Today’s conservation challenges involve multiple species whose fates are influenced by many factors that typically play out at the landscape level. Solutions emerge when people work together to plan and act at scales appropriate to these challenges. The need for practical science to guide landscape conservation in the American West is growing, due to increasing human needs and our rapidly changing environment, but science alone is unlikely to be enough. As the complexity of land and resource management challenges increases, so too does the complexity of policy decisions and the need to engage the public in developing solutions and creating the base of support necessary for implementing them. Strengthening this linkage between science and policy, and bridging the gap between theory and practice, defines the core mission of the Landscape Conservation Initiative (LCI).
When we launched the LCI, we were drawing on something old to inspire something new. The ‘old’ was the Lab of Landscape Ecology and Conservation Biology’s 15-year history of success as a diversified research group at Northern Arizona University. The LLECB remains the science engine that powers the LCI, linking field research, remote sensing, spatial analysis and modeling to address fundamental questions in conservation science. Naturally, this work ties to applications in real-world conservation, but prior to the establishment of the LCI, these efforts were modest, accomplished ‘on the side of the desk’ by a team of committed scientists whose day-jobs were focused on research. In 2012, support from Northern Arizona University allowed us to launch the LCI and build out novel models for linking an expanding research program to environmental planning, policy development, and education. For example, the LCI is working with the National Park Service and many state, federal, and tribal partners to lead the Greater Grand Canyon Landscape Assessment, an ambitious effort to mobilize a vast body of science to inform management priorities and conservation efforts that extend beyond park boundaries and involve neighboring landowners and more distant stakeholders. Likewise, the LCI is developing a portfolio of innovative education programs, including the Grand Canyon Semester and the Doris Duke Conservation Scholars Program, that provide advanced training and get students into the field to experience conservation science in practice. Today, the LCI provides a stable foundation for pursuing the interdisciplinary work that leverages research and takes the science out of the ivory tower and into practice. Research is at the root of all we do, but it is problem solving and on-the-ground-conservation that inspires our work.
Research, collaborative planning, and experiential education – these three LCI program areas provide a foundation for innovative conservation work, grounded in quantitative analysis and informed by practical experience. As a research center at Northern Arizona University, the LCI draws on expertise from across the academic sector, from partners in state, federal and tribal agencies, and from private landowners and public interest groups. Our business model is based on partnerships that reach beyond the university to define new ways of operating that leverage science in the practice of conservation and sound stewardship. As in all true partnerships, each participant brings vital skills and perspective to the table, and the outcomes surpass what might have been done individually. We invite you to join us.