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A Mathematical Formula for Conservation

Liz Clift, MFA

“Finding beauty in a broken world is creating beauty in the world we find.” – Terry Tempest Williams, from Finding Beauty in A Broken World

Recently, I was walking into a symposium on Urban Ecological Design and Restoration with one of my coworkers. I don’t remember how we got on the subject, but just before we walked in the doors, I said “Just the fact that the blue whale exists – that we are living at the same time as the biggest animal that has ever lived on Earth – makes me happy.”

My undergraduate environmental economics teacher would have jumped all over this, asking me to assess intrinsic and extrinsic values to the existence of blue whales (Balaenoptera musculus), and then brought whatever answers I gave into less-romanticized reality by asking how much I would personally be willing to give (in money and in time which would be assigned a monetary value) to save the blue whale. He would have engaged me in a conversation about whether my answer would change if there was only one or even 100 blue whales left in the world compared to the 10,000-25,000 currently believed to still exist.

My co-worker didn’t ask any of those questions, but brought up the panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca).

Mathematical Formula for Conservation

It’s easy for us to talk about conservation when we’re talking about species that are well-known:  charismatic megafauna (pandas or blue whale, for instance) or species who we’ve designated (officially or unofficially) as national icons, such as bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) and koalas (Phascolarctos cinereus).

It’s much harder when we talk about the conservation of less widely known species. Some of these species might be newly discovered, or considered “pest” species, or perhaps have just never had a strong advocacy group encouraging all of us to care. These species may or may not be keystone species. They may or may not be crucial to successional growth in an ecosystem. They may or may not be a lot of things.

Ultimately, this comes down to a question of the ways we place value on living things. More specifically, we have to determine how, given limited conservation funds, we determine which species we should work to conserve.

Project Prioritization Protocol (PPP) offers a mathematical solution to help us determine this. The idea was first advanced by economists Andrew Metrick and Martin L. Weitzman in 1998, and was further developed by Hugh Possingham at the Queensland University Centre for Excellence in Environmental Decisions. It has been adopted by the governments of New Zealand, and New South Wales (NSW), in Australia, as a way to prioritize which species receive limited conservations funds.

In New Zealand, which has been running this type of program for about 6 years, priority was placed on preserving the greatest possible number of species that are endemic to New Zealand. To try and limit community objections to this way of prioritizing species, the initial project included community consultation, including with NGOs, Maori tribal representatives, and the public at large. In addition, project leaders decided to allocate a certain amount of conservation funds to species that are iconic to New Zealand, and exclude those species from the PPP process.

NSW’s project, Saving Our Species (SOS), which began more recently, focused on maximizing the number of threatened species that could be maintained in the wild over the next 100 years. Higher priority animals included the masked owl (Tyto novaehollandiae) and the yellow spotted bell frog (Litoria castanea), while a lower priority species was the purple crowned lorikeet (Glossopsitta porphyrocephala).

The mathematical formula used to prioritize species relies on converting the benefit of a species surviving to an economic value. This may be based partly on dollars added to the economy (for instance, koalas are an integral part of the Australian tourist economy, estimated to add AU$1.1 – 2.5 billion to the economy) and partially by monetizing the value of the species’ role in the ecosystem. This is multiplied by the benefits of the program and the probability of the conservation program’s success, then divided by the program cost.

In short, the formula looks like:

Mathematical Formula for Conservation

W = Species value

B = Benefits of the project

S = Probability of success

C = Project cost

Critics of PPP are reluctant to accept some extinctions as inevitable. It probably doesn’t help that the focusing of conservation resources is sometimes referred to as “conservation triage.” Michael P. Nelson, an environmental philosopher and ethicist, finds the term triage problematic because he opposes celebrating the recovery of one species if it means the failure to save another due to limited resources. Further, Nelson acknowledges that while conservation resources might be scarce for a particular agency, they are not – at least in the US – genuinely scarce; we are just choosing not to allocate funds toward conservation. Like other critics, Nelson implies that if governments are serious about conservation, they would put more money toward it.

