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Moving Beyond Science to Protect a Mammalian Migration Corridor

Conservation biology 2014 v.28 no.5 pp. 1142-1150
Antilocapra americana, case studies, economics, ecosystems, humans, landscapes, migratory behavior, outreach, politics, public policy, scientists, stakeholders, wildlife management, United States
As the discipline of conservation biology evolves and practitioners grow increasingly concerned about how to put results into achievable conservation, it is still unclear the extent to which science drives conservation outcomes, especially across rural landscapes. We addressed this issue by examining the role of science in the protection of a biological corridor. Our focus is on a North American endemic mammal reliant on long distance migration as an adaptive strategy, the pronghorn (Antilocapra americana) of the southern Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. The role of science in realizing policy change, while critical as a first step, was surprisingly small relative to the role of other human dimensions. In a case study, we strategically addressed a variety of conservation needs beyond science, first by building a partnership between government and private interests and then by enhancing interest in migratory phenomena across a landscape with divergent political ideologies and economic bases. By developing awareness and even people's pride in the concept of corridor conservation, we achieved local, state, and federal acceptance for protection of a 70 km long, 2 km wide pathway for the longest terrestrial migrant in the contiguous United States. Key steps included conducting and publishing research that defined the migration corridor; fostering a variety of media coverage at local, regional, and national levels; conducting public outreach through stakeholder workshops, meetings, and presentations; and meeting with and gaining the support of elected officials. All these contributed to the eventual policy change that created the first federally protected migration corridor in the United States, which in turn stimulated additional conservation actions. On the basis of our experience, we believe conservation scientists can and should step beyond traditional research roles to assist with on‐the‐ground conservation by engaging in aspects of conservation that involve local communities and public policy.