Science, education, outreach, and advocacy are all vital parts of a holistic approach to creating change that benefits all of nature.
This piece originally appeared in the Fall 2019 edition of Xerces’ biannual publication Wings. Click to view the full Fall 2019 issue.
We at the Xerces Society view our work as an interconnected whole rather than as separate parts. To achieve conservation success, we must understand both science and policy. We need to inspire people and at the same time empower them with the tools they require. We also should celebrate accomplishment and ensure that those who take action receive the credit and appreciation they deserve. This holistic approach is built into our core values: Xerces is a science-based conservation organization that works with partners from diverse backgrounds. Using applied research, engaging in advocacy, providing educational resources, and addressing policy implications, we endeavor to make meaningful long-term conservation a reality.
We continue to have success with this approach—working to understand what drives declines in key species and groups of species, and identifying how best to restore and manage habitats for these important animals. Our staff members have spent the last year testing cover-crop mixes on farms, finding the best plants to thrive under different scenarios for site management, and working with university researchers to model corridors through which pollinators can move in the face of climate change.
Xerces staff have also completed surveys for rare butterflies and caddisflies, and they’ve visited sites where we are seeing die-offs of freshwater mussels in order to better understand what is causing these mysterious losses. The devastating reduction in western monarch populations—down by more than 99 percent since the 1980s—has led us to survey the butterfly’s breeding habitat across the western states and to undertake a study that collects milkweed and tests it for pesticide residues.
This work is supported by networks of hundreds of community scientists. Field work by volunteers with the Thanksgiving and New Year’s counts of monarchs at California overwintering sites identified the magnitude of the butterfly’s losses so that we could sound the alarm. It also clarified both the need to focus our efforts on restoring early- and late-season nectar plants and milkweed, and the urgency of engaging additional managers to restore the forested groves where western monarchs overwinter. This combination of applied and community science pays off by allowing us to use funding efficiently, prioritizing those conservation actions that will have the greatest impact.
We are applying this same approach to bumble bees. Xerces scientists are conducting surveys and training hundreds of people to generate data on these vital animals. We’ve developed regional bumble bee atlas projects, harnessing volunteers to gather location and life-history information in Idaho, Oregon, Nebraska, and Washington, and we plan to add more states soon.
Our goal is to achieve positive transformation in policies as well as in people’s attitudes and behaviors. To do so it is vital to promote good science. Xerces conservation biologist Emma Pelton and I collaborated with Matt Forister of the University of Nevada at Reno to write a paper, “Declines in insect abundance and diversity: We know enough to act now.” The article, published this spring in the journal Conservation Science and Practice, lays out the science showing insect declines and the actions needed to reverse them. Our effort was amplified by major media outlets, including The Washington Post, and has led to keynote talks at several conferences.
Advocacy is an important part of Xerces’ mission, an effort rendered even more important by the Trump administration’s assault on science and conservation. Whether it is ensuring that the Farm Bill includes adequate funding for pollinator conservation, that disappearing species are protected under a strong Endangered Species Act, or that local policies are enacted to protect habitat from pesticides, we continue to advocate for polices that protect insects, the environment—and, in the end, all of us.
Science also informs our education and outreach. Over the last year, we reached more than twenty-four thousand people through presentations, field days, conferences, short courses, webinars, and other events. Each of the trainings we deliver draws upon the latest science and conservation practice to meet the needs of its specific audience. Find an upcoming event by clicking here!
Ultimately, all of these efforts are directed toward making our landscapes more hospitable, and they have helped us to protect and restore more than two and a half million acres for invertebrates in the last decade. Whether it is working with farmers to improve farm management through Bee Better Certified, providing guidance on protecting fresh water mussels, or helping affiliates of Bee City USA and Bee Campus USA restore habitats in neighborhoods, we have found that science, education, outreach, and advocacy are all vital parts of a holistic approach to creating change that benefits all of nature.
This piece originally appeared in the Xerces Society publication Wings. Read the full Fall 2019 issue.