The President’s budget made me experience deja vu. Not because I’m some seasoned political operative with long experience of partisan shakeups, but because twenty years ago the Cosumnes River Preserve Visitor’s Center in California burned down. That project was one I had spent the last two years of my professional life shepherding to completion.
So it was with the same sense of shock, loss, and semi-disbelief that I learned the President and Department of Interior had singled out for elimination a little-known, but highly sophisticated award-winning program within the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in FY18. It’s called the Landscape Conservation Cooperative Network, and its goal is quite simple: use science, big data, cutting-edge technologies, and partnerships to secure the future of our natural world in all 50 U.S. states and our protectorates.
This program seeks to do for natural resources what a long-range plan for our national highway system does for transportation, or what long-term forecasting does for businesses intent on remaining profitable for years to come. The people with the LCCs, as they are known, that I’ve had the honor to work with over the past six and a half years like to explain the need for long-term, large-scale conservation planning this way:
If not us, then who?
If not now, then we could miss our chance.
We’re planning on more than leftovers
Our forests, rivers, grasslands, and coastal marshes are like a beautifully woven tapestry with holes in it that are growing larger each year. Without thoughtful planning, there’s no guarantee that the tapestry can stay in one piece. Without a landscape conservation approach, the decisions of many different actors - most of whom do not prioritize the needs of wildlife, wild rivers, and ecosystems - will dictate what happens on the land and in the water. The “leftovers” will become all that remains of our natural systems.
But the great news is that by building partnerships across state borders and federal agencies, and by including nonprofit organizations, private landowners, and businesses such as timber companies - and most especially new partners who will have an interest in coming to the table - there is every reason to believe that we can continue getting clean air, clean water, protected shorelines, abundant wildlife, and high-quality outdoor recreation from the lands and waters that we as Americans hold so dear.
That is what the LCCs have been working toward over the past eight years, and we have made significant progress. In the South, our Southeast Conservation Adaptation Strategy with its ever-improving Conservation Blueprint is pioneering this type of large-scale planning and partnership building.
LCC partners aren’t going away either. Though the future of federal funding for LCCs is in question, many states and nonprofits have already made investments, are likely to continue doing so, and some are voicing their support for LCCs. We probably won’t fully know the outcome until long after October 2017.
When something to which you have committed significant levels of time and psychic energy goes “up in smoke,” it makes you really sit back and take stock. You ask yourself, if I had it to do over, would I make the same choice? I am honored to have worked with such a highly dedicated and visionary group of people and partners from across the country. Knowing what I know now, I would do it all again. My guess is, most of our partners will continue to recognize the value of landscape conservation as will some of the more visionary leaders in Congress. That’s why all may not be lost.
That Visitor’s Center was rebuilt. And I know that even if Congress carries out the President’s FY18 budget request and dismantles the LCC Network, the landscape conservation imperative will remain alive in the hearts and minds of our partners. We will wait for a final decision then regroup or rebuild, as circumstances dictate.