Environmental Impact Assessment and wildlife: from a descriptive to an experimental approach
By Iván Salgado
Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) aim to identify, quantify and mitigate or compensate for the impacts and cumulative effects of projects, such as transport infrastructures and power plants, on ecosystems. Therefore, consultants should provide evidence on wildlife for decision-making (i.e. to approve, modify or reject the project). Moreover, consultants should monitor wildlife populations to adapt the mitigation measures over time because of long response times (e.g. extinction debt) and because the impacts may change (i.e. adaptive management). However, consultants often only inventory the local biodiversity but do not predict the impacts of projects on wildlife. Any project is a disturbance, and any disturbance opens up an experimental scenario. Therefore, consultants should apply experimental approaches for assessing the impacts of projects on wildlife populations at the landscape scale. For instance, Noguera et al. (2010) created an index to estimate the raptor collision risk in wind farms, and Torres at al. (2011) applied a Before-After Control-Impact (BACI) study design to assess the impact of a motorway on a Otis tarda population. In conclusion, project developers should provide funding and time for consultants to work as researchers: environmental impact reports should be treated as research articles. If not, the competent authority should apply the precautionary principle.