The University Record, November 2, 1992

Fish and Wildlife Service director stresses cooperation

By Kate Kellogg
News and Information Services

Cooperation between private landowners and environmentalists, mixed with “good biology,” is the formula for successful conservation, the director of the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service told students last week at the School of Natural Resources and Environment seminar.

Also necessary are resource managers who communicate well with the public, support from individual states, and congressional support for the Endangered Species Act, says John F. Turner, a 1970 alumnus of the School.

Even though “Congress cut money from the act and put it into pork barrel projects,” Turner said he believes support is growing for endangered species preservation in both the private and public sectors.

“The polls show that people are willing to commit resources to maintain biodiversity,” he says. “Our job within the agency is to find new mechanisms for accomplishing this, such as helping landowners join with environmental groups to protect habitats.”

Turner oversees the annual listing of endangered plant and animal species throughout the country (140 species are listed this year) and directs recovery plans. He also mediates conflicts surrounding species preservation and economic development. In that capacity, he is involved in such issues as protection of the northern spotted owl in old-growth forests of the Northwest.

Controversy over the owl has been so great that “over the past three years, I have had to deal with it every day in some form,” Turner says. The habitat of the northern spotted owl spans three states of forests that yield prime lumber, generating debate over political, economic, social and legal issues.

Turner has helped forge agreements between logging companies and conservationists to exempt some 30,000 acres of old growth from cutting. In northern California, loggers and foresters, in consultation with biologists, are practicing selective cutting, and “the spotted owl is doing fairly well in that state,” Turner says.

While such cooperation is slowing the depletion of species, much more needs to be done, he says. “We need to work more closely with state governments, since they have jurisdiction over the species in their states. We need to convince the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to take a stronger stand on regulatory issues that affect endangered species. And we need to increase outreach efforts to farmers, engineers and scholars throughout the country.”

The ability to communicate with these important constituencies and to understand the economics and politics of good resource management are the most important skills for natural resources students to acquire, Turner says. “Most important, you need good science. You’ll eventually lose on most issues if you don’t bring good science to the table.”

As an example of “bad science,” Turner pointed to animal protection groups who base their appeals on emotionalism rather than solid biological facts. In Africa, overzealous preservationists have created situations in which protected elephants are destroying villages and habitats, he says. “In this country, we find skinny, lyme disease-carrying-deer overpopulating many areas due to the anti-hunting movement.”

In contrast, those non-profit environmental groups that concentrate more on biology and less on public relations, Turner says, are saving many species through wetland protection and a strong commitment to careful resource management.