Summer Reading, and Remembering Charles Baxter
I was recently reminded of an important document that was written nearly 10 years ago, and decided to re-read it as part of my summer reading program. The document is entitled “Responding to the Changing Nature of Conservation: an Open Letter to the Directorate on Shaping the Service Future,” which was penned by Charles Baxter in 2006. Charles was a friend and mentor, and a conservation visionary in the truest sense of the word. The importance of the Open Letter is that I believe it laid out the foundations that helped usher in the era of LCCs. And even though this Open Letter is directed to the Fish & Wildlife Service, it has far reaching implications for every natural resource organization. The evolving paradigm of the conservation enterprise applies to all of us, not just one particular organization, and the challenges we face in the 21st century will only be met through our collective efforts of developing a scientifically grounded, shared vision of a sustainable landscape.
As I re-read Baxter’s Open Letter, I thought about the many changes that have occurred since 2006, and where we are as an LCC community today. If Charles was still with us today (he passed away unexpectedly in February 2009), what would he say about our progress or lack thereof? Knowing Charles, I would guess it would be a mixed bag – I think he would be proud that LCCs were established, and they were established as a response to climate change, and that Climate Science Centers were established as companion centers of science (establishing a “function-based relationship” with USGS). Charles was working on natural resource solutions to climate change way back in the early 2000’s, even when you couldn’t say “climate change” in the federal government. On the other hand, I think he would be disappointed, and even frustrated, with the lack of progress on breaking down the barriers and silos that prevent the conservation community from being more collaborative and effective. At the same time, Charles was a pragmatic conservationist, and he understood that the evolution of change can be a slow process, even maddeningly slow at times. So, he would understand that it takes time to change agency cultures – we all have a human ingrained trait that makes us resistant to change. It doesn’t really matter, because change happens anyway, whether we like it or not.
I raise all this for a couple of reasons: first, I want to invite you to read Charles Baxter’s Open Letter, and draw your own conclusions about what it means and how we might better apply its lessons to our conservation enterprise in the GCPO LCC. Second, as we embark on the development of a conservation blueprint for the GCPO LCC later this fall, we are in fact employing some of the fundamental principles envisioned in the Open Letter document: science-based biological planning and conservation designs. That’s a good thing, and a sign of progress! We invite you to be a part of that process and to get involved. Stay tuned for more information later this fall – we’ll be hosting stakeholder workshops across the GCPO LCC geography where we’ll be inviting your input into our conservation blueprint.