Developing policy on the relocation of threatened species

“Managed relocation”, also known as “assisted migration” or “assisted colonization”, is a controversial conservation strategy that involves the deliberate movement of species into new habitats to improve their chances of long-term survival.

In a recent article in the August 2012 issue of the journal BioScience, Mark W. Schwartz and colleagues report on the findings of the Managed Relocation Working Group. The working group, of which C·I·B Director Professor Dave Richardson is part, is an interdisciplinary group of scientists, researchers, and policymakers, whose aim is to examine the conditions that might justify the use of managed relocation and to assess the research being conducted on the topic.

The BioScience paper notes that although traditional management strategies are not likely to address the effects of climate change adequately, guidelines and protocols for managed relocation are poorly developed. “Developing a functional policy framework for managed relocation is a grand challenge for conservation,” they assert.

Moving a species to a higher elevation, for instance, may allow it to survive rising temperatures or an elevated sea level, but doing it in an ethically acceptable way is fraught with both legal and political complications. Unforeseen environmental consequences can be severe, for example, the species might become invasive in its new location. Many people question the appropriateness of conserving a single species if it involves possibly disrupting an entire ecosystem. Poor regulation of managed relocation may also open the door to exploitative movement of species. Regulation is often dispersed among provinces, national governments, and various agencies, which may have conflicting agendas, and most relevant policies and laws were not written with climate change in mind.

The current state of ecological knowledge is at a level that makes predicting the effects of any particular proposed relocation very difficult, and this is likely to remain the case for the foreseeable future. This makes it hard to know which species are most likely to benefit from managed relocation. Even so, ad hoc managed relocation projects are already under way in the United States and the United Kingdom.

The authors recommend action by government agencies to develop and adopt best practices for managed relocation. They urge a transparent approach, with integrated research and international involvement of scientists, policymakers, resource managers, and other stakeholders. What is needed, the authors argue, is more research to make better predictions; clearly written policies to define the responsibilities of various parties, to enable management and to limit abuse; and stakeholder involvement to minimise social conflict.

Read the full article in BioScience:

Read an earlier paper from the Managed Relocation Working Group on “Multidimensional evaluation of managed relocation”

For more information, contact Professor Dave Richardson at