There has been a lot of talk about surrogate species lately, or at least there has been a lot of talk within the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. If you haven’t heard about surrogate species, or if you are not familiar with the terminology, here’s a synopsis: On July 23, 2012, USFWS Director Dan Ashe released an announcement to Service employees, directing the Fish & Wildlife Service to embark on a fundamentally new path of conservation in the 21st century. The basic announcement was that for the Service to be successful and true to its mission in the 21st century, it would require a new way of working and thinking about their conservation work. In short, Dan Ashe wanted to increase the Service’s commitment to Strategic Habitat Conservation as a way of working, to direct their work towards landscape level priorities, and to better prepare itself for the accelerated changes and landscape stresses of the 21stcentury. The approach that the Service is proposing to define and design landscapes capable of sustaining fish and wildlife is called “surrogate species”.
This week, in Memphis, TN (at the Ducks Unlimited Headquarters), and the last week in October in Lafayette, LA, the USFWS will be hosting workshops on its Draft Technical Guidance on Selecting Species for Design of Landscape Scale Conservation. The purpose of the workshops is to introduce the approach of using surrogate species to Service employees and Service partners, as well as answer their questions and get their feedback. Just as important, it is not the intent of the workshops to discuss which species might eventually be selected, but to understand the purpose of the surrogate species approach, which is again, to define and design functional landscapes.
Given the GCPO’s mission to define, design and deliver landscapes capable of sustaining natural and cultural resources, the surrogate species approach to SHC provides an important opportunity to align this conservation approach to the GCPO LCC’s conservation framework, and ultimately to a larger conservation enterprise such as the Southeastern Conservation Adaptation Strategy. So, thinking about that potential alignment, I think there are some questions that will need answering to determine if the GCPO LCC partnership should take an active role in helping to select surrogate species:
- Is the Fish & Wildlife Service interested in LCC’s providing a leadership role in the surrogate species approach to Strategic Habitat Conservation?
- Is the GCPO LCC partnership equally interested and committed to provide that leadership role?
- Given the Service’s stated interest in working with partners to pursue SHC through a surrogate species approach, is the Service willing to give up on some of the ownership of the process in order to facilitate a partnership-based process for selecting surrogate species?
I don’t know the answers to all of these questions, but in some of my personal conversations with leadership in the FWS, the answer to question number 1 appears to be a strong “yes”. The second question was put to the GCPO’s Adaptation Science-Management Team two weeks ago, and the answer from that group was an enthusiastic “yes” – that recommendation will be carried to our Steering Committee next week in Hot Springs, AR. For the third question, I think the jury is still out, but I’m hoping that the two workshops that the Service is hosting will help to provide some clarity to this issue, which may, in fact, turn out to be the most important question to answer.
I want to applaud the Fish & Wildlife Service for pushing out this new initiative to strengthen their commitment to Strategic Habitat Conservation, and for their leadership in opening up a conversation on how to approach SHC. It’s an important discussion to be having, and with the challenges and accelerated changes that we’ll be facing in the 21stcentury, we need to be thinking about how to best tackle those challenges. The surrogate species approach to Strategic Habitat Conservation helps us to do just that, so stay tuned for further conversation on this very important initiative.
If you want to learn more about Strategic Habitat Conservation, and the surrogate species approach that the Fish & Wildlife Service is promoting, click here for some excellent resources and stories.