such as water temperature. As these ecologically-relevant environmental variables have shifted, fish populations have subsequently been in decline, and invasive species have been established in aquatic ecosystems. Stressors such as elevated temperatures, altered flow regimes, shifting food webs, increased contaminant load and reduction of spawning or rearing habitat impact the physiology and behavior of fishes and can lead to long-term population effects; however, animals in nature rarely experience these stressors in isolation. To date, there has been a profound lack of data evaluating resilience of fish populations to multiple stressors in agricultural landscapes. Populations already compromised by one anthropogenically-imposed change may be more sensitive to the ecological effects of climate change, and may be unable to adapt as successfully to climate change as populations residing in more pristine environments. A need to conduct multiple stressor assessments, in studies that incorporate more realistic environmental scenarios and utilize ecologically important species has been highlighted in the literature over the past decade, and more recently by regulatory agencies. Furthermore, investigations into the actual mechanisms linking changing environmental variables and fish population declines are sorely lacking. Here, we highlight how the behavior and physiology of fishes may be impacted by agricultural activities, with an emphasis on the utility of laboratory studies aimed at understanding the link between aquatic habitat degradation and fish biology, and how this information can be used to develop more effective conservation and management programs.
2:50PM Refreshment Break
3:20PM Scalar Effects of the Farm Bill on the Environment: From the Office to the Landscape
  James Martin, John Yeiser, Kristine Evans, Guiming Wang, L. Wes Burger
The conservation of the environment within managed ecosystems—places where food, fiber, and bioenergy are produced—is a complicated endeavor. These ecosystems are heterogenous with respect to land use/cover, often including juxtaposed natural, semi-natural, and production elements and necessitating integrative conservation. However, traditional conservation often focuses on patch-level management because scaling up decisions to the landscape invokes competing objectives and multi-landowner problems. The Conservation Title of the Farm Bill has been used to address natural resource concerns at large spatial extents but has followed a predominately voluntary, non-targeted approach to conservation. This approach can produce tangible environmental benefits but can lead to inefficient conservation delivery that is unlikely to optimize conservation outcomes. Improved efficiency is needed because the relative amount of dollars appropriated for conservation is dwindling. The conservation community should consider the scale—space, time, and organizational scale (e.g., governments, teams, and individuals)—at which conservation measures operate to improve efficiency. Spatial-scale is important because the extent and grain of conservation measures should be designed to allocate resources that maximizes outcomes and avoids spending resources in locations where marginal return is low. Likewise, the temporal scale of contracts and management should be well-defined to assure conservation benefits over the life of the practice so that dollars are used efficiently. Lastly, an often-overlooked aspect of conservation delivery is the organizational scale at which conservation decisions are made. Much consternation goes into deliberating the policy aspects of the Farm Bill at the highest levels of government—rightfully so—however a tyranny of small decisions often materializes during conservation delivery at smaller organizational scales. We will use northern bobwhite (Colinus virginianus) and the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) as a vehicle to discuss these issues. Specifically, we will demonstrate that all three types of scale matter to the efficient use of conservation dollars.
3:40PM Rangeland Management Decisions By Producers: Wildlife Management Is Not Their Primary Goal
  Maggi Sliwinski, Walter Schacht, Larkin Powell
Most grasslands in the Great Plains of the United States are privately owned and managed for beef production. Grasslands are an imperiled system and receive much attention from conservation planners who have priorities for biodiversity conservation on private lands. We conducted avian surveys on private grasslands in the Nebraska Sandhills region, and our analyses suggest that bird communities are very similar across a range of approaches to grazing management by landowners. Regardless of grazing system, most grasslands in our study were not disturbed at levels that might provide for vegetation structural heterogeneity and higher avian diversity at a large scale. Why do most landowners adopt conservative grazing practices that ‘manage to the middle’ and tend to minimize habitat heterogeneity on grassland landscapes? To guide conservationists as they engage with ranchers, we conducted interviews with 12 ranchers in three states to provide a description of ranchers’ worldviews as they relate to heterogeneity and disturbances that maintain heterogeneity in grassland ecosystems. Ranchers confirmed that wildlife were of personal interest, but beef cattle production drove their decision-making. The reduction of risk was important to ranchers, expressed a desire to maintain control over their operations and a strategy of selecting trusted advisers. Further, ranchers associated some heterogeneity characteristics (e.g., bare ground) with outcomes of poor management, which is problematic for efforts that aim to increase heterogeneity in grasslands. Ranchers value seeing results of new management methods on university experiment stations or neighbors’ lands, which may provide a road-map for conservation planners and NGOs to introduce heterogeneity management strategies to ranchers.
4:00PM Watershed Conservation in Agricultural Lands Under the Proposed Wotus Rule
  Drue Winters, S. Mažeika Sullivan
The 2015 “Waters of the U.S.” (WOTUS) Rule sought to clarify those waters that were subject to the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act. Recently, the U.S. EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers have proposed a narrower rule based largely on legal-policy constructs. In contrast, the 2015 Rule was based on the best available peer-reviewed science regarding connectivity of waters. Ultimately, a narrower rule will remove protections for thousands of miles of streams and millions of acres of wetlands, and allow activities like land development, water-resource projects, infrastructure development, and industrial expansion to proceed without the safeguards of a federal permit. We discuss the policy history behind the rule, the current status of the proposed re-definition of WOTUS, and AFS’ policy efforts to support a science-based rule. We also address potential implications of the proposed rule for watershed conservation on agricultural lands and implications for downstream waters at both local and landscape scales.
4:20PM Panel Discussion

Organizers: Andy Little, Summer Higdon, Melissa Wuellner
Supported by: TWS–Biological Diversity Working Group, AFS–Water Quality Section, AFS–Fish Management Section, AFS–Fish Habitat Section, AFS–North Central Division

Location: Reno-Sparks CC Date: September 30, 2019 Time: 1:10 pm - 5:00 pm