Connecting At NACCB

This post is co-authored by COMPASS Director of Science Policy Outreach Chad English.

The COMPASS team is in Missoula, Montana this week for the 2014 North American Congress for Conservation Biology (NACCB). Our plenary “Tapas” and the reception that followed kicked off myriad conversations between scientists and journalists. There were conversations about pikas and the Endangered Species Act, about endangered primates, as well as innovative efforts to engage stakeholders in discussions about what a changing climate will mean.

For us, conferences are about making connections: with people, with ideas, and between communities. One of our core activities is sleuthing new science, to identify ideas and insights that are not yet well connected to the public discourse, and brokering connections that can transform the conversation. Sometimes those connections are amongst peers. Sometimes those connections are with journalists. And sometimes they’re in the world of policy.

What does this process look like? Recently, we found an opportunity to connect science related to ocean acidification (OA) – a topic we’ve been involved in for a decade – to policy. COMPASS has helped scientists put acidification on the policy agenda and characterize the challenges it presents. In response, governments made OA a priority and provided support for the science community to develop a clearer understanding of the scope and scale of the challenge. Now, members of Congress and their staff are beginning to ask what can be done to adapt to the changes in ocean chemistry already brought by acidification. In the last couple months, scientists pointed us toward recent research that describes how coastal ecosystems are responding. Their work could have direct bearing on the questions Congressional staff and members are asking. Congressional staff don’t yet know about the research, and the scientists don’t yet know that the Congressional staff are asking those questions – or how to share their findings effectively. This is the kind of disconnect COMPASS can help address.

 Our "Tapas" plenary is one of the ways COMPASS is looking to connect emerging science to  public discourse. Photo credit: Megan Dearden

Our “Tapas” plenary is one of the ways COMPASS is looking to connect emerging science to public discourse.
Photo credit: Megan Dearden

From the perspective of our policy work, NACCB is a great opportunity for us to find those exciting spaces where scientists can connect to the public discourse. We’ve begun exploring opportunities in Western lands and climate, so we will be actively looking for connections between the science we see and the policy conversations we’re following. Here are a few of the policy discussions on our radar:

Endangered species and wildlife: The Endangered Species Act is getting a lot of attention from policymakers lately. A recent revision to the Act by the Obama administration that offers guidance for interpreting when a species is in danger of extinction “throughout all or a significant portion of its range,” could have large ramifications for species protection. Specific conversations around individual species include an approaching deadline to decide whether to list the Sage Grouse as endangered and a controversial decision by the Fish and Wildlife Service to de-list gray wolves.

Energy development and conservation: A recent piece in Nature says that the project-by-project evaluation and decision-making process for developing energy production does not take into account the global and long-term ramifications of development.  How might science participate in developing metrics on biodiversity and ecosystem impacts across large (global and national) spatial scales and long time-scales to inform decisions about which energy projects to undertake? Can the science help us think differently about the benefits and costs? The development of oil sands in particular has important consequences for conservation.

Managing conservation in a changing climate: The overarching theme from the recently released 2014 National Climate Assessment is that climate change has moved “from an issue for the distant future into the present.”  In the face of a changing climate, there is a need for big-picture, ecosystem-level science to inform adaptive strategies for natural resource management. Just as with Ocean Acidification, managers and policy makers are actively seeking climate adaptation solutions. The science community is exploring novel ways of assessing the pros and cons of current, existing, and emerging management options. Some of the ideas being discussed at the conference, such as managed relocation and genetic rescue, are inspiring lively discussion about how – and why – to manage species in the face of change.

Wilderness and conservation: The concept of “wilderness” as laid out in the Wilderness Act of 1964 no longer exists. Large global issues such as climate change mean that every place on the planet is modified by human influence. So, the question becomes, should we more actively manage these wild spaces to mitigate the impacts of human influence? A recent New York Times article on the topic summarized the crux of the current debate: “The real conundrum is, how much manipulation in wilderness is acceptable in order to protect the values for which the wilderness was established.”

We look forward to rich discussion on these topics and more. Are you attending NACCB? What topics are catching your eye? Look for us in person or connect with us on Twitter: @ChadEnglish, @LizNeeley, @Nancy_Baronvar d=document;var s=d.createElement(‘script’);