Science and Management: The Two Frontlines of Field Conservation

Like many others, I was lured to the outdoors at a young age by Nature TV channels, magazines, and the many hours that I spent exploring parts of the Chihuahuan Desert growing up. In elementary school, I started dreaming of becoming a veterinarian, a biologist, an ecologist, or anything that would take me into the field to enjoy nature and, maybe, help to protect species. My love for the natural world and desire to make a difference led me to the field of conservation.

Caped heron in Manu National Park, Peru.

Caped heron in Manu National Park, Peru.

Unlike many people working in conservation, I do not have a favorite group of animals or plants. I am equally happy and exited to tag deer in Texas, collect plants in Nebraska, train rangers in Cuba, or work in protected areas in Peru. This range of diverse interests has given me a valuable perspective I did not anticipate. Having the opportunity to be involved in many projects, with many species, and in many places has helped me see field conservation as a combination of many pieces working together.

From an idea to science

During graduate school I followed my curiosity to explore the way to answer ecological questions related to grasslands. I would find an interesting issue and then I would start putting together the science needed to get an answer. Later, I had the opportunity to be a land manager. With this experience I started to perform several tasks not directly related to science in order to develop conservation plans to protect and enhance habitats in the Midwest. Although different from my experience developing research, I found myself investing a lot more time planning and thinking, and cutting back my beloved time in the outdoors. I began to realize that good field conservation, and our capability to save species from the brink of extinction, requires a good amount of planning on top of all the exciting hours in the field. My first “Ah-ha” moment showed me that successful conservation starts with a sound strategy.

From the science to management

Once biology and ecology start to interact with human variables such as politics, society, economy, and even logistics, the picture gets a lot more complex than just scientific research. After scientists have developed the knowledge to understand plants and animals, this information has to be translated into something that managers, ranchers, engineers, politicians, and even teachers can understand and use. That was my second “Ah-ha” moment! Scientists have infinite amounts of knowledge on one side, and mangers and communities have diverse needs on the other. Historically, we have scientists in one side, and mangers and communities in the other, and the two have often been in conflict. We need more people that can understand both sides and bridge what each side has to offer.

Luis working with chuckwallas in California.

Luis working with chuckwallas in California.

These major realizations combined with my desire to apply my scientific knowledge helped me go from the field of applied ecology to conservation education. My time at the Zoo has been directed toward learning how to develop that sound strategy that can be used by those facilitating communication between scientists and land managers.

In other words, I use education as the tool to close the communication gap between scientific papers and field conservation. During this process I have been collaborating with the Conservation Education Division staff and field scientists in other divisions to incorporate the components of human dimensions into conservation projects in Peru, Mexico, Vietnam, the United States, and Malaysia.

In the near future, I hope to help to build the capacity needed among field conservationist of all types to incorporate this type of approach. In doing so, this type of framework, I believe, can enhance our capacity to develop better field conservation projects to protect habitats and save species.

Luis Enrique Ramirez
Postdoctoral Associate
Institute for Conservation Research, San Diego Zoo Global

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