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Dear Friend,

A recent Washington Post headline proclaimed that “the secrets to the world’s problems are buried in reports no one reads.” Hyperbole? Without a doubt. But it also illustrates a common view that, when it comes to solving the world’s challenges, science often exists on paper rather than as real solutions.

And that’s what distinguishes the Science for Nature and People Partnership (SNAPP) model. SNAPP takes a “science to solutions” approach. Working groups research some of the most vexing challenges facing the environment and human well-being. Their cutting-edge science leads to the development of important tools to solve these challenges.

Is this easy? Hardly. In my latest book Conservation Planning (coauthored by Edward Game), I write: “We have only a limited understanding of the ways that nature contributes to people and human well-being in particular… Adding people to the conservation planning equation in any significant manner certainly increases the complexity of the planning process.”

I wrote those words before I became Executive Director of SNAPP, but they remain true. Fortunately, the results of several SNAPP working groups show that we are addressing that complexity head on. How do you intensively develop a region the size of Italy while also protecting human communities, large wildlife and rivers? How can we manage global fisheries when we know so little about them? Do wetlands really protect people from hurricanes?

These are all major issues that SNAPP working groups are tackling, and I’m pleased to share with you possible answers to these questions in this update. These results are made possible by individuals and foundations that have supported the work of SNAPP. In the future, I’ll be sharing more stories of SNAPP success, and how your investment can create a better future for people and nature.

Craig Groves
Executive Director, SNAPP

Welcome New SNAPP Board Members

I’d like to welcome two new members to the SNAPP board.

Hugh Possignham

Hugh Possingham recently began as the new Chief Scientist for The Nature Conservancy, having recently moved from the University of Queensland. There his group of 29 PhD students and 15 postdocs worked all over the world using decision science tools from economics and applied mathematics to formulate and solve conservation problems in the real world.

Ben Halpern

Ben Halpern is the new director of the Natural Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS). He also holds a position as Chair in Marine Conservation at Imperial College London and is the Director of the Center for Marine Assessment and Planning (CMAP) at UCSB. He has been involved with NCEAS for nearly two decades, first as a graduate student participant and post doc and later as a Center Associate.

Spotlight: An Agricultural Vision of Tanzania

It’s difficult to overstate the importance of agriculture in Tanzania. Farming provides the primary income for more than 80 percent of people living in rural areas and contributes to 95 percent of the country’s food supply. But these figures can also be a bit misleading. Tanzania’s agriculture is dominated by small holder farmers who achieve very low productivity. The country remains one of the poorest in the world.

“Many people are not using best practices,” says Felix Kamau, agriculture strategy director for The Nature Conservancy in Africa and lead SNAPP Principal Investigator. “The government recognizes that better-managed and more intensive agriculture could lift two million people out of poverty.”

In 2009, Tanzania launched a strategy called “Agriculture first.” Part of that involves developing agriculture land in southern Tanzania over an area larger than Switzerland, now known as the Southern Agricultural Growth Corridor of Tanzania (SAGCOT). This area is home to many small farmers who rely on their fields for subsistence. It is also home to the Selous, one of the largest protected areas on the African continent and home to large herds of elephants and other iconic large mammals. Can this intensive development occur while meeting the needs of people and wildlife?

Enter the SNAPP Smart Agriculture Planning working group – whose products are useable by non-scientists – that is providing a blueprint for productive, profitable, ecologically sustainable agriculture in the region.

The working group focuses on clustering development in agriculturally productive areas that minimizes ecological impacts. It also is developing land use and water-use tools that make small farmers more productive and sustainable.

“We’re developing a tool that assists local water boards in distributing water to farmers properly,” Kamau cites as one example. “This will allow farmers to use water more sustainably. This, in turn, will ensure adequate river flows for the Selous River, which is downstream.”

The working group has also looked at crop suitability modeling, evaluating 23 crops by area based on climate suitability.

“Southern Tanzania will have large-scale commercial farms alongside small-scale subsistence farms,” says Kamau. “We’re taking a holistic approach, looking at how to achieve this agricultural vision while meeting the needs of people and the environment.

Read the full sustainable agriculture report.


Can Wetlands Reduce Storm Damage?
Hurricane Sandy

When SNAPP Coastal Defenses working group member Siddharth Narayan mentions that his work involves understanding how ecosystems like wetlands protect us from storms, he usually gets asked, “Sure, but by how much?”

He now can answer that question, based on research conducted jointly with the insurance industry.

They assessed storm damage from Hurricane Sandy for two scenarios: 1) with wetlands present as they are today, and 2) if all these wetlands had been lost to open water. In total, coastal wetlands were estimated to have saved $625 Million in flood damages during Sandy. Wetlands reduced flood damages to properties by 10 percent on average in the areas where they remain. Taken together, these SNAPP results provide the hard evidence that coastal wetlands are an effective nature-based solution to averting damage from storms.

Read the Coastal Defenses working group’s latest paper.

The High Cost of Watershed Degradation

When a watershed is degraded, it costs you. It costs the world. The Water Security working group recently assessed how much degraded watersheds cost cities that rely on them for their water supply. The results were staggering: Watershed degradation has impacted the cost of water treatment for about one in three cities globally, increasing those costs by about half. If you add up that impact globally, it totals around $5.4 billion a year in economic impact.

The Water Security working group has developed a methodology to identify the cities where watershed restoration and protection efforts could best help mitigate degradation and secure water supplies into the future.

Read more about water security.

New SNAPP Working Groups

At its September 2016 meeting, the SNAPP Board approved funding for several new working groups. Three will launch soon. Co-led by WCS, TNC and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture, one group will work closely with the Colombian government in the Orinoquía region – one of the remaining major agricultural frontiers for Latin America and a region known for its biodiversity. Agricultural development over this large area also has significant implications for climate change.

A second working group will examine the role of organic matter in soil and its relationship to soil productivity, and importantly, its ability to remove carbon from the atmosphere and thereby potentially mitigate the impacts of climate change. Led by TNC NatureNet Fellow Stephen Wood and a coterie of world-class soil scientists, the group will work closely with several on-the-ground Conservancy projects in California.

Finally, one of the most important but contentious approaches to nature conservation in the world involves mitigation and offsetting which are increasingly used by companies and governments to compensate for biodiversity losses associated with major development projects. This working group, led by scientists from the University of Queensland, will evaluate the best practices in offsetting under a variety of different pilot projects around the globe. Together with policy experts and industry representatives, they will assess which compensatory practices will deliver the most equitable conservation and social benefits under a range of different conditions.

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Photo Credits: Header image: Carlton Ward Jr, TNC; Sidebar images: The Nature Conservancy & UCSB; Tanzania: Felix Kamau; Wetlands: Scott Warren; Watershed: Island Free Press (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0); New SNAPP Groups: Cara Byington, TNC.