Inside Region 3
Midwest Region
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Monarch caterpillar by Courtney Celley/USFWS

Monarch caterpillar. Photo by Courtney Celley/USFWS.

Reflecting on the SHC Practitioner’s Forum:
Beyond Selecting Species

Strategic Habitat Conservation is a simple process. As an agency, we work with our partners to set measurable conservation targets that define success. We prioritize where we work to achieve these objectives and develop tools that help us focus and track our accomplishments. Monitoring confirms our progress toward achieving the intended outcomes and we adapt based on what we learn.

Within the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, we do aspects of SHC every day and we do them well. Yet in practice, we often find that pursuing all elements of SHC holistically for all of our priorities is no simple task. We struggle with how to prioritize among many worthy options. Plans do not always translate into action. Information and expertise needed to develop conservation design tools are often lacking. Monitoring outcomes over time and understanding cause-effect relationships is difficult and costly. Effectively communicating across the many levels and programs of our agency can be a real challenge.

How do we, as individuals, field stations, programs, and partnerships ensure that our hard work converges into a seamless whole? How do we simultaneously promote the integration of the SHC elements, including planning, design, delivery, and monitoring, across species, scales, and programs within our agency? What does it really mean to be successful?

These questions were at the forefront during a three day SHC Practitioners’ Forum held at the National Conservation Training Center in early May. The purpose of the forum was to reflect on our progress, share lessons learned among regions, and to assemble recommendations for moving forward with our partners to advance beyond recent efforts to identify surrogate species. The forum kicked off with extensive discussion, led by Deputy Director, Jim Kurth, Midwest Regional Director, Tom Melius, and Assistant Director for Science, Paul Souza. We talked extensively about when and where SHC is working and how to implement a “one Service” approach to SHC throughout our organization. We also strategized about how to overcome perceived barriers. The group provided extensive recommendations to our leadership and we also confirmed that we are largely on the right track here in the Midwest Region.

The Service has devoted considerable effort to identifying surrogate species throughout all regions. In the Midwest, our field-led teams have worked hard to identify approximately 50 species for the Eastern Tallgrass Prairie and Big Rivers (ETPBR) and Upper Midwest and Great Lakes (UMGL) geographies, representing the various broad habitat systems found within these geographies. Many of these species already have population objectives; several have spatial habitat or population models available, as well as monitoring programs in place. By selecting these species and identifying the broad habitat systems they represent, we have helped to lead the way nationally by developing a science-based process for selecting surrogate species. We are now moving forward with additional focused attention on conservation design, delivery, and monitoring of these cross-programmatic priorities.

Up to this point, a great deal of attention has been focused on developing lists of surrogate species across all regions. Surrogate species—simply the first iteration of SHC: Step 1—are intended to help us become better at doing all elements of SHC across a broader landscape than we have traditionally worked. The lists themselves are admittedly not perfect. Surrogate species cannot be comprehensive of all our priorities or legal obligations, and yet they can be profoundly useful for bringing our various programs together to take an honest look at our successes, challenges and opportunities on the horizon.

Perhaps the greatest challenge ahead is one of integration, design and vision. There will be many different roles to play and each of us can contribute to a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. Strategic Habitat Conservation is our future together as one Service.

By Ryan Drum
Regional Office - Refuges


Last updated: June 4, 2015