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Peak Oil: Implications for Sustainable Natural Resources Management David L. Trauger Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University J. Edward Gates University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science USDA Forest Service Sustainable Operations Summit November 18-20, 2008

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peak oil implications for sustainable natural resources management

Peak Oil: Implications for Sustainable Natural Resources Management

David L. Trauger

Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

J. Edward Gates

University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science

USDA Forest Service Sustainable Operations Summit

November 18-20, 2008

  • Contemporary natural resources management is highly dependent on cheap, abundant energy
  • A critical evaluation of implications of Peak Oil is needed in order to anticipate and plan for a range of “futures”
  • We will face great challenges as well as opportunities in different biogeographic regions as we adjust to new realities during the coming decades
Energy governs how we do our jobs
    • Powering facilities, computers, generators, or motor vehicles
    • Consuming food energy hiking to the next observation or sampling point
    • Manufacturing some useful field or laboratory device or tool
  • Much of what we describe here will be influenced by future economic conditions and whether we can avoid collapse
management implications of peak oil
Management Implications of Peak Oil
  • Impacts on Budgets
  • Impacts on Operations
  • Impacts on Maintenance
  • Impacts on Personnel
impacts on budgets
Impacts on Budgets
  • Expensive, increasingly scarce oil will not only affect our ability to drive our cars and trucks, but…
  • Costs of everything will go up dramatically
    • Effects will ripple throughout our national economy
    • Significantly impact institutional and agency budgets
major budgetary implications
Major Budgetary Implications
  • Greater justification of expenditures and a sharper focus on setting program priorities
  • Mandated high efficiency in both operations and equipment
  • Curtailment or elimination of obsolete or inefficient programs or operations
  • Sharing of resources and responsibilities among personnel and different agencies
impacts on operations
Impacts on Operations
  • Operations may be focused within autonomous administrative regions

- Movement of personnel around the

country or state or province may be too costly

  • Greater reliance on electronic communications using renewable energy sources

- Brownouts and blackouts may affect the

electrical grid’s dependability

forests refuges parks and other public lands
Forests, Refuges, Parks, and other Public Lands
  • Lack of disposable income may mean fewer visitations by the public
    • Declines in ecotourism leading to economic nonviability
  • Pressure to privatize or open public lands for needed revenues to operate
    • Directly for income to support operations
    • Indirectly for metals, minerals, hydrocarbons, geothermal, wood, biomass, etc.
species management
Species Management
  • Recreational hunting, fishing, and camping likely will decline
    • Increase in poaching and timber theft for subsistence
  • Rare, threatened, and endangered species
    • Increase in extirpation and extinction
  • Greater emphasis on law enforcement
  • Exotic and invasive species
    • Control may be too expensive
  • Habitat and landscape restoration
    • Let’s work with nature!
inventories monitoring and research
Inventories, Monitoring, and Research
  • Research activities
    • Greatly reduced capability
    • Focus on rigorous and integrated adaptive resource management
  • Activities dependent on extensive use of manned, motorized craft
    • Severely compromised, e.g. Routine patrols,

Fire fighting, Breeding Waterfowl Surveys,

Big Game Surveys

Surveys using volunteers
    • Breeding Bird Survey, etc., may become difficult to maintain
  • Remotely accessed or automated monitoring systems
    • Expansion of their application
    • Role in law enforcement


  • Increased costs will mean that there will be even fewer incentives to travel long distances to meetings, particularly via jet planes
    • International
    • National
    • Regional
    • State
impacts on maintenance
Impacts on Maintenance
  • Reduction of many types of maintenance and repair
    • Road maintenance and other access points
    • Non-essential infrastructure, e.g., visitor services
  • Recovery from catastrophic events will be problematic
    • Wind storms, wild fires, tornadoes, floods, hurricanes, etc.
Maintaining levees, dikes, and other impoundments will be expensive
    • Especially in coastal areas where sea

level rise is predicted

  • Retrofit, Repair, and Recycling will be new watchwords
impacts on personnel
Impacts on Personnel
  • Adjustment in types of positions
    • Less centralization or hierarchical organization
    • Greater decision-making autonomy by regional or local managers
    • Flexibility and adaptability in the workplace with emphasis on re-training and less specialization
  • Fewer researchers and more personnel involved with law enforcement
  • Fewer volunteers
  • More “public works” programs
    • Similar to old Civilian Conservation Corps
    • But, will governments have the revenues?
Sustainable approaches will be an overriding goal
  • Demand for personnel with particular skills
    • Law enforcement
    • Adaptive resource management
    • Remote sensing and GIS
    • Information technology and electronic communication
    • Equipment maintenance and repair
    • Care of livestock, i.e., pack animals and horses!
Universities — declining budgets, declining student enrollments, declining research dollars, and downsizing faculty
    • Fewer students going into forestry, wildlife, fisheries, and other conservation fields due to costs and lack of jobs
    • Emphasis on training fewer post-graduates
    • Major universities will undergo contraction in many disciplines
    • Smaller colleges and universities nearer to home may weather the storm better
  • Approaches to education and training will change and evolve
    • Alternatives to attending university
      • Distance learning and training technologies, e.g., CDs, DVDs, web, interactive video network
      • Scattered faculty offer a coherent program of specialized training to a wider audience
  • Will we be able to react quickly enough?
  • Duplication and waste will be less tolerated due to high costs and focus on sustainability
  • Decision making will be streamlined and entrusted to those on the “front lines”
    • Innovative, logical, multi-taskes, risk takers
    • Initiative and success rewarded
  • Employees will be challenged by a dynamic work environment
    • Novel situations and conditions
    • Need for adaptability and innovation
can we be proactive
Can We be Proactive?
  • Most budget adjustments and expenditures must be made early while energy is still relatively cheap and abundant and before other costs rise…the future is NOW!
  • However, could be a difficult task given flat or declining budgets and inflationary pressures
  • Doing more with less will surely take on new meaning for all
efficiency and conservation
Efficiency and Conservation
  • History shows that savings due to increased fuel-efficiency can easily be wiped out by “increased population (number of drivers) and energy use (travel)”
  • Not a strategy to enable “business as usual,” but one to effect a net reduction in oil consumption
  • Must be coupled with the eventual elimination of greenhouse gas emissions from the burning of fossil fuels
solar and wind
Solar and Wind
  • Retrofitting existing facilities and operating field equipment
    • Example: Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge on Maryland’s upper Eastern Shore

Prediction: Budget pressures will force consolidation of natural resources agencies across the U.S. Government in the next 5 years.

Flash: Creation of a Earth Systems Science Agencyproposed bymerging National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Geological Survey.

Question: Can the USDA Forest Service, U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, and National Park Service be far behind? Hummm… Natural Resources Management Agency has a certain ring to it!

  • Peak Oil will force drastic changes in natural resource management programs and priorities
  • Major challenge to protect and manage the integrity of our forests and other biotic systems
  • Greater emphasis on REAL sustainable resource management strategies
  • Whether we leave a natural heritage for our descendents and future generations will depend on the pathway we take now!