Starting and maintaining the conversation
A guest post by Vicky Meretsky, associate professor at Indiana University’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs
HOW do you begin and maintain a conversation related to wildlife conservation at the national level with 50 state agencies, a handful or two of federal agencies and several national-level NGOs, at the same time? I and my colleagues started by publishing a commentary in the November issue of BioScience titled “A State-Based National Network for Effective Wildlife Conservation.”
The issue grew out of a project to investigate state wildlife action plans across the United States. State wildlife action plans were originally a requirement from Congress as part of the State Wildlife Grant program, which provided federal funds to states to protect wildlife species, particularly those that are in trouble but not yet listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
We and our graduate students reviewed state plans and interviewed wildlife program managers. We recognized that state conservation efforts have implications relevant to regional and national efforts that are not being fully realized. Our BioScience commentary explores these issues as a means of starting a national conversation to strengthen wildlife conservation.
The State Wildlife Grant program was created in part to help save species before ESA protections are needed. But to be effective, species that are declining have to come to the attention of state wildlife programs. These programs are understaffed and underfunded, and the end result is that many species are simply not tended early enough to prevent listing. Recent reductions in funding for many state agencies have further eroded the agencies’ abilities to track all species. In 2011, budget exigencies in North Carolina both reduced and re-organized state agencies concerned with species protection, a plight shared with other states.
Lack of collaboration among states also increases the risk that a species in trouble will go undetected until it is threatened with extinction.
The Bioscience article addresses these gaps in conservation protection and points to a need for a national conservation-support program that integrates state-level efforts with regional and national efforts. We discuss how such a program might be constructed and list five key issues that the program should address:
- A nationwide habitat map, scaled appropriately for wildlife conservation, would provide a common planning framework for regional and national collaborative efforts.
- An ongoing program to collate species-level information could aid in identifying at-risk species that may escape the attention of individual state or federal programs.
- Capacity-building support would level the playing field among states, facilitating regional planning.
- (A centralized information-sharing system would allow states and conservation partners to share lessons learned to leverage successes and increase effectiveness of all players.
- The support system could identify new conservation tools and provide or coordinate training to build state capacities.
Such a national program might have a relatively small staff working to catalyze and coordinate state efforts. The right “home” for such a program isn’t obvious, but because budgets and priorities for federal programs can fluctuate with the changing interests of Congress and the executive branch, we suggest that a non-agency home with broad-based funding from many conservation partners might provide a more stable environment than a federal program.
Alternatively, the responsibility to gather, synthesize, and share data, and to develop plans to act on the results might be shared among multiple organizations. Several agencies and organizations already take on pieces of the puzzle or are planning to do so. Early responses to the commentary have been both positive and enthusiastic. Individual state agencies, the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies which represents all the state wildlife agencies, the recently created Landscape Conservation Cooperatives (LCCs), NatureServe which provides a central repository for status and conservation information for the nations’ wildlife and ecosystems, and the Trust for Public Land’s Conservation Almanac team are among those who have responded already. Conversations are underway on in-house blogs and listservs, and an LCC coordinator has opened the conversation on the Gulf Coastal Plains and Ozarks’ public blog.
Whether the national support system eventually has a single home or many, a coordinated national strategy will only be possible if there is coordination. Ongoing, sustained, open coordination. Presently, the conservation world has many venues for discussion, such as society conferences and agency meetings. But there is no single, regular forum at which major players on the national stage convene to compare notes and share strategies to ensure the continued health of the nation’s wildlife.
As the discussion moves forward, the questions of who and how are important, but the most important issue is that the gaps between conservation efforts are filled, and that there is provision made for ongoing coordination to continually identify and fill gaps as they arise. The primary threats to wildlife diversity – habitat loss, loss of funding, spread of pests and pathogens, climate change – act on the national level and the best chance to address these threats will be with sustained, robust national coordination.
Lynn Maguire, Dennis Figg, Brad Griffith, Mike Scott, Frank Davis, Dale Goble, Scott Henke, David Stoms, Jacqueline Vaughn, and Steve Yaffee collaborated on this commentary, together with graduate students from their respective institutions, with funding from the National Council for Science and the Environment’s Wildlife Habitat Policy Research Program and the US Geological Survey Gap Analysis Program.
Vicky J. Meretsky, Lynn A. Maguire, Frank W. Davis, DavId M. Stoms, J. Michael Scott, Dennis Figg, Dale D. Goble, Brad Griffith, Scott E. Henke, Jacqueline Vaughn, & Steven L. Yaffe (2012). A State-Based National Network for Effective Wildlife Conservation BioScience, 62 (11), 970-976 DOI: 10.1525/bio.2012.62.11.6