Of course, it’s never that simple. We live in a world in which we are on the verge of another mass extinction. And, we also live in a world where funding for conservation programs is limited, and often divided among many competing groups who are advocating for a variety of different species. One potential benefit of this mathematical formula is that it allows for the conservation of species who may be critical to an ecosystem – but might not have loud voices advocating on their behalf.

As any economist would tell you, we are always assigning value – in this case, to various species (not to mention the conservation and restoration projects often associated with helping maintain a particular species) – the PPP just makes it more explicit.

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Earth Day 2016

Liz Clift, MFA

On Earth Day, a year ago, I was working with youth in an afterschool program located in Northeast Denver. My co-workers and I asked youth what they’d learned about Earth Day in school or at home, and then asked them how they’d like to help the planet.

The youth voted to pick up trash in the playground and around the school where the program is housed. If every youth picked up just 10 pieces of trash (and some picked up more), that means the youth picked up 750 pieces of litter. As one of my 5th grade youth calculated (without his phone or a calculator, I might add), if they all did that every day for a year, they would place 273,750 pieces of trash in either the trash can or recycling bin.

That is a lot of trash!

Of course, there are many ways to celebrate Earth Day, and there are events in communities around the world. Great Ecology is thrilled to have helped facilitate one of those events, through our Florham Park Pollinator Habitat & Landscape Enhancements project in New York. Volunteers turned out to the facility to help plant the pollinator garden, which will provide habitat for a number of pollinator species, including the rare Long Dash butterfly.

Charles Howe, one of our landscape architects in New York, was on site for the event. Highlights of the day included:

  • Volunteers shoveled and moved 8 tons of dirt and mulch
  • Volunteers planted many varieties of flowering plants, including purple coneflower, phlox, and blue salvia
  • A community organization joined with BASF volunteers to get the pollinator garden planted

How else did Great Ecology celebrate?

One of our ecologists, Emily Callahan, celebrated the day by being honored at the Tribeca Disruptive Innovation Awards for her work converting decommissioned oil rigs to artificial reefs.

Employees in our California office took some time to clean up a local highway and employees in our Denver office made a point of biking to work today (okay, to be fair, our Denver employees regularly do this anyway).

I spent some time in my garden before and after work pulling weeds and readying the bed for starts to go in the ground in a few weeks. Last year, in fact, I also spent some of Earth Day in a garden – only it was with the youth at the afterschool program, and in the garden at their site, where we were likely weeding and building the frame for a vertical garden.

We’d love to hear what you did to celebrate Earth Day!



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Economic Impacts of Ecological Restoration


How do you generate between $2.2 and $3.4 million in total economic output? Invest $1 million in ecosystem restoration, according to a new study released earlier this month by the US Geological Survey (USGS).

Economists employed by USGS reviewed and evaluated 21 restoration projects backed by the Department of the Interior and found that for every dollar invested in ecological restoration there was a two- to three- fold impact on economic activity at the local, state, and federal levels. Every $1 million invested in restoration also creates between 13-32 job years – which can have a significant, and lasting, impact on a community.

The analysis looked at a wide range of ecological restoration projects, ranging from sagebrush and sage grouse habitat restoration to wetland and tidal marsh restoration to post-fire restoration projects – all projects that aim to provide a number of “ecosystem services,” which often have an under-appreciated function in our economy, and are also important for the environment.

What does this all mean? In short: investing in ecological restoration supports jobs and livelihoods, small businesses, and rural communities – something which can be part of the narrative told by businesses, governments, and others investing in ecological restoration.

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Emily Callahan Honored at Tribeca Disruptive Innovation Awards


Great Ecology is pleased to announce that Emily Callahan, one of our ecologists, will be recognized at the Tribeca Film Festival during the 7th annual Tribeca Disruptive Innovation Awards. The event takes place tomorrow, April 22, at 11:00am. According to the Tribeca Disruptive Innovation Awards website, “The goal of the awards is to share insights into innovation to help solve some of the world’s most intractable problems.”

