Viewing conservation through a wider lens
Brawny male black bears can be found rummaging through the thick understory of many New England forests, and about this time, many are getting cozy in their dens. But in the warmer months, these guys are known to do a lot of traveling. A single black bear’s home range can stretch from 20 to 50 square miles, covering acres of forests, wetlands and even communities.
From a conservation point of view, animals with a wide range like the black bears’ can be difficult to manage. But that’s exactly what Ken Elowe wanted to figure out.
Elowe leads one of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Northeast Region programs as the assistant regional director of Science Applications, a program working on the science of today’s conservation methods. He came to the Service in 2010 after working in the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife for 23 years. Elowe is incredibly passionate about his work in conservation, which started 30 years ago, when he did graduate research on black bear habitats. He is driven by the desire to ensure that our children and their children can continue to enjoy the beauty of nature.
“A hundred years from now,” said Elowe, “we want our fish and wildlife to still have a functional place to live and operate on the landscape.”
To face growing threats to the health of fish, wildlife and the natural systems that make up our landscape in the Northeast, Elowe – along with the Service and many of its partners – believes that approaching conservation from a holistic perspective is our best hope for fish and wildlife into the future.
To achieve that vision, the Service is working with partners to do conservation work at a landscape scale and consolidate the multitude of individual environmental, conservation and natural resource management actions into one big picture. For example, when conserving a forest, management plans could very well be applied based on individual animals and plants. A separate plan for moose, a separate plan for eagles and a separate plan for deer and bears could all apply to one forest. But doing conservation work at a landscape scale means that experts work to develop one all-inclusive plan that provides for all wildlife.
Elowe compares each conservation action to a patch on a quilt, and when we create a common landscape design plan, we can sew all those patches together.
“We’ve conserved wetlands. We’ve created wildlife refuges, management lands and we’ve created national parks,” he said. “But we’ve never stitched them all together so that they are a connected, functioning landscape.”
This concept can be seen in Maine’s Beginning with Habitat program, a program that Elowe worked on from the mid 1990s until his move to the Service. The program pulls together federal agencies, Maine, state agencies, local communities and non-governmental organizations. It strives to conserve habitats that support all native plants and animals in Maine. The program also supports towns, land trusts and others in making the best possible scientifically based decisions for people and wildlife.
The Service’s Northeast Region and its partners are strategically looking at what, where and how much habitat is needed for fish, wildlife and plants. By working through partnerships, like joint ventures and landscape conservation cooperatives (LCCs), experts can bring landscape scale conservation to life, and apply it to the entire region.
The LCCs, like Beginning with Habitat in Maine, are a forum for partners to come together over large areas to coordinate conservation efforts and develop the science and tools needed to put conservation plans into action.
“The LCCs are really doing what no federal agency, state agency or organization can do alone,” Elowe explained. “They integrate people and conservation on large scales.”
Elowe hopes that landscape scale perspectives will make it easier to meet to the needs of all parties, from wildlife to agencies to communities.
“People are concerned with how their areas look, feel and smell, what views they can get, where they can recreate, and where they can farm,” he said. “Through the work of LCCs, those important aspects [and many others I didn’t list] can be built into conservation, bringing people and conservation together on a bigger scale.”
So for the black bear, now snug in his den for his winter hibernation, taking a landscape scale approach can find a sustainable way for nature to provide a home for him, his future generations and his neighbors.
Written by: Raechel I. Kelley