Courtesy US Forest Service

Big Island Rain Forest Courtesy of US Forest Reserve

BY SYDNEY ROSS SINGER – There is one indisputable truth about the world today. The times they are a changin’.

It’s not just climate change, either. Rising oceans and extremes in weather parallel rising political unrest and extremes in violence.

If you like things the way they have been, then these times of change will feel deeply theatening to your world. You will fear for all you may lose, hoard what you can, and try isolating yourself from the forces of change.

If you are open to improvements in the way things are, then change will be embraced and, if you are smart, managed to your benefit.

All transformation is death of the old and birth of the new. It brings sadness and joy. And like the birthing process itself, change is painful and wonderful at the same time.

For those concerned about conservation of native forests and native ecosystems, the changes to the environment are frightening. Temperature, humidity, rainfall, carbon dioxide levels, and other climactic conditions are changing rapidly, altering the very foundation of native ecosystems. Combined with the constant accidental and intentional introductions of nonnative species into the environment, there is a fear that the rate of native species extinctions will soar.

For conservationists, change must be resisted at all cost. Introduced species that thrive in the changing conditions must be weeded out, since they threaten the survival of weaker native species. In effect, the environment must be managed as a natural museum, artificially supported to keep it from succumbing to the new environmental order.

It is expensive to endlessly keep native ecosystems on life support. Eventually, change will claim its victims.

And change will also claim its victors.

Change creates opportunity. Ecosystem shifts create a new equilibrium. Where some species fall, others will rise. The fittest will survive. And as far as the environment is concerned, it’s all good.

But it may not be all good to people. We may not like the new environmental order. Does it give us food? Does it provide fuel? Is it aesthetically pleasing? Have we gained or lost natural resources? In short, do we like what change has brought us?

Of course, we don’t have to be passive in the face of change. As the cards are reshuffled, we can try to stack the deck to get a better hand. This is what Proservation is all about.

Conservation is reactive; proservation is proactive. Conservation keeps bad things out; proservation brings good things in.

Proservation is the intentional introduction of species to improve the environment. It changes environmental management from the destruction of “invasive” species to the construction of novel, integrated ecosystems.

Naturally, people will disagree on what they consider environmental improvement. For some, it could be introducing more game animals, fruit trees, and other wild foods. For others it could be introducing species more effective at sequestering carbon and cleaning the environment. For others, it could be introducing beneficial species which are endangered elsewhere, providing an Ark for valuable species to survive the storm of change.

Clearly, conservation has its place. Natural areas of weedable size can be set aside as museums. We set aside land for native cultural archeological preservation. Add to that native ecosystem preservation.

As for the rest of the environment, we can help it evolve in this time of rapid change by practicing proservation. Instead of passively watching unintended introductions fill open or unstable ecosystems, we can pre-fill ecosystems with desirable species. This increases our natural resources and fills niches prior to their “invasion” by undesirable species.

Of course, the science will need to be worked out. Which species are likely to survive in the changing world? What may be the primary and secondary impacts of their introduction on human health, the culture and the environment? What does the public think?

But in the end, our islands can emerge from this time of change with more species diversity, healthier ecosystems, fewer undesirable species, and serve as an Ark for some of the world’s most valuable, rare, and important species.

Ironically, many conservation biologists have already been introducing certain species of insects, fungi, and pathogens to attack and weaken competitors of native species. They call this biocontrol. Survival of the unfittest.

However, by intelligently and proactively managing change, proservation is survival of the best.

And if we humans can start focusing on what’s best for the world, that will be a real change for the better.