I hear a similar refrain as I visit regional and field offices: Ive never been busier.
No matter how dedicated our people are – and they are intensely passionate and professional – they are very overextended. And they are struggling against enormous conservation challenges – climate change, invasive species and a growing human population that is fueling competition between wildlife and people for water, land, food and space to live.
We simply cant address these enormous conservation challenges with the tools and the thinking of the past.
Recognizing this, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2006 endorsed strategic habitat conservation (SHC) as the Services management framework for making decisions about where and how to deliver conservation efficiently with our partners to ensure sustainable wildlife populations in the face of 21stcentury challenges.
As we all know, however, the sheer number of species for which the Service and states are responsible makes designing and conserving landscapescale habitats impractical on a speciesbyspecies basis.
Even with an unlimited budget, wed run ourselves ragged. And budgets will be increasingly limited. I know that working harder isnt the answer. We are already working as hard as we can. Harder than we should. Our pace is unsustainable.
What we need to do is work smarter, and put our efforts and resources where they will do the most good.
That is where surrogate species selection comes in.
Surrogate species is a commonly used scientific term for systembased conservation planning that uses a species as an indicator of landscape habitat and system conditions. Through such a planning process, the Service will work with partners through a sciencebased process to identify a species or other conservation planning targets that can best represent the landscape conditions and habitat needs of larger groups of species.
SHC starts with robust biological planning, and surrogate species selection is a practical first step to answer the questions of planning for what and how many.
We have developed draft technical guidance that helps answer some of these questions. As an agency, we will be collectively refining and improving the draft guidance and learning how to apply the species selection process in the next several months.
I know that many of you are probably unsure what all of this means for you, but we will make it work. Indeed, we must. A big part of its success rests on your shoulders.
We are planning conversations between you and Service leadership, regional workshops and other opportunities for you to ask questions and make your ideas known.
It will not be easy. We have a tough challenge at a time when our budget will remain flat at best, and in real dollars will continue to decline.
Some of these changes and the challenges can be overwhelming, and, as we all know, change is rarely easy.
But these days I am reminded of what anthropologist Margaret Mead said: Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.
We, along with our partners and friends, are that small group of committed citizens ready to make a difference for fish, wildlife and plants. Lets roll up our sleeves and get to work changing the world.