Strategic Habitat Conservation
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Project Leaders Move Forward with SHC in the Southeast

A adult bald eagle. Credit: USFWS.
A adult bald eagle. Credit: USFWS.

Advancing SHC is in full swing in Region 4.  In the spirit of partnership, Fish and Wildlife Service employees have been actively engaged in the South Atlantic LCC in the development and testing of natural resource indicators and targets.  In conjunction with the states, those indicators were translated to surrogate species and their biological objectives so that our agency contribution to work in the partnership can be determined. 

"No organization can do it all,” says South Atlantic LCC Coordinator Ken McDermond.  “That's why it's so exciting that all of these partners are working together through the cooperative to set shared measures of success, the Natural Resource Indicators, and working on a blueprint for shared action to show how their individual work adds up to something bigger.”

This approach has the support and engagement of the states and other key partners.

"By aligning conservation goals at a landscape level, partners will align their conservation investments and cooperatively build on other partner efforts that include research, monitoring and data management,” says Mallory Martin, former chair of South Atlantic LCC Steering Committee & Chief Deputy Director of the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission.  "I am looking forward to working with partners throughout the South Atlantic LCC to achieve our vision of a landscape that sustains the nation's natural and cultural resources for current and future generations.  The collective impact of our work together so far is moving us closer to this vision."

The Service, like many other organizations in the cooperative, focuses on species and that is why it is working with its state partners to translate the broader Natural Resource Indicators into surrogate species.  Focusing on species and habitats of interest to the broader conservation community gives many other organizations a way to work together on issues of critical importance. For example, two of the species identified in this landscape are Atlantic menhaden and American shad.

Just in the past several weeks, the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council dramatically lowered harvest allowances for shad. And the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission has slashed the amount of menhaden that can be caught.

Why are these organizations focusing on species most Americans will probably never eat? Because nearly every big fish and bird that preys on marine life in the Atlantic does eat them.

The menhaden, in fact, has been dubbed “the most important fish in the sea” because of the incredible range of wildlife that depend on it — from eagles, hawks, storks and egrets to dozens of fish species. The Service, with a seat on the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission table, is already working with other organizations to find a landscape-level approach to benefit these species.

In order to effectively transition the region’s stations to address these and other surrogates and objectives more effectively, Southeast Regional Director Cindy Dohner and her leadership team created the South Atlantic Leadership Team (SALT), a group of project leaders, who are working to rise to the challenge and figure out the best way to transition the region. This group of project leaders encompasses all programs, and consists of a group of leaders who are already actively engaged in the spirit of SHC in partnership, and are ready to lead the way in the Southeast. The Team is starting by interacting as a group – and on an individual basis (“adopt a project leader”) – with 42 project leaders in the geography to ask them for their ideas and feedback. 

The Team also decided that in order to better understand how its work relates to the bigger picture, it needed a baseline assessment of how the activities at each station relate to the biological outcomes set for the landscape. They noted that it will be difficult to shift priorities and align our resources if no one knows how much our work is actually contributing to those outcomes right now.

According to Catherine Phillips, Acting Field Supervisor of the Panama City Field Office, “project leaders in the South Atlantic are actively engaged in this effort, which is a good sign for the future.  By taking the lead, these project leaders are inspiring others to take intelligent risks and set ambitious, but achievable expectations that will help the agency make a greater contribution for species in the future,” she added.

"The South Atlantic Leadership Team is driving the change we are seeking.  The team is helping us build a work plan that outlines where we are and where we want to be, as well as how we will get there when it comes to defining the desired landscape of the future,” says Phillips. "We are looking for a lot of engagement on the work plan from project leaders and staff, and we expect version 2.0 will be even better informed.”

The baseline assessment will require each project leader to crosswalk the surrogate species with the SALCC indicators and with conservation actions at their station – such as land/water protection, species management, or habitat restoration.  This information will be used to develop a version 1.0 work plan and will lead into a more detailed census of each station’s conservation actions to determine individual station percent contribution to the corresponding biological objectives and paint a picture of the Service’s contribution geography-wide. 

“We are hopeful this will help us engage in the broader LCC to show how we can participate and contribute to shared solutions across the landscape working with our partners,” Phillips says.

Once the SALT understands this contribution, including current work that may not be contributing and other actions that may not directly relate (such as legally mandated activities), leaders can examine the “gap” between what the Service is doing now, and what needs to be done in the future  to be effective on the landscape.  The Team will create a three-year work plan designed to fill this gap. The plan will outline how each station will transition its work to fully embrace SHC and more effectively contribute to measurable outcome on the landscape through intentional redirection of activities and priorities. The intent of this transition plan is to empower project leaders to make meaningful decisions about their station’s priorities – decisions that contribute to conservation of the landscape while providing a framework to guide redirection. 

Some of the choices ahead will be difficult and will require strong leaders not afraid of making necessary changes at their stations.  However, if this transition occurs in partnership with state, federal, and local agencies, private landowners, non-profit conservation groups, the business community, industry, and other non-traditional partners in the greater LCC forum, our contributions to designing the landscape of the future can be significant and meaningful.

"As the Secretary indicated recently at Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge, when she talked about innovative actions that were taken to benefit the recovery of the wood stork, risking intelligent failure is often where the seeds for the greatest progress and best results can be found,” says Phillips. "We need to set expectations for our biologists to be creative, challenge the work we have traditionally done to make sure it is having the effect we claim it is, and be predictive in their conservation approaches.  The LCC creates the forum to help us get there, and we can't do it alone.”

 

 

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Last updated: August 22, 2014

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