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Working with People to Conserve Nature
Photo Credit: USFWS
by Dr. Herbert Raffaele
In habitats ranging from deserts to tundra to rainforests, imperiled wildlife will not survive unless the local people are aware and value it enough to secure its future. For this reason, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Wildlife Without Borders program focuses on people as part of the conservation solution. The goal and philosophy of the Wildlife Without Borders program is to help people identify, value, and conserve the species and habitats at risk in their region.
An intangible ecological service that is difficult to see, such as the seed dispersal provided by forest animals, is easily overlooked. By drawing connections between keystone wildlife species, the health of local habitat, and the health of the human community in that habitat, we can lend greater tangibility to the value of wildlife. By giving local people the tools to address wildlife problems, which are often the same tools that improve human health and livelihoods, we can achieve effective, long-lasting conservation.
We accomplish this through both individual and institutional capacity building, which is the main focus of our Wildlife Without Borders program. Capacity building in this context encompasses educating and empowering people and institutions to more effectively address biodiversity conservation at all levels, from that of the household or local community up to the global scale. Having evolved through several different approaches, the program focuses on identifying signature initiatives within each region where we work: Africa, China, India, Latin America and the Caribbean, Mexico, and Russia. These initiatives embody the most innovative and effective approaches we have found to engage local people in conservation.
Photo Credit: USFWS
Effectively managing protected areas, law enforcement, anti-poaching activities, and wildlife monitoring is vital to stemming the flow of illegal and unsustainable take of wildlife, and they are funding priorities for Wildlife Without Borders grants. But what makes Wildlife Without Borders unique is that it goes beyond stopping human-caused extinction; it address the root causes of wildlife and habitat destruction through conflict mitigation, conservation education, and capacity building.
The FWS has been working internationally for more than 30 years. In 1976, starting as a small office within the Division of Endangered Species, the international program played a lead role in creating the Wildlife Institute of India, which supports research and capacity building overseas. In the late 1970s, the program became a stand-alone office. The first appropriation and grant distribution in 1983 supported conservation in the Latin America and Caribbean region. In 1989, Congress passed the first Multinational Species Conservation Fund, creating a grant program to conserve African elephants.
Since then, the Wildlife Without Borders program has grown to include five Multinational Species Conservation Funds (African elephant, rhinoceros and tiger, Asian elephant, great apes, and marine turtles). Four regionally based conservation programs cover Latin America and the Caribbean, Russia, China, Mexico, and Africa. In the fall of 2009, we launched a globally based program to address cross-cutting issues such as climate change. The Division of International Conservation, which administers the Wildlife Without Borders program, now comprises nearly 30 staff members and a budget of more than $24 million.
Throughout this edition of the Endangered Species Bulletin, we explain how the Wildlife Without Borders species, regional, and global programs work to address the immediate conservation needs of key species and to help other countries tackle the underlying causes of conservation problems. We appreciate the opportunity to illustrate the challenges we face and the unique methods we have developed to address them. With our counterparts in other countries, we seek to conserve not only the species we appreciate for their beauty but also the amazing, exotic habitats in which they live.
Dr. Herbert Raffaele, Chief of the FWS Division of International Conservation, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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