Interdisciplinary Endangered Species Conservation: A New Approach for a New Century. (Introduction)

Article excerpt

Endangered species conservation--encompassing research, policy, management, and all its many facets--is a management process that requires integrative and interdisciplinary methods to be most successful. This process is sometimes also called the "decision or policy process," but the labels can be used interchangeably. In the three decades since passage of the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA), endangered species programs have faced serious challenges that have often impeded the ability of people involved to succeed. These include a preponderance of programs strong in natural sciences research and methods, but weak in the social science knowledge and individual skills necessary to effectively participate in and influence the management process (i.e. the series of decisions and actions that occur within a program from its inception through its design, implementation, evaluation and, if called for, termination). While the level of knowledge about the management process has increased markedly in the past decade, the level of skill necessary for managing and operating within it has lagged far behind the ecological scientific abilities of endangered species program participants. Consequently, endangered species conservation efforts suffer from a disconnect and imbalance in knowledge and skills concerning natural science research (on the one hand) and social, organizational, and values-related concerns (on the other). This leads directly to many complex and sometimes glaring problems in recovery efforts. It is generally accepted now that social factors--such as leadership, organization, communication/cooperation, and many others--play a critical role in the success or failure of endangered species conservation efforts (Clark et al. 1994, 2000, 2001; Reading and Miller 2000). Nonetheless, omissions and oversights in the management process continue to plague many ongoing efforts. As a result, perhaps the greatest problem facing these efforts is the inability or unwillingness of some government and non-governmental participants to adopt new knowledge and skills, use them effectively, and address the clear conservation challenges in a smooth and ultimately successful manner. Despite this lingering problem, there are a growing number of examples wherein people are picking up the new tools and applying them in the field with good effect. These innovative practice-based programs are paying off.

This special issue of Endangered Species UPDATE is the culmination of an extended program of research, education, and practice in interdisciplinary endangered species conservation. In addition to authoring a number of the following articles, we are practitioners of interdisciplinary problem solving methods in endangered species conservation. We have studied, taught, and practiced these methods in endangered species recovery programs in the United States and abroad for more than 25 years. We present this special issue for practitioners, teachers, and students of endangered species conservation in the hopes that it will help inspire more innovative, practical, and effective conservation. In this light, the articles presented herein reflect the efforts of their authors to clarify, promote, and practice endangered species conservation by scrupulously integrating the many variables falling under the aegis of endangered species "research," "management," and "policy."

This special issue is the latest in a series of publications in Endangered Species UPDATE that we began in 1988. The purpose of this series is to introduce practitioners and students of endangered species conservation to ideas and professional tools useful for increasing their effectiveness and efficiency. This issue is divided into three sections, entitled "Concepts," "Applications," and "Cases," totaling 19 articles. We have reprinted all previously published papers in this series and added eight new ones featuring additional work on conceptual approaches, ways to apply innovative methods in practice, and case applications illustrating the use of these methods. …