Director Dan Ashe. Credit: USFWS.
A Conservation Legacy Made to Last
More than ever before, we are faced with conservation challenges that defy traditional ways of doing things. The world is changing too quickly for us to succeed if we do not change with it.
These massive changes are illustrated by looking at at Rowan Gould, our Deputy Director, and Taylor Hannah, a newly hired SCEP student.
Rowan and Taylor represent two ends of the Fish and Wildlife Serviceís employment spectrum. Rowan started his career 36 years ago as a research microbiologist at the Seattle National Research Center. Taylorís first job for the Service is bat conservation work at St. Catherine Creek National Wildlife Refuge with the Gulf Coastal Plains and Ozarks Landscape Conservation Cooperative (LCC).
Rowan and Taylor are about 40 years apart in age and experience, but thatís not the biggest professional difference. When Rowan began his career, 4 billion people were on the planet with 200 million in the United States. As Taylor begins her professional journey, 7 billion people inhabit the Earth, more than 300 million in the United States.
Rowan rode in on an American environmental movement that was less than a decade old. In the 1960s, Rachel Carsonís book Silent Spring and a massive oil spill in Santa Barbara, California, led to a new public awareness of human impacts on our fragile ecosystems. The nation created or strengthened numerous environmental laws in the Ď60s and Ď70s, including the Endangered Species Act and Clean Water Act; and launched the first Earth Day celebration and the EPA. We carried our activities out through programs working largely independently.
Taylor begins her career at the dawning of an environmental awareness of a different kind. She is faced with the 21st-century reality that the threats to the future of fish, wildlife, habitats and people are now of such magnitude it will take more than laws and the cooperative interaction of Service programs and conservation organizations to turn the situation around. With a 50 percent increase in Americaís population and a 75 percent increase in the worldís population, the competition between people and wildlife for land, water and food has never been greater. Add to that a rapidly changing climate and it is clear that the game has changed.
The Service, too, is changing.
By now many of you have heard of Strategic Habitat Conservation, the framework upon which our conservation efforts will be built. SHC is a field-based approach for making management decisions about where and how to deliver conservation most efficiently to achieve specific biological outcomes. It requires us to make strategic decisions about our actions, and constantly reassess and improve our approaches.
A practical step in the SHC process is to determine what species we need to save. With almost 1,400 threatened and endangered species nationwide, we can no longer manage individual recovery. But by using a process known as surrogate species selection, we can identify a species as an indicator of landscape habitat and system conditions and redouble our efforts to conserve it. Those efforts should help many other species in that habitat if we have chosen the surrogate species correctly. Taylorís first job for the Service, working with the Gulf Coastal Plains and Ozarks LCC, is related to SHC. LCCs are the most effective means of working together with partners to provide landscape-scale science that informs conservation of sustainable wildlife populations, as well as land, water and cultural resources.
If Taylor stays with the Service and works as long as Rowan has, there will be 9 billion people on the planet and nearly 450 million in the United States when she celebrates her 36th year of public service. For us to give Taylor and her generation of employees the support and the tools they need, we must be willing to embrace a bold conservation approach that takes into account both present and trending pressures on Americaís fish and wildlife resources. SHC is that approach.
I wonít lie: Change is unsettling. Many of you are concerned about how your job or program will be affected, and certainly we donít know all the answers or even all the questions.
I promise you two things, though: Together, we will find the answers. And together, we will create a new conservation legacy thatís made to last.