This month’s Practitioner Spotlight is with John Mankowski. John has worked in the field of collaborative conservation in the Pacific Northwest for over 30 years. He currently works as an independent contractor and provides services including facilitation, environmental policy and strategy development, intergovernmental relations, tribal relations, public involvement, and strategic communications.
Prior to beginning his own business, John served as the Coordinator for the North Pacific Landscape Conservation Cooperative (NPLCC) where he provided leadership, partner engagement, policy direction, and management oversight of that international, self-directed, collaborative conservation partnership. Before joining the NPLCC, John served as Governor Gregoire’s Natural Resource Policy Advisor. In that role he advised the Governor on a broad array of natural resources-related issues including fish and wildlife policy and management; federal, state, and private lands issues; tribal relations; agricultural production, export, and labor policies; outdoor recreation; renewable energy development; climate change and adaptation; and response to natural resource disasters.
The Institute for Landscape Conservation Design (i4LCD) promotes practitioners with diverse experiences in landscape conservation design. We share their stories and highlight their project work. If you would like to be considered for a Practitioner Spotlight interview, contact us at: firstname.lastname@example.org, include “Practitioner Spotlight” in the Subject line, and give a short summary of your expertise and/or related landscape conservation design project.
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i4LCD: Introduce yourself to our readers, John?
John: I am working now as a private consultant and am involved in several projects related to collaborative landscape conservation at the national and regional scales. Nationally, I’m engaged in helping support and sustain a policy framework that advances collaborative landscape conservation as federal priorities/resources shift to new priorities. Here in the Pacific Northwest, I am supporting a process to review the successes of the North Pacific Landscape Conservation Cooperative and help the partnership evolve to a new model that focuses on priority transboundary landscape conservation priorities as it becomes less dependent on funding from the USFWS. In addition, I am privileged to continue to work with partners of the PNW Coast Landscape Conservation Design Initiative, where I help with project leadership, advance tribal engagement, and lead development of a working lands component of that landscape conservation design (LCD).
i4LCD: What first interested you in your field of expertise?
John: I’ve always been drawn to the field of collaborative conservation knowing that my ability to contribute to sustaining biodiversity for future generations depended on my ability to influence the decisions of others: policy-makers, landowners, businesses, conservation organizations, and various public sectors. Throughout my career, I found ways to have an impact on conservation as a field biologist, as an agency policy lead, in the political environment working in the governor’s office, and in helping lead transboundary landscape conservation efforts. Each of these roles required different skills; but at all levels, I observed the power of convening like-minded people from different backgrounds to tackle difficult problems. I also learned the critical nature of being able to synthesize complex environmental information and integrate it into public policy dialogue. My current interest is driven by my desire to help those I work with understand and be prepared to address emerging environmental policy issues of our time, at the appropriate scales at which they occur. Landscape conservation design efforts are the perfect platform for this work.
i4LCD: Do you have any experience convening stakeholders specifically for one or more landscape conservation design (LCD) projects?
John: The North Pacific Landscape Conservation Cooperative initiated or supported three different LCD-like collaboratives. On the Kenai Peninsula, we supported work to convene partners and explore the potential value in conducting an LCD effort. In the transboundary region of the North Cascades of Washington and British Columbia , we partnered with others like the Great Northern LCC and provided needed support to amplify the work of an ongoing successful collaboration (Cascadia Partner Forum). In the coastal forested regions of western Washington and Oregon we supported the initiation of an LCD project that I remain actively involved with to this day (PNW Coast LCD).
i4LCD: Generally speaking, who were the stakeholders you convened? Were they from a single institution or multiple institutions? Were they generally from one or multiple sectors of society?
John: First off, let me underscore that the success of the PNW Coast LCD is the result of hard work from a team of folks – a backbone organization made up of inspired individuals with diverse backgrounds from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, other federal agencies (Forest Service, National Park Service), state agencies (fish and wildlife, natural resources, parks, transportation, commerce, etc.) from Washington and Oregon, NGOs, tribes, academia, and others. The project is now increasing its engagement with private agricultural and forest landowners. The list of stakeholders we convene is evolving as the partnership grows and advances through different phases of LCD.
i4LCD: What were the stakeholders hoping to achieve with LCD?
John: At its core, most stakeholders involved in this effort really want to know that their conservation work at local scales contributes, in some beneficial way, to conservation objectives of the broader region. They understand that their work is nested within larger landscapes, and by partnering with other practitioners in the region, they can affect change at a larger scale than any one of them working independently. Since large landscape-scale objectives have not been comprehensively identified for this area, much of the work of this partnership has been about creating partnerships (including social network analysis), understanding the landscape-scale stressors likely to affect the region (including scenario planning), and developing collaborative landscape-scale strategies to address these impacts (through a combination of Opens Standards for the Practice of Conservation, and LCD approaches).
i4LCD: Can you speak to the importance of convening stakeholders in LCD and the “value added” that can result from stakeholder participation in it?
