Partnerships critical for wildlife conservation, keynote speakers say

By David Frey

When Jennifer Owen-White was hired as refuge manager for the newly created Valle de Oro National Wildlife outside Albuquerque, N.M., she had a one-person staff, a minimal budget, no roadmap to guide her and an old dairy farm in an industrial zone to work with.

“There I was,” Owen said as she spoke at the Monday keynote, “Establishing Wildlife Conservation Partnerships to Drive Results,” at the TWS Annual Conference. “I was alone, essentially, with no budget, given what seemed like an impossible task.”

Four years later, she assembled more than 150 partnerships to help create this unique urban wildlife refuge, bringing in more than half the funding from outside the federal government.

“I may have started as a one-person staff,” she said, “but I had an entire community behind me — really in front of me, leading the way.”

Owen-White joined Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation, and Bill Clay, deputy administrator of the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s Wildlife Services, to urge attendees to form partnerships to accomplish wildlife conservation goals.

The National Wildlife Federation sponsored the keynote.

“We have a crisis here at home, and I’m here to inspire you on how we can work on this together,” said O’Mara, who rallied wildlife biologists to work with others who shared their goals to stop the loss of biodiversity in the country.

While big game animals are mostly thriving, O’Mara said, “About a third of all wildlife species are in trouble. … The challenge has been to tell this story systematically to inspire the American people to speak up.”

He called for a plan to improve wildlife habitat, boost federal funding and connect more Americans with wildlife, urging conference participants to “do our part and stand as tall as the giants that came before,” including respected conservationists Aldo Leopold, Ding Darling and Theodore Roosevelt.

The message can unite conservatives and liberals, O’Mara said, if conservationists can tell the story in a way that reverberates with people. He pointed to Darling, whose cartoons and artwork made a compelling case for wildlife conservation.

“If we do these things and we do them well, we will leave an incredible legacy for wildlife,” he said.

Clay spoke of projects his organization has been a part of that were only successful because of relationships with other partners.

“Beyond Wildlife Services, however, I believe that all successful wildlife management activities in our country requires partnerships,” he said, “strong partnerships that can help continue the conservation successes we have enjoyed over the past quarter-century.”

He pointed to three projects that have been particularly successful. In Guam, Wildlife Services worked with the Defense Department, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Geological Survey and the government of Guam to eradicate invasive brown tree snakes, which were killing endangered birds. In Maryland, it joined state and federal agencies to eliminate the invasive nutria, which had transformed marshlands into open water. In the West, it helped restore to the wild the black-footed ferret, which was threatened by plague entering colonies of prairie dogs, which the ferret feeds on.

“I believe that the future of effective wildlife management and wildlife damage management in this country is contingent on the ability of wildlife professionals to recognize the critical need for partnerships and to involve all appropriate partners in the process,” Clay said, “and I believe that this cooperation is critical if humans and wildlife are to coexist.”

Several awards were also announced:

Jay N. “Ding” Darling Award for Wildlife Stewardship through Art: Robert Bateman

Excellence in Wildlife Education: Dean Stauffer

W.L. McAtee and G.V. Burger Associate Editor Award: Scott M. McCorquodale

Wildlife Publication Award–Book: Snow Leopards. Thomas McCarthy and David Mallon

Wildlife Publication Award–Edited Book: Golden-Winged Warbler Ecology. Henry M. Streby, David E. Andersen, David A. Buehler

Wildlife Publication Award–Monograph: Competitive interactions and resource partitioning between northern spotted owls and barred owls in western Oregon. J. David Wiens and Eric D. Forsman

Wildlife Publication Award–Paper: Using predator-prey theory to predict outcomes of broadscale experiments to reduce apparent competition. Robert Serrouya, Meike J. Wittmann, Bruce N. McLellan; Heiko U. Wittmer; Stan Boutin.

David Frey is an editor at The Wildlife Society. Contact him at dfrey@wildlife.org with any questions or comments about his article. Read more of David's articles here.

You can follow him on Twitter at @davidmfrey.