A new vision for the National Wildlife Refuge System had to be three things: people-based, partner-based and science-driven. People-based because we work for the American people, and our work must be relevant to them. Partner-based because we can’t—and shouldn’t—manage the public trust alone. Science-driven because we are an agency that makes decisions based on sound science.


Four of the 24 Conserving the Future recommendations specifically direct the development of science; many others assume a science underpinning.


During the vision process many people acknowledged that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service needs more and better biological data to make science-driven decisions. Threats to fish, wildlife and habitat are at an all-time high. Options for conservation choices about a given acre of land or water are diminishing. Human population projected at 10 billion by mid-century presents an extraordinary challenge, as do climate change and unprecedented global resource consumption. Our decision space is shrinking rapidly. We need science to enable us to be deliberate and decisive about where to invest limited resources to get the biggest and best conservation gains.


The ideas in the four science recommendations are not new. They reiterate the science-driven initiative that the Service has long embraced and that guides us in managing fish, wildlife and habitat with our partners. Strategic habitat conservation (SHC), landscape conservation cooperatives (LCCs), surrogate species selection, and inventory and monitoring (I&M) are not new to be sure. But used in concert, they give us a powerful arsenal to achieve conservation beyond our boundaries, even with dwindling budgets.


Recommendation 6 directs us to provide all refuges with access to resources necessary to implement adaptive management principles. This is simply SHC—which requires us to set biological goals and manage toward those goals in design and delivery. Many biologists are uncomfortable setting goals in the absence of biological data, but SHC asks us to make our best professional judgment as biologists and monitor the outcome.


Recommendation 7 calls for a nationally coordinated effort to inventory and monitor wildlife and habitat to obtain data that inform planning and management decisions, and to develop a state-of-theart data management system that can be integrated with the broader scientific community. In 2010, the Refuge System committed unprecedented resources to I&M to do just that. [See I&M Program to Employees in Field: “We Can Help”]


Recommendation 9 directs us to develop and articulate a research agenda, explicitly to reduce uncertainty in Refuge System planning and management decisions. Doing this will help us attract partners to conduct research we need to support decisions. It will allow us to be proactive in soliciting research partners by creating a forum to coordinate our prioritized needs.


Recommendation 10 directs the Refuge System to become a major contributor to the scientific community by sharing information and data, and engaging with local, regional and national organizations and communities to solve conservation problems. It is not enough to belong to a professional society; we must be full members by engaging others in that scientific community in our research by presenting and publishing our data. We must change our culture to stop storing information in drawers and databases. We must commit to communicating what we know and what we need. We must be full partners in LCCs and other partnerships to make a difference on a broader conservation landscape.


Although they are written as a vision for the Refuge System, the four science recommendations, and most of the 20 others, should be embraced by the entire Service. We are stronger when we work together, reaching across programs and using the best science across disciplines to make the best decisions we can for wildlife.


Deborah Rocque, the Northeast Region deputy regional director, was a primary author of the Conserving the Future vision document.