The Law and Ethics of Assisted Migration

Alex Camacho, Director, UCI Law Center for Land, Environment, and Natural Resources, University of California, Irvine


To avoid extinctions and other harms to ecological health from escalating climatic change, scientists, resource managers, and activists are considering and even engaging in "assisted migration" -  the intentional movement of an organism to an area in which its species has never existed. In this talk, I explore the profound implications of climate change for American natural resource management through the lens of this controversial adaptation strategy. I detail arguments regarding the scientific viability and legality of assisted migration under the thicket of laws that govern natural resources in the United States. I explain why contemporary natural resource law’s fidelity to historic baselines, protecting preexisting biota, and shielding nature from human activity is increasingly untenable, particularly in light of climate change. Active, anticipatory strategies such as assisted migration may not only be permissible but even necessary to avert substantial irreversible harm to ecological systems. Scientists and resource managers should focus on developing scientific data to aid analyses of the risks and benefits of assisted migration in particular circumstances. To help develop such data while minimizing ecological harm, I propose provisionally limiting experimental translocations to situation where translocation is technically and economically feasible, and where the species is endangered, ecologically valuable, and compatible with the proposed site.

 

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