Joel Berger and Steven Cain show how the sausage gets made. They reflect on the role science played in their successful campaign to establish a pronghorn migration corridor in Wyoming. In what reads like a confessional (in the same vein as #overlyhonestmethods shared by scientists on Twitter), we see how the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) navigated through stakeholder meetings, organizational alliances, and local culture.
Scientific research was necessary at the beginning, to demonstrate that the migration of pronghorn from Grand Teton National Park was essential for the viability of the herd and that the migration corridor was threatened. Once framed by this research, the solution could only come from human relationships—not more publications.
The focus on human values led to strategic decisions that Berger and Cain confess had little to do with science. As outsiders, they made an effort to work with the gas industry and cattlemen’s association. They demonstrated their concern for the local economy when WCS asked to serve as a witness to defend cattle grazing on US Forest Service land, arguing that pronghorn and cattle use different resources. The credibility established by working with industry eventually paid off with an opportunity to meet with Wyoming governor Dave Freudenthal. Berger and Cain also had to take into account the local attitudes towards conservation campaigns. Ranchers worried that the corridor could lead to disease spread by elk and livestock loss to wolves. Locals also were wary of conservation actions promoting Sage Grouse and White-tailed jackrabbits. As a result, WCS did not bring up the corridor’s potential benefits to species other than pronghorn to avoid these issues (and to avoid being labeled “bunny huggers”).
This paper demonstrates the soft skills involved in achieving conservation. Berger and Cain conclude: “Did science play a role? Yes—a critical one. But people and hence human dimensions played a larger one. If there is a lesson to be learned it is this—science and its publication are of tremendous value in defining conservation issues and getting to the table, but publishing alone, even in the most prestigious journals, is not conservation. The act of doing is. Ecological science melded with public policy can further conservation practice. In the end, however, it is only a change in human values that ultimately will facilitate more conservation.”
Perhaps “the act of doing” should be another focus for Conservation Corridor digests?