Emily will be honored alongside Amber Jackson, her co-founder of Blue Latitudes, an organization whose mission is to “unite science, policy, and economics to create innovative solutions for the complex ecological challenges associated with offshore structures.” In short, the work they do involves turning oil rigs into reefs. Rigs-to-Reefs allows an oil company to choose to modify a platform so that it can continue to support marine life as an artificial reef, which has been shown to increase biomass and attract additional marine species to the site.

Artificial reefs created from decommissioned oil rigs have the potential to facilitate artificial biodiversity, which can help mitigate marine ecosystem losses due to manmade stressors, including: pollution, overfishing, mining, coastal development, and climate change. This mitigation work to support of marine ecosystems may be especially important as human activities continue to impact marine ecosystems.

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Urban Ecological Design and Restoration: A Multi-Disciplinary Approach

Liz Clift, MFA

On Thursday, March 31, the Colorado Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLACO), the Central Rockies Chapter of the Society for Ecological Restoration (CeRSER), and the Denver Botanic Gardens (DBG) hosted the Urban Ecological Design and Restoration Symposium at DBG’s York Street gardens.
The symposium featured talks by Marion Hourdequin, an Associate Professor of Philosophy at Colorado College who, with David G. Havlick, edited the book Restoring Layered Landscapes: History, Ecology, and Culture; Keith Bowers, founder and president of Biohabitats; and Rick Bachand, Environmental Program Manager for the City of Fort Collins. Following the presentations, the three speakers participated in a panel discussion moderated by Tina Bishop, a founding partner of Mundus Bishop.
Hourdequin’s presentation focused on restoration of landscapes with complex socio-ecological histories. She highlighted the restoration of former military and weapons-making sites, including Rocky Mountain Arsenal, a 15,000-acre National Wildlife Refuge only a few miles northeast of downtown Denver. Hourdequin pointed out that despite the complex socio-ecological history of the site, black-footed ferrets were recently re-introduced to the land. Many of the refuge’s visitors, as indicated in one recent survey, didn’t even realize the history of the wildlife refuge. Hourdequin also spoke about a chapter in her book by Martin Drenthen, who proposes absurdist artwork in locations such as Rocky Mountain Arsenal as a way to acknowledge “the problematic nature of the past human activities, such as the production of chemical weapons.”
Keith Bowers illustrated a variety of ways, via projects led by Biohabitats, that urban ecological design could fit hand-in-hand with restoration. He talked about biomimicry as a way to incorporate ecological design through both restoration ecology and landscape architecture, and how this can be done with both form and function – and that even if not well versed in biomimicry, landscape architects and restoration ecologists may still benefit from following these processes. Bowers opined that in many urban environments, there is very little nature left, and for this reason, monitoring can be especially crucial. He reminded the room that once the project is on the ground only 20% of the work is done – monitoring and maintaining the project remains a crucial component to success.
Bachand illustrated perspectives on restoration through descriptions of personality types in environmental design, and he provided as a case study his work with a team to restore the Poudre River. Bachand identifies as having a Type A personality, which serves him well in paying attention to detail – but is less useful when Mother Nature decides to throw a curveball. Flooding occurred shortly after the restoration project had been completed, and created a sandbank which Bachand’s Type B personality co-workers deemed would be great for beach volleyball – or a relaxing day lounging on the beach!
During the panel discussion, Hourdequin, Bowers, and Bachand were asked to define urban ecology and to talk about their vision for future cities. To some extent, each panelist responded that urban ecology must take into consideration that people and the non-human environment are going to interact – and that we must stop seeing people as separate from the environment. Hourdequin emphasized that we should consider nature and culture intertwined. Bowers pointed out that ecological processes happen from a natural standpoint, and we must consider how these processes flow into, and interact, with people. Future cities should be built with these ideas in mind.
The presentations and panel discussion were followed by a happy hour, where guests had a chance to mingle with each other, the presenters, and event sponsors.
The event was coordinated by Chris Loftus, RLA, a landscape architect with Great Ecology, and Casey Cisneros, Land Stewardship Manager for Larimer County Natural Resources. Tim Hoelzle, Vice President of Technical Services at Great Ecology emceed the event

