A tale of three disciplines: Navigating the boundaries at the nexus of conservation science, policy and practice
Nature is under immediate and increasing threat. Habitat destruction and species’ extinctions abound despite the myriad interventions and multitude of investments by governments, organizations, and communities. As the extinction crisis looms larger and demands on the public purse grow greater, understanding how science becomes policy and policy practice is more importanqat than ever. In response to this call and to the increasing insularity of conservation biology that has consciously nourished a careful separation of knowledge and action, of scientist and park manager, I explored questions at the nexus of conservation science, policy, and practice. How is science translated into policy? How does policy become practice? I applied cognitive theory and conflict modelling to case studies in forest hydrology and species conservation to deconstruct how conservation science becomes policy. I collected field data from Lake Mead National Recreation Area and from the World Bank to examine how policies are translated into practice.
These are important questions because current assumptions in conservation biology apportions these three separate but equal disciplines – science, policy, and practice – into one that is central and two that are peripheral. But the transmission of knowledge from the Academy to the domains of conservation policy and practice, though difficult, is our mandate. Thus, as much as technical competence matters in conservation biology, so too does political literacy. After all, conservation occurs within a dynamic social, political, and institutional landscape. Nonetheless, the current emphasis in conservation biology continues to focus on answering questions in the natural sciences and, to a lesser degree, in economics. This focus is important, as is protecting scholarship from the daily pressures of a society that demands quick and ready answers. But scientific data is only one commodity among many that policy-makers and conservation practitioners trade in a tournament of values. Its usefulness lies in the wider social and political environment. Moreover, conservation biology is not simply an applied subset of biology or ecology. It is a mission-driven discipline that dedicates itself to the pursuit of science to save wildlife and wild lands. It encapsulates certain values as axioms. We hold these truths to be self-evident: that the diversity of life matters and that the struggle to end extinctions is meaningful.
Therefore, though conservation science, the design of conservation policies, and the practice of conservation are separate disciplines, they are each integral to the other in our mission to best affect conservation outcomes. We must understand their different rules of evidence, speak their distinctive languages, and achieve credibility in all three disciplines while maintaining a sense of intellectual integrity in each. This dissertation navigates the nexus of all three disciplines by respecting their differences as well as recognizing their shared mission in the service of wildlife and wild lands.
0474: Environmental management
0615: Political science
0768: Environmental science