Conservation Science


Who I am

 I began my career as a plant ecologist. I was worried about extinction, and I became a conservation biologist. There comes a point where in thinking about the impact you are having one might encounter the uneasy feeling that the work is not having an impact. Coming to that conclusion, I became a conservation scientist. This may all sound the same, but actually represents a dramatic shift. The essence of this shift is that I began my career being motivated by interesting science questions having to do with nature. As a conservation biologist, I was motivated by interesting questions about that subset of nature over which we have conservation concern. As a conservation scientist, I am much more interested in people. How is nature managed by natural resource managers and conservation practitioners, what motivates people to make the decisions they do, what constrains the making of decisions that would lead to better conservation outcomes? I am motivated by the scientific questions that constrain our capacity to manage nature toward sustainability. Wearing that hat, I am interested in the knowledge – implementation gap and how we can be better, as a scientific community, in addressing the information needs of the resource management community.

My Research Interests

  1. Conservation decision support
  2. Conservation evaluation and assessment
  3. Assessing climate change vulnerability for natural resources
  4. Establishing policy for emerging conservation strategies such as assisted migration (mostly in the form of constraining unsanctioned private action)
  5. Fire management in the western US and creating resilient forested ecosystems
  6. Building social capital for conservation

Current Projects

A. Decision Support for Conservation Introductions. Conservation Introductions, introductions of species outside their historic distribution for the purpose of conservation, are increasingly considered as a viable biodiversity protection strategy. As an example, the US FWS proposed in 2022 dropping the restriction of being within the historic range for experimental population (10j) establishment. Often referred to as managed relocation, assisted colonization or assisted migration, these actions can be both ecologicallyand socially risky. Moving a species into a new ecosystem can result in major adverse impacts to recipient ecosystems. As introducing a species into a new system is not a typical conservation action, it can also meet a lot of social resistance. Nevertheless, global change threats such as climate and invasive species is leading conservation introduction to appear as the only viable option for some species. I have been working with US Federal Agencies to help develop guidance that resource managers can use to support decision-making on conservation introduction proposals.

B. Western Wildfire Risk Response. Western wildfire has been increased in size and intensity since the 1980’s. Although most ecosystems experiencing this increase in wildfire are fire-maintained systems, the current frequency, size or intensity of wildfires are outside our best estimates of the historic norm. Further, these wildfires are causing risk to homes and people. The consequence is a region-wide effort to reduce the size and severity of wildland fire. A multi-pronged strategy is approaching the problem through reducing forest fuels on public lands and providing grants to help private landowners increase their fire readiness. Although the majority of acreage burned in California is publicly owned, the majority of the damage, lives lost, toxins produced from the incineration of non-vegetative matter, as well as fire ignitions are on private land. Thus, I am working to consider two problems associated with private wildlands. First, how do we get emerging tools to help private landowners adapt to fire into their hands for use? There are a number of tools to help landowners decide how to alter their forest management after they experience wildfire.  We need to make these tools readily available, easy to use and free. The second problem that I am working on is how to maximize the adoption of adaptation strategies by private landowners. Wildland policy can try to support adaptation responses by encouraging voluntary uptake of best management practices, providing incentive funding for adaptation, or through legal requirements to adapt. To date, most policies have focused on the former two strategies. What is the evidence that these are working, and can we assess whether they will be sufficient to find the solutions that we are looking for? Or, will legal restrictions be required in order for us to reach the wildand resilience that we are seeking?

C. New Directions in Conservation. The New Conservation, Conservation 2.0, COnservation 3.0,… These are terms used to reflect the observation that conservation practice has shifted dramatically from a relatively straightforward approach of fine (e.g., species) and coarse scale (e.g., ecosystems) protection schemes to one of integrated social-ecological systems where solutions for biodiversity protection may as likely be found in altering consumer behavior through marketing strategies, working to restore indigenous community resource management or adjusting policy levers for conservation as they are from the more traditional habitat or species protection schemes. Conservation has passed the period for which biology is the leading discipline in conservation schlarship. Nevertheless, most conservation education programs reside within biology programs, and most emerging conservation scientists are biologists. I am working to help quicken the full transition of conservation scholarship to be an inter-disciplinary field that, while including ecological studies as an integral component, is not centered on ecology as the core central discipline. This entails my work with and for conservation publications, work with the Society for Conservation Biology, work within my home institution and writing of synthetic pieces that strive to make conservation a more socially inclusive, socially relevant, and borad discipline.