Sharing Rigorous Science Is the Key to Success
By Grant Harris
Could what the Refuge System learns about deterring mountain lion predation benefit leopards and lions in Africa?
Novel technologies such as LiDAR (light detection and ranging) and unmanned drones will advance wildlife management on national wildlife refuges in coming years. Despite these innovations and other trends in wildlife biology, I am pulled back to the basics. If refuges truly seek targeted and lasting management impacts, scientific processes must lead. Embracing science is theme number one.
Committing to science means increasing scientific capacity and following scientific approaches. For this, the Refuge System raised the bar with its Inventory and Monitoring (Iamp;M) initiative. Iamp;M boosts project design,
implementation, analysis and reporting. We use transparent and defensible approaches. Science guides management, building iterative and adaptive processes. We identify knowledge gaps, define research agendas, and describe why our work is important. Instead of data mothballed in closets, they are stored electronically in intuitive, accessible formats.
As a result, we make better decisions and fewer mistakes. We reinforce our reputation as the worlds most effective and credible wildlife management agency.
Our commitment to science links four related themes: landscapescale perspectives, relevancy, triage and collaboration. Lets take each in turn.
First, refuges strive to conserve species and habitats. Many refuges are small. The ecological drivers determining the status of species and habitats occur outside them. Conserving refuge resources requires landscapescale perspectives and building an ecosystem context. This means understanding the status of species and habitats on and off refuges. Such information helps refuges identify ways to make the greatest contributions to the ecosystems most pressing issues.
In the process, refuges gain a clearer understanding of threats to the resources they manage, and how to react. The stressors include habitat fragmentation, transportation corridors, energy extraction, urbanization and sprawl.
Appropriate responses involve preserving large areas, minimizing fragmentation, building landscape connectivity and generating biological redundancies. These approaches inform refuge planning and realty acquisitions. They also abate the effects of climate change.
Second, the Refuge System must increase relevancy and reach. Our work should incorporate other agencies, international issues and public engagement. For instance, the National Park Service performs Iamp;M in parks, where land is rarely altered. These data could form controls for Iamp;M on refuges, where land is actively managed. In such an arrangement, the Park Service gains greater knowledge of which variables drive ecosystems and how they operate. Meanwhile, our Iamp;M increases in scope and influence.
Refuge efforts can advance international conservation. For example, were using new techniques to estimate the abundance of animals without marks. Such species lack unique patterns of spots or stripes, making them hard to identify. These techniques estimate numbers of elk, and apply to endangered Andean cats or duikers elsewhere. Similarly, were exploring ways to deter mountain lions from unwanted predation, such as killing livestock. If successful, these methods could reduce deaths of African lions and leopards.
Our efforts will fail if they lack public support. Refuges must increase exposure and engagement. One approach is to work where people already are. Imagine McDonalds endorsing endangered species on Happy Meals. Pretend that picturesque murals of refuges adorn the walls in WalMarts sporting goods section. Refuges have neat stuff. Lets show it.
Third, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service tries to save everything. I worry that it cant. Hence, I see many species on life support. We have to triage. This means addressing fixable issues and abandoning losing bets. Does triage admit failure? No. It addresses reality.
Lastly, collaborations are key. Building them is akin to assembling a puzzle. The Service and partners are the pieces. Be it inventory and monitoring, landscapescale conservation, relevancy or triage, the pieces must assemble for efforts to be targeted, effective and lasting. The days of separate agencies, or units within an agency, holding small, umbrella management plans are over. I welcome the time when everyone shades under one canopy plan covering ecosystemwide issues. Each partner has a hand holding up the awningworking togethermaking genuine, ontheground advances.
Grant Harris is chief of biological services for the Southwest Region.