Special Sessions for 89th North American Conference Announced

Special Sessions for 89th North American Conference Announced

The program steering committee for the 89th North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference has announced the event’s four special sessions. These sessions will be held on the mornings of Wednesday, March 27th and Thursday, March 28th, 2024, at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Special Session 1: Bridging the Wildlife Values Gap among Mutualists, Traditionalists, and Pluralists

Decades of social science into how people in North America and beyond value wildlife has generated deep and invaluable insights for those organizations who bear the responsibility of managing these resources. For instance, mutualist and traditionalist wildlife value orientations are, in application, frequently at odds with one another regarding acceptable wildlife management actions. Additionally, recent research suggests that the wildlife value orientations of fish and wildlife management agencies are typically very different from those of society as a whole. As agencies adapt their public trust responsibilities to reflect broader engagement strategies, there exists a strong and predictable cultural “backlash” from traditionalists fearing this change. All these realities, coupled with increasingly complex conservation and societal changes (such as globalization and modernization) have resulted in greater discord and diversion of already limited resources.

These dynamics present a critical question to the conservation community: can we tap into these diverse perspectives and move from a “triage” approach to one that is more proactive and sustainable? Through a combination of presentations, case examples, and audience discussion, this session will explore building a shared understanding of values and identify outcomes that help agencies increase awareness and effectively communicate with (and about) diverse groups who hold starkly different values.

Special Session 2: Conservation’s Reflection Deficit Disorder

Today’s conservation professionals frequently pursue urgent and unprecedented challenges absent a complete and accurate awareness of the historical context of past conservation mindsets and efforts. Conservation has evolved significantly, and at times rapidly, in the past 150 years witnessing both great success and disheartening failures. For the conservation community to better adapt to current and future challenges, we need to reflect on where we have been, what we have done, and the results of those historic efforts. Natural selection promotes beneficial adaptations without the conscious awareness of the beneficiaries. As self-aware and introspective species, with awareness of selective forces, we possess the unique ability to use forethought and predictability to inform the evolution of perspective and effort. As we continue to build and sustain our conservation efforts, it is imperative that we reflect on our past to prepare for our future. We must recognize that it is more important than ever to reflect in order to appreciate where we are so that we can better prepare for where we need to go.

This session will present attendees with a purposeful pause for reflection of conservation history to facilitate a fuller appreciation of where we are as an institution so that we can better pursue durable results. Presenters will examine conservation’s past in order to understand where conservation has been, its successes and failures, and the motivations and consequences of those historic efforts. Attendees will leave this session with a better understanding of how conservation has evolved within North America and why the existing institutions and mental models exist. Attendees will be challenged to apply the current conservation construct as informed by history in contemplating the future system of conservation.

Special Session 3: The End of the Beginning: Getting Relevancy Work on a Firm Foundation

“This work is difficult!”—a phrase that has been increasingly echoed among dozens of state agencies, social science consultants, and practitioners diligently working to engage and serve broader constituencies in conservation. Even the 60-plus-person team who drafted the 2019 Relevancy Roadmap warned that, “there are no quick or easy fixes” to increasing conservation relevancy for more people, and that the work “will require innovative, thoughtful, and inclusive approaches that will take time and resources to implement.” If the last 5 years of pilot programs, first projects, and strategy testing has taught us anything about relevancy-related work, it’s that the aforementioned cautionary predictions were prophetic if not downright understated.

But there is a silver lining. Our current understanding of the challenging realities embedded within relevancy work comes not from educated guesses, but rather a significant body of experimental knowledge documented and catalogued within the relevancy-practitioner community. Where prior relevancy symposia or workshops generally proposed prospective strategies to increasing conservation relevancy or provided in-process updates, current discussions about relevancy can now be informed by what has actually happened on the ground when strategies are applied in real-world systems. This session will present the results of experimental approaches to relevancy work that have been completed in the past few years, provide guidance on how to use newly developed resources and training materials, and hear perspectives from those who have been the focus of relevancy projects.

Special Session 4: Improving Conservation Outcomes through Collaboration, Technology, and Endangered Species Act Policy Innovations

Effectively addressing the challenges to conserve imperiled species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and protect the ecosystems upon which they depend requires a more systematic way of thinking about what needs to be done, where, and why. It will also require careful consideration about how these conservation actions are likely to affect both landowners and fish and wildlife. This session will showcase innovative and collaborative conservation approaches developed and implemented through federal and state programs and private lands initiatives. As conservation professionals reflect on 50 years of the ESA, we must recognize that it is more important than ever to continue to build and sustain our partnership networks to achieve shared priorities, resilient landscapes, and species conservation.

In that spirit of partnership and collaboration, this session will encourage active participation and engagement by including opportunities for audience members to ask questions and share their insights. A dedicated Q&A session will provide a platform for dialogue between the audience and panelists, enabling the exchange of ideas, experiences, and potential solutions. Additionally, interactive polls or surveys will be utilized to gauge audience perspectives and opinions on key topics discussed.

December 15, 2023