Back at the dawn of the 20th Century, the National Audubon Society joined forces with the Bureau of Biological Services (then in the U.S. Department of Agriculture), to protect a “refuge” for nesting pelicans and other waterbirds. Audubon hired Paul Kroegel, the first refuge manager. It was the beginning of what we know today as the National Wildlife Refuge System – 150 million acres of the world’s best wildlife habitat. Today, we are at the dawn of a new century, and we are again working with the National Audubon Society, and other legacy partners, on another new beginning.
The first manager of Pelican Island, Paul Kroegel. Credit: USFWS
Over the summer the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rolled out the next step in implementing Strategic Habitat Conservation (SHC), a disciplined conservation framework that will help us ensure sustainable populations of plants, fish and wildlife for future generations of Americans.
Through a process of selecting surrogate species, we will work with partners to identify species or other conservation targets that can best represent the landscape conditions and habitat needs of larger groups of species. In this way, we will no longer have to design and manage habitats for species-by-species -- something that has grown harder each day as more and more species require our help.
The surrogate species approach requires the Service to use a new generation of science capacity in Landscape Conservation Cooperatives, and work with states, tribes, and other conservation partners to set and achieve landscape-scale biological outcomes.
We have lots of work ahead to fully inform and engage Service employees as well as partners. In fact, we are currently holding workshops nationwide to make sure our employees and partners understand and have a chance to help shape draft technical guidance for surrogate species selection. But already we are getting some generous feedback about our efforts:
Mike Daulton of the National Audubon Society wrote: “I believe the effort to develop agency-wide, species-based conservation targets is highly strategic and poised to drive unprecedented collaboration toward meaningful landscape-level conservation goals.”
Partners in Flight, a cooperative effort involving many federal, state and local agencies, industry, conservation groups and individuals dedicated to conserving birds, told us that the organization recognizes the importance of surrogate species and offered advice and assistance. We appreciate their offer and look forward to working with them.
Greg Wathen, coordinator of the Gulf Coastal Plains and Ozarks LCC blogged about surrogate species. “I want to applaud the Fish & Wildlife Service for pushing out this new initiative to strengthen their commitment to Strategic Habitat Conservation,” adding that a conversation on SHC and surrogate species is an important one to have.
As our mission statement says, “We work with others …” to conserve fish wildlife and plants. Today, as in the past, we are helping to lead the conservation community in designing a conservation paradigm for a new century. As these and other comments show, we are hearing voices of support (and criticism). By listening to both, we will forge a new and bright path forward. We face many challenges, but I think we are well on our way to making sure fish, wildlife and plants are always around us. Please join in this effort. We need many hands on the oars, and many minds to the task.