As the issue of climate change becomes increasingly present in our daily lives so will the term resiliency. In reference to climate change, however, it is scientifically referred to as ecological resilience. This term is defined as the ability for an ecosystem to respond and recover from disturbance. Ecosystems that recover quickly from disturbance have high resiliency and conversely those that do not recover quickly have low resiliency. Ecological resilience is an important facet to conservation and as such ADK must recognize it in our own efforts.
In nature, disturbance is an ongoing natural process. Events like floods, insect outbreaks, and wildfires are all examples of natural disturbances. Some environments rely on disturbance. There are many species of cone producing trees in the Pinus genus whose seed cones will only spread and germinate if they are set on fire. Many dry conifer forests in the western United States need wildfires to maintain themselves as forests. Every environment has a certain limit to the amount disturbance it can handle though. Many ecosystems globally are at risk of severe damage because natural disturbance is being coupled with intense destructive human activity and anthropogenically induced climate change. Human activity and climate change are recognized as forms of disturbance and together they test the limits of ecosystems’ ecological resilience. Ecosystems that normally can handle natural disturbances become overwhelmed when faced with these added pressures and those that are unable to cope with the pressures readily fall into disarray. Species populations dwindle or go extinct, habitat quality degrades, and biodiversity suffers as a result.
Conservation organizations worldwide are recognizing that lands with high resiliency and high ecological significance should be targeted as high priority for protection. The reason for this is because lands with higher resiliency will respond and adapt to climate change better than others. The ability of an ecosystem to be resilient is determined by 4 elements: Latitude, Resistance, Precariousness, and Panarchy. Latitude relates to lands’ geographical location; polar regions are less resilient to extreme temperature shifts than temperate regions. Resistance is the amount of effort or energy it takes to make a change in the ecosystem, the less resistant the less energy it requires to make changes. Precariousness is how far away an ecosystem is from reaching a threshold that would induce change, if an ecosystem is currently stable it is much harder to make changes to. If, however, an ecosystem recently was hit by a hurricane then it is in a much more precarious state and change comes easier. Finally, panarchy is a concept that describes how species are organized within space. Small, patchy, and isolated pockets of a species do not respond the same way connected, large, contiguous populations of the same species do. A lone wolf cannot hunt American bison, but a wolf pack can.
ADK has recognized that the time for action with respect to climate change is now and that ecological resilience is an important factor to consider when thinking about conservation. Large, undeveloped tracts of land often times are more resilient than smaller or developed tracts. ADK understands that climate change is inevitable and the best chance for preserving New York State’s natural resources is to protect resilient lands of ecological importance. We believe that by setting aside large tracts of Wilderness we are not only protecting the environment, we are investing in New York’s future by saving land that will resist the impacts climate change will bring.
Interested in adding additional wilderness to New York? Want to help? Keep Reading!
Currently ADK is taking part in the BeWildNY campaign with several other environmental organizations. It was started to raise awareness about the opportunity for the people of New York to have a say in Wilderness matters in state government. New York State recently purchased the Boreas Ponds Tract which is a 22,000 acre plot situated between the High Peaks and Dix Range Wilderness areas. ADK and the BeWildNY campaign understand that the best way for this tract to withstand climate change is for it to remain as pristine and natural as possible. This way the Boreas ecosystem is able to better respond to it without also having to deal with motorized activity and its impacts. If you would like more information or are interested in getting involved please visit the BeWildNY website.
 Walker, B., Holling, C. S., Carpenter, S. R., & Kinzig, A. (2004). Resilience, adaptability and transformability in social–ecological systems. Ecology and society, 9(2), 5.