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VP of Great Ecology to Speak on Habitat Mitigation at SER Northwest Next Week & Has a New Publication


Tim Hoelzle, Vice President of Great Ecology, is slated to present on Habitat Equivalency Analysis (HEA) at the Society for Ecological Restoration Northwest’s (SER NW) regional conference in Portland, Oregon next week. The talk, “Increasing Federal Focus on Regulatory Mitigation: Is Habitat Equivalency Analysis the Answer?” will explore recent presidential memoranda, and Department of Interior orders, related to mitigation and ecosystem services, as well as look at several case studies of HEA in application. Check out his talk at the SER NW Conference, in the Multnomah Room, at 1:30 PM PDT. The session is titled: Strategic Planning of Ecological Restoration.

Tim will discuss how HEA can be applied outside of Natural Resource Damage and Restoration (NRDAR) frameworks to meet recent goals laid out by the US Department of the Interior and Presidential Memoranda that focus on habitat mitigation and ecosystem services. HEA acknowledges that when a site is impacted, it loses a portion of its total ecological services over space and time. Restoration of the site balances the human and ecological impacts with the benefits of ecological recovery, including lost ecological function and ecosystem services.

But, how do we know that a habitat has recovered?

Tim has an answer for that, too. He is an author of a recent publication on habitat monitoring of contaminated environments. The paper, “Integrated Risk and Recovery Monitoring of Ecosystem Restorations on Contaminated Sites,” stemmed from a 2014 Technical Workshop organized by the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (SETAC) and SER.

This article appeared as one of six articles in a series titled, “Restoration of Impaired Ecosystems: An Ounce of Prevention or a Pound of Cure?” This open access series is a collaboration between industry, government, the private sector, and academia, and appeared in Volume 12.2 of Integrated Environmental Assessment and Management.

Great Ecology specializes in restoration, planning, and design of both natural and urban environments through sustainable solutions. The company integrates science with design to solve complex ecological challenges to achieve environmental, social, and business goals. Reach out to Tim to learn more.


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Ecological Design and Restoration Symposium in Denver


DENVER, CO – Spend the afternoon at the Denver Botanic Garden’s (DBG) York Street site, and attend the Urban Ecological Design + Restoration Symposium, presented by the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), the Central Rockies Chapter of the Society for Ecological Restoration (CeRSER), and DBG.

Tim Hoelzle, Vice President of Technical Services at Great Ecology, will will act as emcee for the symposium, which will feature presentations and a panel discussion by Marion Hourdequin, Keith Bowers, and Rick Bachand.

Hourdequin is an associate professor of philosophy at Colorado College. Her work focuses on the ethics of global climate change and on the social and ethical dimensions of ecological restoration. Bowers has employed principles of applied ecology and land conservation to build a practice focused on regenerative design–a model that respects Earth’s ecological limits, heals damaged ecological processes, integrates green infrastructure, and catalyzes mutually beneficial relationships with the land. Bachand is the Environmental Program Manager with the City of Fort Collins, Colorado Natural Areas Department and is a leading expert in public land management who is widely recognized for his award-winning efforts to restore the Poudre River in Fort Collins.

The symposium takes place on March 31, 2016 and runs from 1:00PM-5:30PM. It will be followed by a happy hour reception, lasting until 7:30PM.

Early registration rates apply through March 23: $30 for members of ASLA, CeRSER, or DBG; $45 for non-members; and $20 for students. To register, visit ASLA Colorado or SER Central Rockies.

After March 23, registration will only be accepted on site: $45 for members; $60 for non-members; and $30 for students. Registration includes admission to the botanic gardens, 2 drink tickets, and light snacks.

