The road to conserving the Appalachian landscape
Coming into the landscape conservation cooperatives world from a science background, I often get asked, “What brought you to the job?”
It’s actually an easy question – throughout my entire career I have witnessed increasing threats to our natural resources, loss of biodiversity and decline of fish and wildlife populations.
The observed impacts of increasing climate change, however, forced a realization that action must be taken now if we hope to keep our options open – to help facilitate the adaptation of natural systems trying to transition through the profound and abrupt changes anticipated – based on the observed trends.
I admit my background is perhaps not typical. My research pursuits have been varied, including
- primate behavior in Kenya,
- mongoose ecology in Madagascar,
- evolutionary genetics of large mammals in Malaysia and
- sea otter population biology in California.
I have always been motivated by my love of nature and support of environmental protection. But the transition into climate change and adaptation focus followed my experience through my work as a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, where I served as a diplomatic officer with the U.S. State Department.
While at State, I worked with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and served at the United Nations Negotiations on climate change. I was one of a select number of scientists recognized “for contributing to the award of the Nobel Peace Prize for 2007 to the IPCC.” I was later hired as a science officer for the U.S. Agency for International Development, and I worked overseas to provide national or regional biodiversity and natural resource strategic planning and conservation.
I now work for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as part of a national agenda initiated to efficiently coordinate conservation efforts. Landscape conservation cooperatives were created because many of the environmental issues of today transcend state lines and organizational areas of responsibility.
This is especially true in the Appalachian region, where I am the coordinator for the Appalachian Landscape Conservation Cooperative.
The Appalachian mountains and rivers have, and are continuing to experience, environmental impacts associated with energy development, urban expansion and transformation of agricultural lands. This has resulted in the fragmentation of habitats, genetic isolation of species, dramatic changes in the water cycle and the expansion of harmful invasive species. Emerging land-use changes, as well as a changing climate, will likely exacerbate these threats. Without large-scale and long-term planning, adaptation options will be increasingly lost.
The Appalachian LCC – like all LCCs – is self-directed and crosses political and organizational boundaries to help wildlife and natural resource managers achieve conservation goals at a landscape-level, beyond the jurisdictions and resources of any one agency or partnership.
The focus of conservation science has shifted to achieve large-scale conservation across a matrix of various land-uses, human benefits and environmental services. Greater conservation can be achieved through higher coordination and more strategic investment of scarce resources.
So the answer to the question of how I came to the LCC effort is simple: how could I do anything else?
Planning at the landscape level will be our best hope to achieve conservation, maintain the resilience of natural systems and sustain the environmental benefits nature provides human communities. This shift in science and management represents a transformational time in the history of conservation, and I am honored to be able to play a role.