Conserving Futures

This program responds to the changes in demographics, public interests, climate, biodiversity, and interactions with other species presenting significant challenges to organizations that use and influence the natural environment.Over the last century, organizations in both private and public sectors were created to protect the environment and help people enjoy nature, including the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, the Sierra Club, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (AFWA). Protection was a particularly important mission due to the rapid industrialization and population growth. Without these and many other organizations, the natural environment would be solely a source of cheap resources and a place to discard waste. However, despite their work, the environment is being overpowered by carbon emissions and other threats.

It seems that conducting a larger number of the same environmental programs is not the answer. The situation is similar to that of the founders of these organizations; they had the insight to see the world was changing and new threats needed new programs. Like then, the USA now has a new demographic profile, new media, change workforce and other characteristics that call for new programs. The following is an example dealing with access and involvement with the national parks.

Today, most people visit specific areas of a park, while many different areas in the same park are under explored. Every year, we witness people stuck in traffic jams on the roads near the iconic sites in Yellowstone, while one mile away they could watch a herd of elk during their Fall migration. However, getting people that already access nature a mile further into the park is not sufficient.

All over the world we are learning about the behavior of wild animals and their habitats through Internet connected tags. This infrastructure could enable students in urban areas and their families to “foster” an elk, or any other animal, and follow their travels. Tiny cameras could be placed around the park, giving the kids data in the form of maps and photos, which in turn can present real-world context for meaningful learning experiences, further enticing them to visit and understand the value of natural areas. The same infrastructure can be used to find unusual signals in natural habitats, such wildfires or even lost hikers, significantly reducing the large search and rescue budget required by wilderness parks.

Leading Differently
It is clear that we need to redesign the fit among people, organizations, and nature. Leaders in many private and public organizations realize bolder actions are needed by society at large, including more reliance on renewable energy; developing new economic models that count protecting nature as an asset rather than a cost; and creating platform-based manufacturing facilities that can provide consumers with personal choices without the waste inherent in overproduction. However, they don’t know what to do.The new way of living with the natural environment will not emerge from current organizational practices, be created in a university think tank, or be invented by one leader. Instead, it will require leap changes in what they do and how they do it.
 
The Conserving the Future program involves helping leaders to see past their sectorial and disciplinary boundaries, and invent the era they are entering, not limit their responses to the situation they are leaving.
 
AFWA provides an example of this. It was formed early in the 20th century to conserve natural areas. They had a particular interest in sustainable ways of using nature that provides long-term support for hunting and fishing. They worked with the government to let them sell fishing and hunting licenses to fund their work. But fishing and hunting are less popular now, and it would be good for the environment and AFWA if they could find new ways to involve people in the natural environment in ways other than hunting.
 
In early 2021, the D-Lab will work with the leaders from AFWA, the US Fish and Wildlife Services (USFWS), and related organizations from the Conservation Institution to expand their view towards new ways that people are or can experience nature; why these experiences are valuable and which ones might generate revenue, who are the likely early adopters for the new experiences, and how they can make the ideas real.