President’s Message

Winter 2017
Message from the President, Holly Copeland

Greetings esteemed colleagues and friends,

The role of science to inform decision-making has never felt more important than right now. Unfortunately, too often it is misused or ignored. A recent example is the sage-grouse game farms bill, which was passed by the Wyoming legislature this legislative session. Two small-scale studies were cited as evidence that sage-grouse game farming could work. However, these small-scale studies are poor proxies for the large-scale commercial operations intended to be licensed under the bill. Legislators decided to enact the bill and ignore the warnings of sage-grouse biologists and TWS that such projects would likely fail and would instead further threaten wild sage-grouse populations.

Science being misused or ignored for purposes of making an argument isn’t new, but it can be quite disheartening, especially to the scientists issuing the warnings. We often hold steadfast to the belief that the systematic studies we so carefully design, implement, and publish will provide the knowledge necessary to steer decision-makers away from ignorance and misunderstanding. And then reality hits like a brick. When it is inconvenient, the best science, overshadowed by the influence of money and power, is too often set aside.

Let us turn back to the definition of science for a moment as a reminder of what science is. The Oxford English dictionary provides the classical definition: “The intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behaviour of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment.” Whereas, the Miriam-Webster’s first definition is broader: “The state of knowing; knowledge as distinguished from ignorance or misunderstanding.

So, where does that leave us and why am I spending my President’s message on this topic? Because I still believe that the role of scientists (you!) to engage in systematic study through observation and experiment has never been more important. But more than ever we need to effectively and vigorously communicate the results of our work to decision-makers. We need to publish, so our work is backed with scientific credibility, but then we also need to flood the world with our compelling science. Shout it from the rooftops if you must to cut through the tangled web of misinformation and the murky fog of obfuscation. The beauty of social media is that we have more venues than ever before to write about and share our work with a diverse group of audiences (and especially youth) through blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and news media. My organization, The Nature Conservancy, publishes a science blog, and I have found great joy in writing for diverse audiences about my scientific endeavors. Lastly, real progress involves developing relationships with decision-makers so that we can interact meaningfully. Meet up. Have a beer together and share what you’ve been working on!

Keep up the great work managing and studying the natural world. What you do matters. Then, don’t forget to share your findings with the world. And finally, if faced with defeat, perhaps fall back to Frank Lloyd Wright’s commandment and take solace: “Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you.”

Holly Copeland is a conservation scientist and spatial ecologist with The Nature Conservancy, Wyoming Chapter. Her research has focused on a range of Western conservation issues, such as ungulate migration, forecasting impacts of development on wildlife, and evaluating wetland and riparian health.