Life in the North Country 1 – Our 10,000 mile hunt for big game

Mandy and I spent July traveling across Canada on the trans-Canada Highway and returning off the interstates through the  northern US. Our ultimate destination was the northern Rockies, and our goal was to see all the marquee big game animals that live in northern US and Canada: moose, caribou, elk, big horn sheep, mountain goats, mule deer, pronghorn antelope, american bison and any predators that would show themselves  wolf, grizzly, mountain lion, wolverine.  We intended to hunt big game minus the kill!



A small mountain goat herd rests in the fading light in Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada (photo larry niles)

Along the way we came to know more about the people and wildlife of mostly rural communities.  City folks rarely appreciate that both are unique expressions of the land in which they live, deserving of great respect for the natural adversities that shape life in rural communities especially those in which winter temperatures can plummet to -40 F.   We also found both in an epic struggle as an almost palpable dark force sweeps the lands irrevocably transforming rural life for both.



In both countries we witnessed the inexorable hand of industrialization reach into nearly all aspects of rural life. Farmers for example, are practically stampeding to purchase gargantuan machines and consolidating fields to suit them.  It’s a plague for wildlife who find themselves increasingly isolated into relatively small areas of public land nobly devoted to them but still facing winter in a landscape cleansed of wintering habitat.  It’s described as an advance because it takes less people to grow more crops, but the graveyard of old dilapidated and abandoned farm compounds that is today’s agricultural landscape, tells a much different story.  Neither does the shabby and rapidly depopulating towns, desperately clinging to economic survival with gambling, dollar stores and box stores.

dead barn

Sadly for the people living in rural north, industrial scale agriculture is only the tip of the global economic iceberg.  The real industrials giants of the north, forestry, mining, oil and gas companies consume rural wealth,  funnel it away to distant financial markets and do their best to evade any responsibility for the devastation left behind.  Each commands the natural landscape from which they extract nearly every cent leaving little for wildlife, rural people or the next generation.  Giving the mass exodus of young from these rural areas few will be left to mourn the loss

north dakota

An oil pump deep in the heart of rural North Dakota. North Dakota near Theodore Roosevelt National Park.


dead town

On the other hand our most lasting memories from our 10000 mile trip pulling a 14 ft travel trailer with a small pickup were boreal forests that reach into Arctic tundra,  jagged wild mountains forever protected by national wilderness and park designations, rough cut badlands praire and throughout it all the kindness of generous, hard working people all tempered with the gradual recognition that a growing and reckless land use plagues their land.







A theory of Change for Delaware Bay 2 A Voice for Change

“In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” 
― Dwight D. Eisenhower

“If you don’t know where you are going,
you’ll end up someplace else.” 
― Yogi Berra


How would a new theory of change work on Delaware Bay?   Two posts ago, I outlined 6 new strategies for achieving restoration of Delaware Bay ecosystem.  They are not technical proposals- I call for no new research or new funds for existing conservation projects. Its not a call for new staff either.  It’s a theory composed of six rough cut strategies drawn more from common sense and personal experience than a specific conservation policy or technical source.  Moreover my proposing these strategies is not an esoteric exercise.   Much of the work that I lead or take part in leading on the bay and other places falls within them.


Improving Conservation on Delaware Bay and other small places

  1. Free conservation from left-right politics and recreate a new conservation constituency.  
  2. Allow people who love birds to pay for a system that protects all birds and their habitats and is controlled by birders 
  3. Encourage projects within which government agencies take part but citizen groups, communities and non-profits lead.
  4. Create new ways for the public to take meaningful roles in conservation and pay for the privilege.
  5. Create conservation solutions that embrace market forces
  6. Allow local citizens a direct role in deciding the character of conservation in their community


As with any project plan, we must always start with the primary goal.  My version is to create a naturally functioning ecosystem that provides sustainable benefits for both wildlife and the rural residents of Delaware Bay.  This goal combines the interests of both wildlife and rural residents on the basis that no well functioning conservation effort is possible without the dedication of rural citizens populating the land to be conserved.

Next we should choose the method  for reaching that lofty goal.  These come from the six strategies.  First among these  is to unite the interests of rural residents, sportsmen and the people who love birds to put aside left-right differences that divide us and drain our political power.

