Let’s get started: Genevieve Johnson on Landscape Conservation
The Institute for Landscape Conservation Design (i4LCD) promotes practitioners with diverse experiences in landscape conservation design: we share their stories and highlight their work. Would you 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 LCD project.
This month’s Practitioner Spotlight is with Genevieve Johnson, the Program Manager for the Desert Landscape Conservation Cooperative & Salton Sea projects. Genevieve has worked in the field of conservation and natural resources planning for over 10 years. She has worked for the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management managing resource management plans, and for the Arizona State Parks Open Space program furthering land conservation as a planner. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Conservation Biology and a Master of Science in Urban and Environmental Planning.
i4LCD: Who do you work for, Gen?
Genevieve: I work for the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) in Boulder City, NV. The Bureau’s mission is “to manage, develop, and protect water and related resources in an environmentally and economically sound manner in the interest of the American public.”
i4LCD: What is your field of practice, and what first interested you in that work?
Genevieve: I am an environmental planner, building conservation partnerships for over 10 years. I became interested in planning because I believe we should integrate conservation work with the way people live in landscapes. For example, I have used a planning process that analyzed how people associated with their community “jurisdictions”, including where they recreated, found solace, where they traveled for work, etc. The community boundaries people identify with do not match with the city, county, state, or federal jurisdictions we use to delineate our planning projects. We know nature does not adhere to our political boundaries. It makes no sense to plan for wildlife, water and other resources using political boundaries. We need to plan for people’s interactions with those resources across jurisdictional boundaries. It is the only way we can make a real difference in meeting human and environmental needs.
i4LCD: Totally. So, what inspires you and gives you hope for the future in the way we plan?
Genevieve: Many things! We are making progress in taking a socio-ecological systems (i.e., a landscape) approach to our conservation work. This is inevitably a slow process because we must engage a diversity of stakeholders, but this engagement is crucial! So many people care about the issues we face. When we, as a society, care about something near and dear to our hearts, we find solutions. I am very hopeful about the next generation of practitioners. They are learning how to integrate socio-ecological information beyond a siloed approach. It is exciting that they can dramatically change how we plan, design, and manage socio-ecological landscapes.
i4LCD: You believe the next generation will be able to overcome the challenges your field faces?
Genevieve: The conversation stakeholders are having about climate change, land and water degradation, biodiversity loss, etc. are complex [Editor’s Note: some would say “wicked”] and need a new approach to address them. It is easy for stakeholders to become paralyzed by the complexity of issues, lack of information, or even the immense amount of information they have. They need better processes and tools to retrieve and manage information. I believe the next generation will be incredibly well-versed in those skills. Of course, information can only inform decisions, not make them for us. There will never be an easy or single “right” decision in landscape conservation projects. The next generation will need to be effective facilitators that understand the importance of deliberative processes, collaborative decision-making, and multi-jurisdiction/multi-sector partnerships. They, and the organizations they work for, will need to be open to iterative learning processes, collective decision-making, and compromise. They will need to integrate multiple disciplines such as economics, transportation planning, and urban development into conservation to meet multiple and sometimes, seemingly divergent, goals.
i4LCD: What are some of the major challenges society faces in the geographic area where you work?
Genevieve: Stakeholders throughout the Southwest are looking holistically at water management, population growth and associated infrastructure, and how climate change impacts social and ecological needs for water. We need to do a better job at integrating the needs of species and ecosystems into water management systems. They provide people with a sense of place and improved quality of life. It also makes economic sense to have our environment do the work for us. For instance, New York City preserved wetlands to improve the quality of drinking water instead of building more water treatment plants. It was less expensive and provided multiple benefits. Residents in Flagstaff, AZ approved a $10 million bond to support forest restoration work to improve their drinking water and reduce the risks of post-wildfire flooding, which also benefits wildlife.
i4LCD: Do you think a landscape approach can address any of those challenges?
Genevieve: Yes, I think a landscape approach provides the platform necessary to discuss large challenges. It allows us to share smaller-scale solutions and learn from each other, which speeds up implementation across large areas. A landscape approach brings diverse interests together and gives them an opportunity to talk about why they care about the landscape they live in. For example, the Aleutian and Bering Sea Islands LCC worked with stakeholders to identify safe shipping routes that not only reduced risks to wildlife, but also improved safety for marine vessels traveling through the Bering Sea. When people articulate what matters to them, they often find they have more in common with each other than initially thought. Focusing on things that people have in common increases their chances of success. Success is incredibly important.
i4LCD: Is there a specific project you are working on that tests that hypothesis?
Genevieve: I am currently working with partners on landscape conservation projects located in the Mojave, Sonoran, and Chihuahua deserts. The Institute’s readers can learn more about those projects by visiting the Desert Landscape Conservation Cooperative website.
i4LCD: Can you give us a sense of the processes the stakeholders are using?
Genevieve: We use a collaborative, stakeholder-driven process to define and meet shared conservation goals. We combine data, information, and models to develop adaptation strategies that managers can carry out to protect habitats and ecological processes across the landscape (Editor’s Note: Learn more about the Desert LCC’s process here).
i4LCD: That’s a nice segue to our next blog actually. Will you come back and tell us more about your projects in the near future?
Genevieve: I would love to!