Historical Landscape Change in Remote Mountainous Parks: Management Challenges Observed Through a Repeat Photographic Lens




Falk, Jenna

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Remote ecosystems in Canadian Rocky Mountain parks and protected areas are being pressured by indirect impacts of human activities across the landscape. Ecological impacts can result from a variety of stressors such as climate change, fire suppression and prescription, visitor use, invasive species, and surrounding land-uses. With intensified challenges relating to logistics and moral issues inherent in remote ecosystem management (Higgs and Hobbs, 2010; Higgs and Roush, 2011), managers of these landscapes continue to struggle with questions of "what do we do here?" For ecological restoration and conservation management, historical landscape changes (predominantly following years of fire suppression and rapid climate change) are complicating decisions and our understanding of ecological processes. While intervention may become increasingly necessary for maintaining biodiversity and ecosystem services under conditions of rapid change (Hobbs et al., 2011), direct action may not be the most appropriate tactic, especially when lacking adequate information and foresight (Harris et al., 2006; Higgs and Roush, 2011). This study investigates observable historical remote landscape change in two protected areas in the Canadian Rockies, and examines the resulting implications for management and restoration. Present conditions in Willmore Wilderness Park and Mount Robson Provincial Park were evaluated in a comparative case-study approach. The influence of factors such as jurisdiction, climate, socioeconomics and settlement history were seen to strongly shape how environmental changes impacted management efforts and decisions. Long-term landscape changes were observed through repeat photography with the Mountain Legacy Project. Through focus groups using photo-elicitation with park managers, repeat photo pairs guided discussion. I pursued this research question: "how do long-term landscape changes influence conservation and restoration objectives in remote mountain ecosystems?" This also incorporated subsidiary questions: "what are the inherent challenges in managing (and restoring) remote ecosystems?” and “how could managers of remote ecosystems best approach these issues in the face of rapid ecological change?” Significant landscape changes are observed in both parks and include glacier retreat, forest stand aging, valley infill (encroachment) and upward movement of the treeline ecotone. While ecological changes are seen as significant and as threatening to various park values and public safety, efforts to better understand these changes or address them are limited. The majority of remote ecosystem management efforts in both parks are indirect (passive), with the exception of fire management. This is largely due to capacity and resource constraints, and agency recreation mandates and visitor needs monopolizing manager focus. Suggested restoration efforts would assist climate adaptation and reduce indirect impacts without placing notable pressure on remote ecosystems. The use of repeat photography for monitoring of ecological change is a strong possibility for parks management, particularly if public engagement through citizen science was implemented to minimize dependence on management resources.



remote ecosystems, climate change, landscape change, protected areas, parks management, Canadian Rocky Mountains