People who care about birds ( arguably 1 out of 6 people in NJ) and sportsmen (1 out of 12) should lead the development of a new and non-idealogical coalition.  Without idealogical bias, they have the best chance of convincing other outdoor users, hikers, kayakers, photographers to finally take responsibility for their use.  Together they could take the first step towards commanding the political system: compel all outdoor-users to join a conservation group of thier choice, demand taxes and permits on outdoor equipment,  and insist that all the disparate conservation groups organize into one voting block speaking for the interest of wildlife and wild lands.   When I give presentations to conservation groups and people ask what can they do I answer without hesitation — go out and get 10 people to join your conservation group.  1 out of 6 people love wildlife, they only need to be convinced to join in the voice to conserve them.


wildlife watchers in NJ

birders in NJ

These tables from the USFWS 2011 Survey of hunting fishing and wildlife related recreation, shows results for wildlife enthusiasts and more specifically people who care for birds, just in NJ. To put it into context, the state has about 8.8 million citizens but only 5.3 million registered voters. What would happen if 1/2 of the people who love birds organized into a voting block. What if those people joined with the 750,000 anglers ( who are organized because they buy licenses) or the 110,000 hunters ( also organized ) into one block that insisted agencies protect and paid a modest tax or fee to make it happen?


Imagine the power of a electoral block that would include 1 our of every 6 voters?  That voice could command it’s own power and money and one of the first uses should be to rededicate the moribund institutions that guide conservation.  Groups like the NJ Fish and Game Council.

An anachronism, as its name suggests, the Council was created at the time when all states were creating similar councils after the 1935 passage of the Pittman Robertson Act.  The Act authorized taxes on guns and ammunition and led to state hunting licenses and other permit fees. Early conservationists new better than shower corrupted politicians with a largess of cash and power.  Instead they gave state fish and wildlife agencies freedom from political interference by developing councils that hired Fish and Game Agency Directors instead of governors and kept money in accounts separate from the state treasury.  This allowed wildlife professionals the chance to run the agencies and prevent politicians from using the position as a electoral award and politically influencing hunting and fishing seasons.  An independent council insured sportsmen money was well spent.

Unfortuntely many of the councils, like NJ’s see their role as narrowly defined to game animals and rarely resist the agencies political needs.  Why should they when hunters and fishermen are footing the bill and gun company lobbies and thier foundations shower the agencies and sportsmen groups with goodies like state-of-the-art gun ranges  that ultimately help them (gun industry) sell more guns and ammo.  

Figure 1. Pittman-Robertson Receipts and Distributions, FY1991-FY2013 ($ in millions)

excise tax on guns graph

This graph represents the money received by USFWS for distribution to states from 11% tax on all guns and ammo. This fund, originally from the Pittman-Robertson Act of 1937, was pivotal in the long standing battle to protect wildlife. Now its not enough because most wildlife fall outside the realm of this money – it is primary dedicated to game animals. Moreover it unites hunters and give them the most powerful voice in conservation. Birders could push for a similar tax on their equipment and it would upend the world of conservation.


But these compromised agency watchdogs could be re-instituted with new funding and a wider constituency. Once organized and properly represented,  conservationists could take aim at any number of problems.  Foremost among them is forcing agencies to manage wildlife responsibly,  repairing damaged lands and restoring depleted fish and wildlife populations.  Conservationists should re-invigorate their own role by insisting work be done by guilds of trained volunteers.  Its standard practice in Europe, it should be here.

A good example of this here in NJ is the Delaware Bay Shorebird Project.  On both sides of the bay teams trained volunteers lead by paid professionals capture and band thousands of shorebirds as they migrate to their Arctic breeding areas.   If we tried to pay everyone, the project would not happen.   If the project didn’t happen we would have lost the bedrock of protection on Delaware Bay.  So volunteers play an essential role in conservation and it could be happening in every area of important work.

birder banding shorebirds

Volunteers can do the work of staff if they are given the training and support they need to do the work. In most other countries, it is guilds of volunteers that do much of the work being done by paid staff in the US. There are many reasons for this, the most important is that in the U industry has forced agencies to distrust data collected by unpaid staff. Not coincidentally industry also lobbies to cut budgets of paid staff. It’s time to resist this and get citizens back into the work of protecting wildlife – for fun.

