The other day I was talking to a friend, an entomologist, about the under-appreciation of insects and reptiles. As we lamented over the lack of love for those that creep, crawl, pollinate, and break down the messier parts of life, my friend commented, “it’s too bad so many people assume any snake or spider they see is poisonous.” Noting her slip, I tried not to sound condescending as I corrected her and replied, “You mean venomous.” She looked at me, drawing her eyebrows together in confusion.
“Yes. Venomous. You know… as in not poisonous.”
As it turns out my friend the entomologist had never been reprimanded by a biologist, herpetologist, ecologist, or as in my case, by wildlife-worshipping friends, about the distinction between poisonous and venomous.
Within the fields of environmental science, conservation and natural resource management, we speak different dialects reflective of the unique knowledge and familiarity of the systems and organizations we work around. We write, present, and speak in acronyms. We avoid using publicly popular, yet nebulous, terms like “ecologically healthy”. What some may refer to as a threat, others call a stressor or ecosystem driver. At times there is no difference between terms until there is, and then the difference is vast (e.g. an indicator and surrogate species). Our language choice may depend on the agency, organization, program, or tool we associate with, and at times we can take for granted how nuanced our knowledge is. And although many organizational and agency goals are similar, we have difficulty articulating clear goals for the larger landscape and how individual efforts will further progress towards those goals.
Different dialects can present roadblocks to conservation planning efforts and public outreach, especially as the need to collaborate and partner becomes ever more important. The Conservation Blueprint aims to connect potential partners together by identifying areas within the landscape that reflect multiple priorities and suggest potential strategies for shared action. This shared map also has the potential to create a large, landscape scale vision and goals across the Southeast and to connect cooperative members.
Recently, I traveled to Forsyth, Georgia to interview Reggie Thackston (User Team and Steering Committee member) and James Tomberlin about how the Conservation Blueprint could help support decisions made through the lens of the bobwhite quail management. Throughout the interview, I stumbled over the acronyms germane to Reggie and James’ work (NBCI, BRI). After the third time of incorrectly pronouncing the acronym NBCI, Reggie kindly told me, “it’s alright, we know what you mean.” I relaxed a bit as I continued to try and learn their language and understand the context of their decision making process. After the interview, I told Reggie and James about a strange experience I had at the Atlanta airport.
At the rental car kiosk, the woman behind the desk politely asked me what brought me to town. I considered whether or not to give her my elevator speech about the South Atlantic LCC and the Conservation Blueprint, but instead opted for a shorter response and replied, “I’m here to interview some people about Bobwhite Quail management”. She looked at me, smiled, and asked, “Oh, are you a marine biologist?” I should have given her the longer answer.
Reggie, James, and I all laughed at this misunderstanding, but also agreed that it wasn’t really very funny. Bobwhite quail occur in 38 states and are an important game bird in the South. It is important to both educate and connect with the public about the necessity of conservation and natural resource management. But before we craft a message, we must first clarify exactly what we are trying to accomplish at a local level as individual efforts and at a larger landscape level as part of a greater collective.