John: The added value comes from engaging the diverse array of stakeholders whose decisions can ultimately determine the outcome of resource conditions in the region. In the diverse region of the PNW Coast LCD, that means bringing together those with management authorities over, or who can influence: 1) fish and wildlife (tribes, state agencies, federal agencies), 2) the habitats upon which they depend (federal, state, county governments; private landowners, NGOs), and 3) policies, programs, projects, and funding that affect the future of the region (elected officials, NGOs, agencies, and interested public sectors). By convening partners across the region and facilitating conversations among them, individual acts of conservation are being enriched by ecosystem-scale thinking.
An important attribute of the PNW Coast LCD, and others I’ve been involved with, is moving beyond top-down approaches to a more inclusive approach, with informal governance structures built around bringing people and communities together across boundaries to a create shared vision and take action on important, interrelated goals. Moving beyond the nature-versus-people dichotomy, LCD can benefit from people of diverse sectors, geographies, and cultures, providing opportunities to work together to sustain the long-term health of the places where we live, work and play.
i4LCD: What is the purpose of convening stakeholders? What sort of outcomes are you trying to achieve by bringing diverse stakeholders together? Why is it important that stakeholders be convened and participating in/throughout the design process?
John: Of course each LCD effort has its own purpose for convening, since the point of these local collaborations are to solve region-specific challenges; but, it’s important to ask that question early and often, and in as specific of terms as possible. The sharper the focus on the products partners expect (at what scale, and when) — the greater chance people will stay engaged, and ultimately use the products. For the PNW Coast LCD, the central purpose for convening stakeholders is to craft a common vision for the future conditions of this region. Stakeholders are seeking general consensus on what landscape-scale ecosystem services, and private sector services, they want this region to support in the future. Together they endeavor to explore which large-scale change agents might threaten those values (e.g., climate change impacts, energy development, transportation projects, urban growth, etc.); and, ultimately, the partnership hopes to develop collaborative strategies to address those change agents in ways that sustain ecosystem services and human values over time.
i4LCD: Stakeholders are busy people. What processes/techniques do you use to keep them focused, engaged and actively participating in the project over the long haul? Are those techniques generally successful or do you see declining participation nonetheless?
John: That’s definitely a challenge. The leadership team and facilitator are continually looking for the best ways to build and sustain the partnership, communicate successes, and respond to partners’ evolving needs and expectations. A variety of techniques are employed including strategic in-person meetings, briefings with organizational leadership, region-specific workshops, social network analysis, webinars, website and email lists, and more. Having dedicated staff and fiscal support from FWS has been key, along with a dedicated leadership team of inspired individuals from partner organizations.
i4LCD: What specific products do stakeholders develop, particularly early in the design process, that guide the rest of the LCD?
John: Ultimately, we want to develop landscape-scale strategies that maintain or restore connected landscapes and keep the region’s rural economies profitable and productive. The data, science, and map products that come out of the design process will offer the foundation for strategy development. At the same time, we need to find ways to keep the working farms and forests that support many of these ecosystem services, healthy and productive. We’re still in the early phases of the PNW Coast LCD and will learn more as we go developing about specific outputs and products the partners expect.
i4LCD: What inspires you and gives you hope for the future?
John: Landscape conservation design presents a huge opportunity to sustain communities and natural-resource dependent economies, to address climate change impacts, and to conserve/create resilient landscapes. LCD can address biodiversity, water and air, food and fiber, jobs and livelihoods, and people’s cultures. We see this occurring more frequently and at multiple scales across the US. The federal government made a huge investment in landscape conservation with the initial LCC program. NGOs and others are adding to this momentum and bringing in private entities and resources. It isn’t easy, and, ultimately we’ll have to show that partners benefit from their effort. Hopefully it’ll lead us away from conflict-laden conservation to better approach we all know is needed.
i4LCD: Do you have any final thoughts to share?
John: While landscape conservation design processes hold a lot of promise for achieving multiple partner conservation objectives at large scales, there are significant challenges we must address. These can include the lack of sustained resources/capacity, insufficient skills for individuals and organizations to work collaboratively, meeting fatigue, and the difficulty in measuring and demonstrating success. But let’s not be deterred, there are a ton of guidance resources available now, with more every day. Progress will continue to build from a broad range of practices and people in landscapes across the country. I would encourage people to look at the various LCD efforts springing up here and abroad. For a big-picture view, your web site, lcdinstitute.org, is a great place to start (particularly your Resources page), as is the Network for Landscape Conservation, and LCCNetwork.org.