Developing the next generation of natural resource conservation professionals through graduate and postdoctoral education is one of the three legs of the CRU’s mission. The CRU model that requires research to be sanctioned by cooperating agencies and organizations ensures that students will be engaged in research that has real-world management application.
The needs of cooperating agencies are varied and range from traditional population and habitat management to landscape ecology and human dimensions, as well as application of advanced technologies such as unmanned aerial systems, conservation genomics, stable isotopes, and Bayesian analytics, to name a few. The diversity of the CRU research portfolio, based on the diverse needs of cooperators, will provide a cadre of skilled entry-level professionals whose skills
range from traditional techniques to new and emerging technologies. However, a proactive approach to identify future scientific and technical skills that will be needed should be implemented to ensure that agencies are prepared to meet emerging challenges. Ensuring that the future workforce will represent the diversity of the American people—an important component of societal relevance—will require additional efforts (Hallerman et al. 2014). As noted in the demographic data cited above, recent hires are not representative of the U.S. population.
Equity and Inclusion
The CRU can be a catalyst for increasing workforce diversity—indeed, the CRU has received numerous diversity awards in recent years, but it may have to expand upon its efforts beyond traditional recruitment approaches to increase its impact. Fortunately, an existing initiative in which the CRU is engaged—the Doris Duke Conservation Scholars Program (Duke Program)—shows promise. The Duke Program recruits undergraduate students from underrepresented societal segments through a competitive process at universities with Units. Currently, five universities and Units participate. These students are mentored by the CRU graduate students and faculty and work as technicians on Unit research projects. The students benefit by receiving hands-on training in research and orientation towards natural resource agency operations.
The CRU is in a unique position to facilitate scientific inquiry at landscape scales because the on the- ground science they conduct at the behest of cooperators generates interest from beyond the traditional cooperator network. The CRU is not established to advocate for any science agenda; it serves to facilitate the needs of others and provide science solutions to their challenges—a neutral, trusted partner. The CRU will be better able to fulfill this role with technical and administrative improvements that will provide for a nimble complementary role with other efforts, such as Landscape Conservation Cooperatives (LCCs), and bring the strength of the CRU in identifying science solutions to the forefront. Each Unit is a cooperative science endeavor among State, Federal, university, and nongovernmental cooperators. Units host regular cooperator meetings to discuss science needs and achieve consensus on research that the Unit will pursue. The USGS is a participant in all cooperator meetings as, to a lesser degree, are the USFWS and the Wildlife Management Institute (WMI).
USGS can identify science needs brought forth by state cooperators that align with needs of other states, as can the states through their regional associations or AFWA. USFWS can bring regional and national perspectives, as well as science needs identified by LCCs. WMI has facilitated multiagency collaboration for decades and is instrumental in brokering the science needs of LCCs. The cooperator model that is in place has the capacity to identify and catalyze investigation and application of landscape science. Haukos et al. (2015) described how effectively this model can work in practice, where individual needs of several states overlapped with those of federal natural resource agencies and multiple CRUs responded. With the development of networks of expertise, the CRUs can be engaged as needed to tackle science.
Bridging Science and Management
Management and science should not represent a customer/client relationship in natural resources conservation. The relationship is most beneficial when collaborative and interactive and when it fosters learning that reduces uncertainty in how agencies fulfill their public trust responsibilities.
The CRU is well positioned to facilitate such a relationship—in fact, its origins 80 years ago were based on this premise (Gofoth 2006; Whalen and Thompson 2015). Fruitful engagement is best fostered through ongoing relationships among managers and researchers where the initial focus is on conservation issues and challenges. The coupling of on-the-ground practical knowledge of managers with scientific design expertise of researchers can lead to identification of products needed to address these conservation issues and challenges. Some products could be in the form of research projects and science deliverables. Others could be technical assistance, such as training in emerging science tools or how to apply and interpret new science. The CRUs are particularly well positioned to help state wildlife management agencies and partners capitalize on the best aspects and applications of new and emerging technologies.
Throughout, the skills and training necessary to address emergent needs should be articulated by cooperators, and the CRU should incorporate them into education to prepare the future workforce. Collaboration among researchers and managers should not end with a final report or a workshop. Ongoing engagement is essential in ensuring that science as delivered can yield desired outcomes. To foster this process, the CRU has developed capacity in decision-tool science. Adaptive management provides for a rigorous, iterative framework that facilitates learning by researchers and managers from management interventions, and adapting management accordingly, with systems modeling and scientific monitoring (Williams et al. 2009). This feedback loop ultimately can reduce uncertainty and ensure that resources are directed most efficiently and effectively.
Application of science to natural resources management can be contentious, particularly if there are opposing stakeholder interests. The CRU has developed capacity to train students in, as well as deliver, Structured Decision Making (SDM) processes. When stakes are high and transparency is essential, SDM is a valuable tool. The CRU is helping to develop a workforce with adaptive management and SDM capability so that agencies that hire the CRU students will have internal capacity. Cooperating agencies have fundamental monitoring needs ranging from impact of harvest rates on species viability to population status of lesser-known species. Coupling of needs across cooperators can yield efficiencies and leverage resources to the benefit of all. For example, a state may need information on a species’ population status as part of their State Wildlife Action Plan (SWAP), and that same species could either be a surrogate species for a LCC or a rare species under the umbrella of a surrogate species. A monitoring effort as part of a Master of Science project not only could inform the SWAP; it also could test the efficacy of the surrogate in representing the landscape needs of a priority species. The CRUs are positioned well to leverage such projects.