When conservation biologists said resource managers should consider entire ecosystems rather than focusing on single species, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service director Jamie Rappaport Clark challenged her agency to pioneer the ecosystem approach. Now she challenges conservation biologists to help them implement it.
"We expect that you will roll up your sleeves, join us in the field, and work with our land managers on ways to improve our approach," says Clark in the June issue of Conservation Biology.
From a manager's point of view, the single species approach is attractive because the goal--recovering an endangered species--is clear and easy to measure. In contrast, managers are wary of the ecosystem approach because it is new and undefined. To help define the ecosystem approach, the Fish and Wildlife Service has divided the country into 53 management units based on watersheds. The Service chose watersheds because their boundaries and ecological connections are obvious. For instance, pollution upstream will affect ecosystems downstream. Just as importantly, watersheds are easy to explain to the public, which will be increasingly critical to conservation as the population grows and makes more demands on open space and wild areas.
Clark urges conservation biologists to do their part in helping managers adopt an ecosystem approach by working with them on Habitat Conservation Plans (HCPs). HCPs can be improved by letting landowners know which elements need to be flexible and which can be guaranteed not to change, she says. Scientists can help by identifying both where we will probably need to adjust HCPs and where we can take some chances.