A National Habitat System for Wildlife Conservation

Recently, an article came out in the November 2012 issue of BioScience, entitled A State-based National Network for Effective Wildlife Conservation. (Meretsky et al. 2012, BioScience 62: 970–976, http://www.jstor.org/action/showPublication?journalCode=bioscience ).  In these early stages of the 21st century, this is an important article for the conservation community to read, pointing out the longstanding need for adequate funding for wildlife conservation, and promoting the need for a national conservation support program, built on the foundation of the State Wildlife Action Plans.  It points out that, today, more than ever, large-scale stressors such as climate change and new diseases are acting at landscape (and even larger) scales, requiring a regional and even national response.  If you didn’t know better, you’d think that someone from the national network of Landscape Conservation Cooperatives had written the article.  But it wasn’t written by anyone directly affiliated with LCCs.  Rather, its authors represent a group of conservation leaders associated with the National Council for Science and the Environment’s Wildlife Habitat Policy Research Program and the US Geological Survey Gap Analysis Program. 

This article is both timely and important.  Timely, for a number of reasons, but principally because conservation funding continues to be under assault at both the state and federal level, with little evidence that things are going to improve anytime soon.  The efforts at the state level to garner increased funding support for wildlife conservation have been ongoing for more than 20 years, especially in the 1990’s when the Teaming with Wildlife initiative was launched.  Indeed, the current State Wildlife Grants program that was established by Congress in 2000, is in reality a down-scaled product of the Conservation and Reinvestment Act (CARA), which came oh so close to becoming law in 2000.  CARA, if passed, would have guaranteed about $3.1 billion of conservation funding per year for 15 years, with $350 million per year going to state fish and wildlife agencies.  State Wildlife Grants (SWG), on the other hand, is an annual appropriation of Congress, and has generated anywhere from $50 to $90 million, depending on the budgeting priorities of Congress.  SWG funding has been important to states, no doubt, but the amount that has come to the states has been less than 20% of the $4.2 billion that CARA would have provided over the last 12 years – just think of what states could have accomplished with CARA at full funding!

The article is also important, because it correctly identifies the need for more collaboration and coordination at regional and national scales, as a path forward in the 21st century of conservation.  The authors recognize the potential role that LCCs can play, especially as experiments in ecoregional collaborations.  However, they also suggest that a national-scale effort should not be led by the federal government, and they don’t identify LCCs as being a natural home for such a national scale effort.  My question is why wouldn’t a network of 22 LCCs that span the country, including significant marine and international landscapes as well, be the obvious place to start building a national conservation-support program?  I don’t see any other nationally significant effort out there with the capacity and the mission to take on such an effort.  At the same time, LCCs have to step up and indicate that they’re willing to provide the leadership to take on an effort like a wildlife habitat system for the country, and that hasn’t happened either.

LCCs, as a national network, are young, and we’re still figuring out what we’re about, and how we should be relevant at a national scale.  Yet, my own sense is that it’s not too soon for us to embrace some of these national efforts formally, to take some responsibility and ownership to see them through, and to be true leaders in national conservation.  We are already into the 2nd decade of the 21st century climate change and other large scale stressors are accelerating at a pace faster than we ever anticipated, so there’s really no more time to waste.

So, my congratulations to the authors on a thoughtful, timely article on the need for a national conservation support system.  I really encourage the conservation community to read it, think about its implications, and most especially, to consider where and how LCCs should provide the leadership to make a wildlife habitat system for the nation a reality.

For more reading on the Wildlife Habitat Policy Research Program, and some of its reports, go to:

http://ncseonline.org/programs/science-solutions/whprp/project-reports

 

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