Weve established a powerful vision to guide the future of the National Wildlife Refuge Systema vision that sees the Refuge System as the keystone of successful landscape conservation efforts across the nation. But successful wildlife conservation depends on more than just a vision for the future. It is also grounded in a firm understanding of the present.
As any wildlife biologist knows, establishing a baseline is key to understanding how an ecosystem is changing. Yet most of our refuges do not have a comprehensive inventory of the fish, wildlife and plants within their boundaries. We cant effectively conserve these resources and help them adapt to a rapidly changing environment if we dont know where and when they exist, or dont have easy access to that information.
The Refuge Systems Inventory and Monitoring (I&M) initiative will provide the essential answers and data we need to help shape the direction of our conservation efforts and make them more efficient.
During the past century, weve collected a wealth of information on our refuges and in our regionsinformation that is scattered across multiple databases, reports and repositories. This crucial initiative will find it, organize it and make it accessible, enabling us to identify data gaps, reduce redundancies and identify opportunities.
How will that help you?
The initiative will give local managers the tools they need to build scientific capacity and provide the sciencebacked knowledge they need to plan and evaluate the effectiveness of conservation strategies. And with the data in hand, we will also be able to look at wildlife on a broader scale than just one refuge; we will begin to understand how that one refuge fits into the landscape.
We need to look closer at all the things that surround us on refuges, not just wildlife, fish and plants, but other natural systems such as soils, air and water. We need to understand how these systems interact.
The Refuge System conserves 21 million acres of wilderness, but we cant be sure how that wilderness is affected by our stewardship.
In one pilot program, the I&M initiative is cataloging wilderness characteruntrammeled, natural, undeveloped and providing solitudeand the results should tell us what effects we are having on wilderness. The program will also let us evaluate impacts of proposed actions on wilderness character.
In another pilot program, the initiative is gathering data about invasive species. This should help refuge managers assess which species pose the greatest threats.
The initiative does not stop with just traditional wildlife, either.
Coastal refuges are benefitting from I&M through SLAMM (Sea Level Affecting Marshes Model). SLAMM helps refuge managers predict effects of sealevel rise on coastal wetlands, nontidal wetlands, lowlying uplands and associated species. This modeling is available on the Service Web site at http://www.fws.gov/slamm to anyonefellow researchers, conservation partners, members of the public.
Open access to data is key for any sciencedriven organization. It promotes collaboration within the Service and with our partners. It provides accountability if others can see the data that informs our decisions.
We must learn from our data and our experiences. If the pilot projects do not perform as needed, we will learn from our mistakes to develop ones that do. Moving forward, we will work to apply adaptive management strategies to continually improve our conservation delivery and thus ensure we support landscapescale habitat conservation frameworks.
I am still struck by what 10yearold Alesha Ouren told the Conserving the Future conference audience last summer. Alesha, a student at Prairie Wetlands Learning Center in Minnesota, told us to look closer. Youll see more than meets the eye.
Alesha is so right.