Natural Resources, School of



Dirac Twidwell

Date of this Version



Twidwell, D., Wonkka, C. L., Bielski, C. H., Allen, C. R., Angeler, D. G., Drozda, J., Garmestani, A. S., Johnson, J., Powell, L. A., and Roberts, C. P. (2018). The perpetual state of emergency that sacrifices protected areas in a changing climate. Conservation Biology .32(4): 905–915.

doi: 10.1111/cobi.13099


U.S. Government Work


A modern challenge for conservation biology is to assess the consequences of policies that adhere to assumptions of stationarity (e.g., historic norms) in an era of global environmental change. Such policies may result in unexpected and surprising levels of mitigation given future climate-change trajectories, especially as agriculture looks to protected areas to buffer against production losses during periods of environmental extremes. We assessed the potential impact of climate-change scenarios on the rates at which grasslands enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) are authorized for emergency harvesting (i.e., biomass removal) for agricultural use, which can occur when precipitation for the previous 4 months is below 40% of the normal or historical mean precipitation for that 4-month period. We developed and analyzed scenarios under the condition that policy will continue to operate under assumptions of stationarity, thereby authorizing emergency biomass harvesting solely as a function of precipitation departure from historic norms. Model projections showed the historical likelihood of authorizing emergency biomass harvesting in any given year in the northern Great Plains was 33.28% based on long-term weather records. Emergency biomass harvesting became the norm (>50% of years) in the scenario that reflected continued increases in emissions and a decrease in growing-season precipitation, and areas in the Great Plains with higher historical mean annual rainfall were disproportionately affected and were subject to a greater increase in emergency biomass removal. Emergency biomass harvesting decreased only in the scenario with rapid reductions in emissions. Our scenario-impact analysis indicated that biomass from lands enrolled in the CRP would be used primarily as a buffer for agriculture in an era of climatic change unless policy guidelines are adapted or climate-change projections significantly depart from the current consensus.