An Inside Look at Conservation Policy


Written by: Phil Monahan

The most visible conservation efforts usually involve heavy equipment creating habitat or a group of TU members planting bushes or picking up up trash along a stream. But most of these on-the-water projects start as larger strategies developed by scientists and policy-makers—perhaps hundreds of miles away from the affected streams. Most of us hear about these policy meetings long after they occur—when a publication is released that details the decisions that come out of such meetings—or not at all.

But correspondent Tom Sadler took part in the annual meetings of the Eastern brook Trout Joint Venture this week and sent in this report, which offers a peak into the sometimes dry and technical work of making large-scale decisions about trout conservation:

As a member of the steering committee of the Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture, I had the pleasure of attending the Annual Partnership Meeting this week. The meeting took place at Mountain Lake Hotel and Conservancy near Pembroke Va. More than 50 people attended the two-and-a-half-day meeting.

The annual partnership meeting is a chance for the EBTJV steering committee and partner organizations to get together and review the success and challenges of the past year; learn about emerging science, research, and conservation efforts; and set the agenda for the coming year.

The first day was dominated by presentations, mostly dealing with research and conservation efforts either currently underway or likely to take place in the next year. These type of presentations help the participants better understand the challenges facing brook trout and what information and tools may be available to help fulfill the joint venture’s mission.

Mark Hudy from the U.S. Forest service made two presentations. The first was an overview of the proposed updated status assessment of brook trout.

Hudy provided examples of the importance of this finer scale assessment and noted, “Scale matters. The scale at which results are reported can bias impressions of the true distribution.” Hudy proposed that finer scale, catchment level, assessment be done. The new data would give a more realistic view of the distribution of brook trout in their native range.

The impacts of climate change continue to be a focus area for the research that was presented this year. The second report from Hudy was on the resiliency of brook trout to climate change. Hudy suspected that assuming a steady relationship between air and water temperatures was likely leading to false assumptions. There were too many variables left unaccounted for. 

Based on his research, Hudy recommended that the partners consider additional data collection from actual water temperature monitors before making conservation decisions based solely on a steady relationship between air and water temperatures.

Ben Letcher from the U.S. Geological Survey reported on research underway that is looking at the impacts of two major threats to the persistence of brook trout populations, habitat fragmentation and climate change-especially when the two impacts are combined. Not surprisingly the two factors combined are not good news for brook trout. The effects of increasing fragmentation leading to the loss of temperature buffering capacity from ground water can reduce the expected persistence of brook trout populations in the watershed dramatically.

What Letcher proposed was creating a decision-support tool for resource managers to use to identify priority projects.

The second day was centered on subcommittee and workgroup sessions. The EBTJV has four subcommittees, each with an assigned scope of work: Outreach and Education, Conservation Strategy/Habitat, Data/Science/Research, and Grants and Development.  There are also two geographic working groups, North and South, to ensure that regional perspectives and challenges are addressed.

The subcommittees and workgroups work throughout the year, managing projects and activity within the scope of their committee assignments and mission. At the annual meeting, they report on their actions and seek guidance from the Joint venture on challenges and future actions.

As the meeting came to a close on Thursday morning, there were a couple of overarching focal points that had emerged. These two areas will receive special attention from the partnership for the next year. The first deals with the research needs of the EBTJV. Much of the success of the joint venture comes because the partners took the time at the start to do an assessment of the status and threats to the eastern brook trout (known as the Status and Threats Report). That research provided the baseline information to create our conservation strategies (known as the Road Map to Recovery).

At the meeting, the partners agreed that it is important to keep our research current as we decide on and measure the success of the EBTJV conservation strategies. In addition there was strong support for coordinating and incorporating other research efforts on impacts to brook trout such as climate change, fragmentation, and energy development studies into our conservation strategies.

The second was to improve communication and coordination with other conservation efforts taking place in the same area as the EBTJV. Working cooperatively with not only adjacent National Fish Habitat Action Plan partnerships but also other species and habitat joint ventures can help avoid duplication of efforts and see that scarce resources are allocated efficiently. The new Department of Interior’s Landscape Conservation Cooperatives may be able to help with large, range-wide research needs.

You can find more information about the EBTJV, the annual partnership meeting, the Status and Threats Report, the Road Map to Recovery and details on the research mentioned above on the EBTJV Facebook page.

Photo courtesy of EBTJV.

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