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Director's Corner

Dan Ashe served as FWS Director from June 2011 until January 2017. The following is an archive of blogs authored by Director Ashe during that time. This content is intended for historical reference only and not as a representation of current Service policy or opinion.

From Good to Great

Most of us in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are probably familiar with the Teddy Roosevelt quote: “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”

Statue of President Theodore Roosevelt at the entrance to Oyster Bay Hamlet, New York. Credit: USFWSStatue of President Theodore Roosevelt at the entrance to Oyster Bay Hamlet, New York. Credit: USFWS

That saying has a lot in common with Jim Collins’ book Good to Great, in which he studies the common traits of companies that make and sustain the leap from good to great performance.

In the book, Collins urges companies to focus equally on what to do, what not to do and what to stop doing. He believes that most companies focus too much on what to do and ignore what not to do or what they should stop doing. What are you doing based on tradition? What assumptions or processes have you rested on because they were “good enough”?

We can probably all point to things we are doing simply because that’s how we have always done them. And if it worked for “Ding” Darling and Rachel Carson, who are we to change it?

Unfortunately, we can’t rest on our laurels. Our goal remains what it has always been—the conservation of our nation’s fish and wildlife heritage. But we must continue to change and improve how we do that.

Collins warns us in his book that “good is the enemy of great.” We cannot be satisfied with good work. We must always pursue excellence.

Especially now.

We face a tough fiscal climate. Our budget will at best be about the same. At the same time, our challenges only grow in scope and complexity.

Maybe I am supposed to say that we will do more with less. But I don’t think that’s possible.

This organization is already performing at a tremendous level despite being under a significant amount of pressure.

What we need to do is perform differently, so we can do our best with whatever resources are made available to us.

One way we are doing that is by working with our partners to select surrogate species as a means of establishing conservation targets at defined landscape scales. This will help us decide what to do, and even more importantly, what to stop doing. It is important to note that this is not a new strategy; it is the next step in implementing Strategic Habitat Conservation (SHC) as a disciplined conservation framework that will position us to meet our challenges.

With SHC and our strategic budgeting tool, we are well-positioned to make the hard-but-needed decisions that 21st century conservation requires.

We’re doing our best to engage our partners, Service employees and the public in this effort to implement SHC by identifying species and other biological outcomes that will drive our work.

We are building a disciplined conservation framework, and the capacity to implement it, which will take us from good to great, and will sustain that performance over time.

So that we can, as TR said, do what we can, with what we have, where we are.

 Read more about our SHC strategy.


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