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 ability and/or related landscape conservation design project.
This month’s Practitioner Spotlight is with Tom Miewald, Landscape Ecologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Science Applications program. Tom has worked on large-scale science and planning projects in many sectors, including academia, private consulting, non-profit organizations, and federal government. For the past 5 years, Tom’s work has focused on collaborative landscape conservation planning. He holds two degrees from the University of Nebraska: a Bachelor’s in Environmental Studies, and a Master’s in Geography.
Tom: I work for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS, Service) in Portland, Oregon. The Service’s mission is “Working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people.”
i4LCD: What’s your field of practice?
Tom: I’m a Geographer by training. What I find myself working on any given day as a Service employee isn’t identified in any federal position description. I spend a lot of time preparing for stakeholder workshops, working through gnarly issues related to landscape-scale analyses, and locating money and other resources so partners can continue doing the great work that they do.
i4LCD: What first interested you in geography?
Tom: I grew up in Nebraska where there isn’t much unplowed nature. I used to love to experience the wide open spaces and topographic relief of the west when I traveled as a kid. I was a total map geek, even back then. When I got to college, I changed my major a few times: from art, to anthropology, to environmental studies. I chose Geography for my Master’s work because it combined the natural and social sciences, plus it had awesome technology I could tinker with, like geographic information systems (GIS) and remote sensing. I developed a real passion for modeling ecosystems and species at broad spatial scales. I realized after doing that sort of work for a few years that the only people looking at my work were academics and graduate students; not on-the-ground resource managers. Now I’m interested in exploring how to engage people in deliberative processes so their perspectives can be incorporated into natural resources decision-making. Landscape conservation design and the iCASS Platform is one way to do that.
i4LCD: What are some of the major challenges the conservation community faces?
Tom: The future of the earth is 10 billion people sharing limited space with each other and other critters. Add on top of that, the challenge of a rapidly changing climate. How do we deal with that? It’s a huge question. The fact that society is increasingly fragmented in how we think and act doesn’t help us find an answer. Fragmented agencies, fragmented budgets, fragmented attention spans; it’s no surprise we have fragmented landscapes! If our goal is to protect species and conserve ecosystem services, we need to identify a shared vision for the landscape and begin to build it out.
i4LCD: Can landscape conservation design (LCD) address those challenges?
Tom: I believe so. LCD processes help facilitate development of a holistic, landscape perspective, and that’s what’s needed to develop good public policy and make sound conservation investments. To facilitate LCD, we need networks of public and private entities all working together to achieve shared goals. I don’t mean to suggest the path forward is clear or easy, but that’s what it’s going to take to address what we’re up against.
i4LCD: What are some of the specific challenges you face as a LCD practitioner?
Tom: Generally speaking, practitioners like myself have a hard time helping stakeholders’ think beyond their own jurisdictional boundaries. It’s an interesting phenomena really because we all know biodiversity transcends human-defined boundaries, but jurisdictional missions and mandates are strong and influence stakeholders. Another challenge is related to getting local-level folks engaged. It’s just easier to get academics and scientists to review our landscape models then it is to get county planners and ranchers to do it. Lastly, we’re not doing a very good job translating the science and decision-making products so the public understand what we’re trying to do or care about our work. We need to do a better job of that, or LCD is just another academic exercise that isn’t relevant to local stakeholders.
i4LCD: What inspires you as a LCD practitioner?
Tom: People in the Pacific Northwest really inspire me. They care about their landscapes and have a lot of energy. They’re willing to take on challenging projects and try innovative ideas. If things don’t work out as originally planned, they embrace it as a learning experience. They’re passionate, imaginative, and committed to landscape conservation, and I’m really honored to be working with them. I think with perseverance, we’ll move towards our collective goals of sustainable landscapes in the Northwest.
i4LCD: Are you currently working on a LCD project?
Tom: Yeah, I’ve worked on a few LCD projects in the Pacific Northwest over the years. Some have been nice success stories. Others have been rough rides. I am currently coordinating a design process in the Pacific Northwest Coastal Ecoregion. That’s been a great experience.
i4LCD: What do the stakeholders hope the project will achieve?
Tom: We have a fairly diverse body of stakeholders engaged in the project right now, but we’re always trying to get new folks involved like private landowners, county planners, etc. Some themes that tie the project together include social and ecological connectivity. The concept of connectivity brings together ideas like habitat corridors and intact landscapes, which are important for protecting biodiversity and conserving ecosystem services. We’ve hosted many stakeholder meetings and facilitated lots of dialogue. We emphasize that forestry, agricultural, and other working lands are important parts of an ecologically connected landscape. Another key theme that we want to impart is that ecological, social, and economic aspects of landscape design should be on the same par.
i4LCD: Can you give us a sense of the process you’re using to develop the design?
Tom: We have an excellent group of state, federal, tribal, and non-profit representatives that make up the leadership team. We also have a project plan that is loosely based on the iCASS Platform and the recommended practices for LCD that were developed by the Landscape Conservation Cooperatives. We’ve been using those resources to structure our work. We’ve found that if you have too rigid of a work plan, the project will fail. Conversely, if you have too loose of a work plan, and you try to do everything, it will also fail. There’s a delicate balance we’re trying to navigate.
i4LCD: What type of products do you expect resulting from the design?
Tom: Ultimately, we want to develop landscape-scale strategies that maintain or restore connected landscapes. The data, science, and corridor maps that comes out of the design process will offer the foundation for strategy development. One thing we don’t want to develop is a 10-pound document with terabytes of data that people can’t digest.
i4LCD: Do you have any last thoughts to share?
Tom: In talking with some folks, I get a sense there’s a reticence towards landscape science and strategy development. That if it’s not “boots on the ground” conservation, it’s not real. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Some of the most important innovations in conservation have come through understanding broader-scale issues. For instance, satellite imagery of deforestation in Amazonia lead to development of a global movement; and our understanding of migration flyways lead to the design of the National Wildlife Refuge System. Understanding landscape patterns is incredibly important. I agree that most of our conservation dollars need to go to on-the-ground work. However, to increase our effectiveness, we need innovative institutions, like the Landscape Conservation Cooperatives, that are able to coordinate and facilitate deliberative, science-based dialogues between multi-jurisdiction, multi-sector stakeholders that ultimately lead to strategic decision-making. That’s what LCD is all about.
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