Society for Conservation Biology

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Brett sampling invasive plants in the Sonoran Desert  
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What is it about CSP’s approach to conservation that allows you see today’s environmental problems from a new perspective? 

 

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"I believe that a focus on research and development will be essential if our relatively small community of conservationists is to be effective at anticipating and tackling the world's largest problems."

Brett Dickson

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In my opinion, the traditional venues for conducting conservation research can grind slowly and have cultures that can impede a proactive or creative perspective. University systems tend to emphasize publication and individual professional advancement, rather than the application of science to practice. Agencies tend to steer their science according to regulatory or policy mandates that are blown around by political winds. At CSP, we are not distracted by these forces and can instead focus on pursuing effective solutions to environmental problems and doing important conservation work. I expect CSP’s core emphases on application and innovation to propel conservation science in new ways. I believe that a focus on research and development will be essential if our relatively small community of conservationists is to be effective at anticipating and tackling the world’s largest problems.

You have said CSP’s business model was conceived with Smith Fellows and Society for Conservation Biology professional networks at its core. What about the Smith Fellows Program and SCB influenced CSP? 

My experiences as a Smith Fellow served to incubate and test ideas about how best to engage a broad community of scientists that was clearly committed to thinking out of the box and applying conservation in new ways. Colleagues and mentors with SCB were helpful as I explored the potential ‘niche space’ for a corporate venture and the specific areas of expertise that were needed to better address current and future issues in conservation. We collectively believed that the creativity and ingenuity that defined the Smith and SCB communities could be more broadly tapped for the benefit of greater conservation impact and societal change. Indeed, the network needed to bolster the CSP model was already in place! 

CSP emphasizes human ingenuity and cutting-edge technology as keys to solving environmental problems. What new technologies in conservation science are you excited about and which have you utilized to the greatest affect?

Counting trogans in Costa Rica
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Most of our projects rely fairly heavily on the use of remotely sensed data to, for example, understand large-scale patterns of environmental change or habitat use by species. Although the application of satellite imagery or GPS technology in conservation projects is not new, the integration of these data can present statistical or other technical challenges that we think we’re particularly good at untangling. We do this, in part, with a large number of processors, creative programming, and extensive knowledge of how best to draw on a wide range of possible data platforms. Our approaches seek to match the scale of an analysis to the scale of a process or problem. In this regard, we are excited by the potential of new, cheaper techniques for monitoring animal populations at high spatial and temporal resolutions. Collaborations with technology-based partners are inspiring some pretty cool applications. Stay tuned!

What skills does a successful conservation biologist need today that may not have been necessary 20-years ago? 

Specifically, I think today’s conservation biologist needs to be more comfortable with and better educated in quantitative methods. As environmental problems become more complex, our community will need to be better skilled in mathematics and statistics. Skills in leadership, interdisciplinary collaboration, and outreach also are hugely important, but seemingly underemphasized by most academic programs. In light of the growth of our discipline and the new challenges we face, a conservation biologist still needs to be well rounded to be successful. As a faculty member at Northern Arizona University, I’m working on ways to bridge the traditional graduate student experience with the real world conservation activities of CSP by immersing students in our projects and work environment. My hope is that my students will gain the skills needed to make them immediately effective in a non-profit setting or in the application of conservation science.
 
What do you like to do in your free time? 
 
Free time? What’s that? I spend what free time I have on a bike, skiing in the backcountry, bird watching, or reading about progressive entrepreneurialism.

Do you have any words of wisdom for newly minted conservation professionals looking to make an impact in the field? 

Recognize you have professional options beyond academia and government. With the privatization of agency science, for example, grassroots non-profits and other non-traditional NGOs will be key to the future and relevance of conservation research (see Smith et al. 2009, Nature 462:280-281). There also is growing opportunity in the private sector, where ecological and environmental consulting firms are becoming more adept at conservation science and planning. We conservation biologists need to fan out and infiltrate multiple sectors of society if we are to maximize our impact.
 
Do you have anything else to add?
 
Einstein once said: “If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask, for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes.” Be innovative and, whenever possible, take your mind out of its comfort zone. Good things will happen.
 

 

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