“In baseball, you don’t know nothing.” Yogi Berra
If you haven’t heard the news, LCC’s are targeted for elimination in the Trump Administration’s FY18 federal budget, which was submitted to Congress a few weeks ago, and would (theoretically) begin October 1, 2017. From a federal budgeting perspective, it’s like the opening pitch in a 9-inning baseball game, and Congress is up to bat next. Ultimately, Congress has the responsibility of passing a federal budget and submitting it to the President for his signature. So, there are still quite a few innings to go before we will know the final outcome of this ball game. Even so, the opening play is not a great place to start for LCC’s.
In the meantime, as the budgeting drama plays out, I have been thinking more deeply on what the landscape conservation community would look like without LCC’s. A question that we sometimes ask ourselves is “If not for LCC’s, ……….. (fill in the blank)”. Here are a couple thoughts on that question:
- If not for the GCPO LCC, our partners would not have the knowledge and tools they need to address the effects of climate change on fish and wildlife. For me personally, this has always been the most compelling reason for the existence of LCC’s, to help our partners better understand how climate change is affecting the fish and wildlife resources they are charged to protect and sustain. The tools and geospatial products that our LCC produces are all aimed at helping our partners better understand the effects of future change, and climate is one of the biggest factors influencing future change impacts on fish and wildlife. Our tools also facilitate better decisions on actions that our partners can take to mitigate those impacts, or to help fish and wildlife to adapt to changes.
Over the years, I have been told more than once by various partners how glad they are that the LCC is worrying about climate change, because within their own organizations they often don’t have the capacity to address the issue, or they lack the political support to take it on. The GCPO LCC has worked with many of our partners to facilitate climate-smart thinking and conservation planning. A great example of this work is the Gulf Coast Vulnerability Assessment, a multi-LCC effort that was awarded the inaugural Sam D. Hamilton Award for Transformational Conservation Science in 2015. Those of us who were fortunate enough to work with Sam Hamilton during our careers, know how passionate he was about the issue of climate change.
- If not for the GCPO LCC, our partners would not have access to dozens of new geospatial data products that provide new and better understanding of the 180-million acre landscapes that encompass the GCPO geography. From the longleaf and shortleaf pine systems, to the tidal marshes of the Gulf Coast, to the big river systems, to the forests and streams of the Ozarks, your GCPO LCC staff have worked diligently to compile, analyze, and synthesize existing and new datasets into landscape-scale assessments of ecological function. These datasets in turn have been integrated into a Conservation Blueprint for the GCPO, which provides a first ever vision of conservation priority based on ecological functionality and conservation opportunity. All these datasets are available to our partners through our web-based Conservation Planning Atlas. Over the next few months, our LCC science team will be finalizing a first-ever State of the GCPO report, which will summarize all this geospatial data and information into one, easy to read and understand document.
At this juncture, there are more questions than answers as to the future of LCCs, including the GCPO LCC. My crystal ball is definitely hazy right now, but as I noted in the beginning of this blog, we are in the early stages of the budgeting process for FY18, and it really is anybody’s guess as to when and how Congress will take up the budgeting issue. Nevertheless, there are already changes afoot within the Dept. of Interior and Fish & Wildlife Service, which will also have important implications for LCCs. In the Southeast, FWS Regional Director Cindy Dohner is being re-assigned to Assistant Director of International Affairs. I’ve had the privilege of working with Cindy over the years in my position of GCPO LCC Coordinator, and she has been a consistent champion and advocate for LCCs, the Service’s Science Applications program, and the Southeast Conservation Adaptation Strategy. Her leadership and unwavering support will be sorely missed.
In closing, it’s worth noting that the LCC program, since its inception in 2009, has already established an important legacy in landscape conservation. When the National Academy of Sciences, at the request of Congress, completed its review of LCCs in 2015, they noted that the nation “needs to take a landscape approach to conservation and that the U.S. Department of the Interior is justified in addressing this need with the Landscape Conservation Cooperatives.” They further recognized that “the LCC Network is unique in that no other federal program is designed to address landscape conservation needs at a national scale, for all natural and cultural resources, in a way that bridges research and management efforts.” With that in mind, the GCPO LCC staff plans to spend the next few months working hard to complete some important projects we had already initiated, cataloguing various databases, documents and reports to ensure their continued availability to our partners, and engaging with our partners to ensure that a solid foundation for landscape conservation can endure into the future. And, we’ll keep trying to answer that question, “If not for the LCC, …………...”.