It’s time for another update on your cooperative, the LCC Network, and ideas about the future of collaborative conservation in general. Thanks for your calls and emails supporting the work of your cooperative, and your concerns regarding staff during this period of budgetary uncertainty.

Much has happened in the last few months following the release of the President’s budget request which recommended elimination of funding for LCCs. This action necessitated a re-prioritization of effort by staff to develop strategies to conserve the products and assets of your cooperative, such as the Blueprint, supporting data, and science products produced by the LCC, in the event that Fish and Wildlife Service funding for LCCs does not continue. That archiving work is a necessary element of preserving and managing the processes, outputs, and products of individual LCCs and of the LCC Network, and was already underway prior to the budget announcements which advanced the target completion date and the staff effort devoted to these activities considerably.

Additionally, the LCC Network hosted an “all hands” meeting for the 22 LCCs, Network staff, Fish and Wildlife Service staff, and others in mid-July in Denver. The meeting provided a Network focus in light of the budget proposal to identify critical work needed for data archiving, inventory of key information and processes, and a transition strategy for moving to alternative models of financial support for LCCs in a future organizational framework. Throughout this time of budget uncertainty, the Fish and Wildlife Service has been very firm in communicating its support for staff as the agency’s top priority. Depending on final budget resolution, some personnel funded by the Fish and Wildlife Service could be reassigned to do other priority conservation work, and the agency is committed to accommodating existing staff through reassignments and attrition in 2018. Staff positions funded through other organizations, e.g., National Park Service, seem to be in a slightly better position.

The Denver meeting provided opportunity for individual LCCs to share success stories, accomplishments, and recognition of achievements important over the seven-year history of these cooperatives. This sometimes moving recollection provided great insight into the conservation significance of the LCC Network that has been established over a relatively short period of years. As one might have expected, several recurring themes emerged during this process and served to underscore the fundamental importance of collaborative conservation at landscape scales to managing the nation’s natural and cultural resources. These themes included:

  • High level of trust among LCC staff, steering committees, and partners
  • Depth of capacity for science delivery and integration
  • Strong foundations of support for a vision
  • Important coordination and convening functions

I can attest that because of your participation, your cooperative is a leader in each of these important areas.

The Denver meeting also focused on identifying the essential functions of the LCC Network, including those functions and responsibilities that convey the relevance of the LCC Network to the core programs and responsibilities of the conservation community at large. These include (i) operating at large (i.e., landscape) scales across multiple jurisdictional boundaries; (ii) addressing the broad scope and scale of transforming challenges to natural resource management; and (iii) being responsive and adaptive to the needs of the broader conservation community. These essential functions are elements of a common mission that tie LCCs together with broad participation of other partners, and are fundamental to any future organizational framework or restructuring of LCCs that may be warranted pending resolution of the federal budget.

Following the LCC Network meeting, on July 17 the US House Appropriations Committee approved a budget for the Department of the Interior that restored Fish and Wildlife Service funding for LCCs and science support. This was welcome news for many, but if you’re familiar with the federal budgeting process, you know that there are many steps in the process toward final budget resolution, and the process can take a long time. However, the possibility of a “life line” through the appropriations process opens the door for consideration of other possible futures for LCCs, and requires thought be given to the type of transformation in focus, form, and function that may be necessary (or desirable). Notably, the House Appropriations budget report provided specific guidance to the Fish and Wildlife Service to “focus on areas where LCC partnerships are strongest.” The South Atlantic LCC is well positioned under this direction.

Moreover, the House budget report also specifically commended the Fish and Wildlife Service in the Southeast for its “efforts to work with States to preclude the need to list many of the hundreds of species recently petitioned for listing….the Service is expected to expand this model nationwide.” Although listing review and preclusion is not specifically an LCC activity, the six LCCs of the Southeast, including the South Atlantic, are fundamental contributors to the success of this effort through providing technical support to the Southeast Conservation Adaptation Strategy (SECAS).
So what does all this mean for the final 60 days of the federal fiscal year? I think we should remember that there are lots of moving parts associated with the federal budget. There is also much uncertainty about what direction and which outcomes will prevail. No doubt various possibilities will ebb and flow through the entire process. We should also remember that it could take a long time for budget resolution to be finalized—a long time. And if there’s a need to consider structural or organizational changes, the steering committee and the broader cooperative will have opportunity to weigh in on different options for the direction the cooperative ultimately takes.

Meanwhile, your staff remains focused on finalizing all the components of Version 2.2 of the Conservation Blueprint. We’re continuing to support new Blueprint uses among more than 20 partner organizations and applications. And most recently, refinements are being made to the Blueprint Implementation Strategy that will position your cooperative as a continuing leader in landscape scale conservation planning and implementation. In addition, I pledge to focus on (at least these) three things in the next two months:

  1. Working with staff to complete the archiving of data, LCC processes, and products
  2. Continuing communications with steering committee members, key partners, and conservation champions, and
  3. Collectively communicating the key stories of LCC relevance to partners at the cooperative, regional, and national scales.

I thank you for your continuing support and please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions or concerns about these issues.