Is there any wilderness left untouched?

Nancy Shackelford (left) and Brian Starzomski (right)

Researchers in the School of Environmental Studies have published on the cumulative effects of human impacts in Conservation Biology. PhD candidate Nancy Shackelford (photographed above, left), Dr. Brian Starzomski (photographed above, right) and colleagues have found that the cumulative effects of human activity has affected 35% of the province of BC already. This human use has been found to be concentrated within the Coastal Douglas Fir ecosystem (100% impacted) and Ponderosa Pine and Bunchgrass ecosystems (85%). This study was the first to quantify the full extent of land use impacts across the province – typically human use is approved and regulated on an industry-specific basis, without a comprehensive tracking of multiple uses. What this research shows is that these multiple uses are adding up to death by a thousand cuts.

In response to these multiple land uses, 7 large mammal species in BC have experienced a reduction in range. Rather than halting development, Ms. Shackelford recommends using Cumulative Effects Assessment (CEA) as a tool to understand current and potential future impacts at both the ecosystem- and species-level. To date, CEA has not been used prior to project planning, partly due to gaps in available information, as well as barriers to sharing data between BC Ministries. However, this illustrates a great potential for multiple levels of government (from planning through implementation) to work collaboratively to ensure conservation targets can realistically be met – for example, to ensure the survival of grizzly bears and caribou. “Biodiversity is important in maintaining resilience, function, and ecosystem interactions, and we can minimize inadvertently driving species to extinction by including CEAs in the pre-planning stages.”

Research funding was provided through the Hakai Institute, Mitacs, Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions, Canada Foundation for Innovation, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, and The Ian McTaggart Cowan Professorship at the University of Victoria.

For more information:

Shackelford, N., Standish, R. J., Ripple, W. and Starzomski, B. M. (), Threats to biodiversity from cumulative human impacts in one of North America's last wildlife frontiers. Conservation Biology. Accepted Author Manuscript.


Nancy Shackelford,

Author, Alina Fisher