UNDARK: Researchers behind habitat restoration and wildlife protection groups are struggling to continue work amid the pandemic. “..Across North America, Africa, and elsewhere, conservation efforts that keep delicate ecosystems in check are struggling as the Covid-19 pandemic keeps many people confined to their homes. There are no tourists, who help fund a range of projects. Volunteers and employees aren’t able to plant trees or remove invasive species, while wildlife rehabilitation centers struggle to keep their doors open. Some programs require large crews that can’t practice social distancing on the job, while many others, like the Platte River restoration, rely on the money brought in from tourism or activity fees to function. Conservation efforts have long had to contend with occasional booms and busts in the industry, but unlike any other event before it, the pandemic has laid bare the weaknesses of the economic cogs that support certain ecosystems. “We’ve kind of got a perfect storm,” said Catherine Semcer, a research fellow for both the U.S.-based Property and Environmental Research Center and the African Wildlife Economy Institute. Since the beginning of the pandemic, Semcer has followed the ways that the global shut down has affected conservation, particularly in Africa.
For many conservation efforts, the sudden loss in income will be a major setback for the coming year. Other groups say that the pandemic could cause permanent damage. As for Rowe Sanctuary, Taddicken still isn’t sure what the pandemic’s final impact will be. The sanctuary may have to cut back on some of their river clearing work this year, but his big worry is losing the incremental progress built into the habitat over decades. It would only take a few years without habitat management for the carefully managed river channels and meadows to revert to a state unsuitable for cranes. “You definitely don’t want to go backwards in maintaining the river,” he said. “And if it gets too bad and we don’t get the work we need to get done, we could go backwards.”