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Great Ecology- Prime Consultant for the Port of San Diego Mitigation Banking Project

Great Ecology was selected as the prime ecological consultants to help the San Diego Unified Port District (Port) establish and operate a wetlands mitigation bank on Pond 20, an undeveloped site in South San Diego, California. Commissioned by the Port, the mitigation bank is part one of a three part development plan for the 95-acre Pond 20 site.

The highly publicized project has been in development for almost two decades and included extensive stakeholder outreach to solicit public feedback and concept ideas. Located adjacent to the Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve, commercial and residential developments, and on Palm Avenue’s “gateway to South San Diego County’s beaches”, the project goals balance ecological, economic, and community needs.  Following the approval of the three part development plan in July 2015, the wetland mitigation banking RFP was released in October 2015. The first phase is currently underway and is led by Great Ecology.

Headquartered in San Diego, CA, Great Ecology is excited to bring the firm’s strong mitigation banking and habitat restoration expertise to the high profile project. Great Ecology’s in-depth understanding of the mitigation banking process from concept to credit sale is enhanced by the firm’s experience working as consultants for various mitigation banking companies nationwide. As the prime consultant, Great Ecology is currently conducting an in-depth feasibility study for the site which is scheduled to be completed in spring 2016 and will provide the Port information to move the project forward.

Great Ecology assembled a robust project team including RECON, ESA, and AES. The project team is led by Great Ecology President and Founder, Dr. Mark S. Laska, and is supported by Director of Ecology, Nick Buhbe. For over 20 years, Dr. Laska has provided ecological consulting expertise on projects nationwide with a focus on mitigation banking and habitat restoration. Deputy Project Manager, Nick Buhbe, brings extensive local experience, having worked in Southern California and California for over 20 years.

For more information and to sign up for project updates visit the Port’s Pond 20 website.

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Dr. Petrisor Receives AEHS Foundation Achievement Award

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Great Ecology is pleased to announce Dr. Ioana Petrisor has been awarded the AEHS Foundation Achievement Award. This is the seventh year for the award program, which recognizes individuals for significant contributions to the environmental field as well as outstanding environmental stewardship. The award will be presented to Dr. Petrisor at the 26th Annual International Conference on Soil, Energy, Water, and Air.

Dr. Ioana Petrisor - Senior Ecologist

Dr. Petrisor is a biochemist with 22 years of experience (both in academia and industry), specializing in environmental forensics and litigation support. She has helped both national and international clients to recover costs in complex contamination cases involving multiple contaminants (both organic and inorganic) and releases in time and space. Dr. Petrisor is the Editor-in-Chief of the Environmental Forensics Journal. She has extensive publication experience with an invention patent, a text book, 6 book chapters, 12 editorials, and over 70 research and review articles.

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Tim Hoelzle Appointed CeRSER Vice President/President Elect

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Great Ecology is proud to announce that Tim Hoelzle, VP of Technical Services at Great Ecology, has been named Vice President/President Elect of the Central Rockies Chapter of the Society for Ecological Restoration (CeRSER). Tim previously served on CeRSER’s board of directors as Treasurer, and will officially transition to his new position in January 2016.

Mr. Timothy Hoelzle

CeRSER is a regional chapter of SER serving the states of Colorado and Wyoming, whose mission is to foster ecological restoration awareness, understanding and activity among a range of participants.

Tim Hoelzle specializes in the restoration and enhancement of underutilized sites across the United States, as well as in the reclamation and remediation of lands disturbed through mining and energy extraction. His expertise also includes wetland and stream restoration, invasive species management, soil microbial community evaluations, environmental permitting, and Natural Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration (NRDAR). He holds a Master’s degree in Rangeland Ecosystem Science and a Bachelor’s degree in Rangeland Ecology with a focus on Restoration Ecology from Colorado State University.

Great Ecology congratulates Tim on his elected position!

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