The International Conservation Chiefs Academy (ICCA) is a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service-led (Service), international training program that combines leadership competencies with the mission to combat wildlife trafficking. Its goal is to build a global conservation law enforcement network through a shared understanding of common challenges, strong professional relationships, and the ability to apply the concepts of adaptive leadership to conservation law enforcement policy and field work.
The Service’s Office of Law Enforcement (OLE) is a world leader in the fight against natural resource crime; however, it recognizes that wildlife trafficking is a global issue and that the OLE cannot fight it alone. To be effective and successful in wildlife crime investigations, the world’s conservation law enforcement officers must work as a cohesive unit even though they are legally “stove-piped” within their nation’s borders. The question became, “How best to achieve this?”
The ICCA began with a vision to create an international academy similar to the already successful National Conservation Law Enforcement Leadership Academy, which builds and strengthens natural resource law enforcement within the United States by bringing together and training U.S. leaders from state conservation agencies. The OLE’s Branch of Training and Inspection (BTI) strategized with leadership from the National Association of Conservation Law Enforcement Chiefs on the best way forward, including what training to provide and how to fund it.
With financial support from the U.S. Department of State, International Narcotics & Law Enforcement Affairs, the first ICCA was held in September of 2016 to a cohort from various African countries. Since then, hundreds of attendees from across Africa, Asia, and Central and South America have graduated from the ICCAs.
Through the ICCA platform, Service subject matter experts share their knowledge, skills, and operational methods that are used to combat wildlife trafficking in the United States. In addition, the training provides an overview of various law enforcement investigative and adaptive leadership concepts, topics, and techniques related to wildlife trafficking, which are then reinforced through small and large group exercises. Foreign language interpreters ensure communication is fully understood by all.
Wildlife Traffickers Do Not Stop for a Pandemic – Neither can Law Enforcement
The BTI training staff was determined to continue the training mission even during a worldwide pandemic. They worked tirelessly to reformat the training from in-person to virtual and the first virtual ICCA (V-ICCA) took place in February of 2021. In addition to being the first virtual academy, it also was the first time that ICCA alumni served as assistant or co-coaches. This greatly enhanced the overall participant experience, improved shared understanding of common challenges, and strengthened professional networks.
Nothing can compare to meeting and training in person, but since the core training and the ICCA’s foundation is adaptive leadership, the V-ICCAs have proven to be an effective training model. No matter in what format the training is provided, instructors, coaches, and class attendees are encouraged to interact, get to know each other, and learn and support one another. Ultimately, the core success of the ICCAs are the professional relationships that are established or enhanced. Once trust and understanding are established, the staff and attendees discuss and develop solutions to solve local work challenges that are specific to the land area or other commonality that each cohort represents.
Adaptive Leadership and Challenges
Where other law enforcement courses often focus on technical aspects such how to conduct or physically investigate wildlife crime, the ICCA focuses on building relationships to solve adaptive challenges.
First, attendees learn adaptive leadership and systems thinking and then apply these new skills as the following core topics are presented:
The courses are strategically taught with each class building upon the preceding ones. The goal is to develop a unique leadership ability and provide attendees with new skills to make them successful in their home countries by solving adaptive challenges within their personal scope of work and building new alliances with local, transnational, and global law enforcement officers.
At the ICCA, course participants use these new skills when working in small groups to solve real life challenges. In fact, each student is asked to bring a work-related adaptive challenge with them to the academy and together the attendees and coaches discuss ways to overcome the challenge by applying the principles of adaptive leadership.
Adaptive challenges involve problems that do not have technical solutions. They deal with changing people’s minds and hearts; therefore, they involve finding ways to build collaboration by bringing together diverse groups of people who have different perspectives and often competing values or interests.
Examples of adaptive challenges brought to the ICCA include, “How do wildlife officials find common ground and solutions with people whose farms or safety are negatively impacted by wildlife encounters” or “How do wildlife officials interact with people who kill wildlife to feed their families or use wildlife parts in their customs or traditions.”
Adaptive challenges also include finding ways to work together with partners who may have different missions or who are responsible for actions in different geographic areas or jurisdictions. These are the types of complex problems that are solved by using adaptive leadership skills.
The ICCAs emphasize the importance of developing and maintaining local, regional, and international inter-agency intelligence exchanges, creating open dialogues, and enhancing global conservation law enforcement relationships -- the global problem of wildlife trafficking requires a global solution.
As one ICCA graduate stated, “Wildlife does not adhere to international borders, nor do wildlife traffickers, so if we are going to combat wildlife trafficking, we must also work seamlessly across borders and other jurisdictions. This borderless protection concept represents a core part of the vision of the ICCA global community; creating an enforcement network that can fight transnational wildlife crimes in a more efficient, cooperative, and collaborative way.”
ICCA graduates have made a commitment to build upon the relationships developed during the academies by attending in-person and virtual meetings and actively participating in the ICCA alumni group social media platforms. They are committed to the continued collaboration now and into the future - sharing experiences and working together to combat wildlife trafficking. They are doing their utmost to ensure the world’s natural resources will be present for future generations to enjoy and appreciate.