Staff could be creating efficient pathways for wildlife enthusiasts to take part in trapping and handling, monitoring, habitat management and  saving staff for the hard parts – project management, analysis of data and report writing.  The consequence of sharing the load is that experienced, trained and motivated volunteers become ramparts for the animals they love.  Ramparts upon which agencies and groups can defend wildlife and wild land. This has already happened for bald eagles and shorebirds on Delaware bay, it could happen for all wildlife and fisheries on the bay, and become the basis upon which similar protection occurs in other landscapes.

We need to get more action for the money spent. Conservationists can demand public-private partnerships that force agencies to play support roles in projects driven by conservation groups and volunteers.  A conservation movement devoid of partisan overlays can push for market driven adaptive management solutions that turn failure into success with steady progress, transparency and good science.  Public-private partnerships are more efficient and successful at delivering action and product from government funds.  Its true in all other areas of social welfare, why not conservation?

Keep in mind it not all about money, despite the desperate pleas of agencies and groups. Wildlife work is incredibly inefficient.  For example, in 2011 my colleague Christina Frank and I investigated the outcome of all land management projects devoted to wildlife habitat restoration in the last 15 years on both sides of the bay.  These projects added up to millions in funding and with only a few exceptions either ended in failure, or never ended.   This is sadly typical.  Moreover don’t believe it only about more staff.  In my lifetime for example agencies have systematically prevented citizens from taking substantive roles in wildlife management and research.  They do this at the behest of corporate interests who claim volunteers create bad science.  Instead industry insists on paid staff do routine jobs, than force agencies to cut funds with their war against good government.  Instead of good science the result is no science and no good direction.

Its vital that people who love the wildlife of Delaware Bay, sportsmen, birders, photographers find common cause with the people who live on Delaware Bay.   It is this blogs opinion that good conservation is impossible without the support of local people.  That depends in part on how it materially benefits them, so we must all work towards conservation that allows local jobs in the harvest and use of wildlife and habitat resources.  Conservationists can find common cause with local people by insisting on sustainable recourse use and partnering with them to create a powerful voice that combines the welfare of wildlife, wild land and the rural economies.  It our only chance to counter the ever growing influence of corporate money.

This is my theory of change for Delaware Bay.

A Theory of Change for Delaware Bay 1 Starting Small

Today’s conservationists have grown used to their inadequate power to protect wildlife in the historic battle against moneyed interests.   In this blog’s opinion, we lost it not long after the successful environmental battles of the 70’s by draining it into largely useless battles over hunting, trapping, protecting feral cats and other left-right confrontations that will rile people for decades, maybe centuries.  Besides being unproductive and irresolvable, the power vacuum allows industry the prerogative to decide the fate of most wildlife because agencies and groups lack sufficient authority to play meaningful roles in decisions affecting wildlife and habitat.  With all due respect to their hard work and commitment, they remain bit players in the national battle over the consumption of our natural resources.

anti-hunters 6-21-2011

The conflict over hunting and trapping has forced conservationists into a left and right confrontation characteristic of our country. In this case well meaning people who care for wildlife aid industrial control over wildlife and wild lands – to their demise.


It was not always this way.  Several times in this country’s recent history, conservationists have exerted their influence and gave leaders the power to create a better place for wildlife.  Theodore Roosevelt did it in the late 19th century and early 20th by protecting some of most treasured places in our nation, Yosemite and Yellowstone NP for example and planting the seeds of modern wildlife management, professional forestry and modern farming.  Franklin Roosevelt did it in the depths of the Great Depression by dramatically expanding refuges for wildlife and creating what is now the greatest wildlife agency in the world – the US Fish and Wildlife Service.  He also signed the PittmanRobertson act which underwrote the start of most state wildlife agencies ( as we know them today).  Richard Nixon did it by signing the Endangered Species Act which spawned epic power for species that previously had no voice in the halls of power.

grand canyon (1)

Theodore Roosevelt went on a spending spree once given the power to designate wild lands for protection including the Grand Canyon. (photo by L Niles)

We relate these great conservation achievements to the leaders pushing them through the political system, but in fact they were the consequence of a vocal public, who gave leaders power to represent their interests ( and paid hard earned money for permits and taxes to finance the protection).  Even though these federal and state agencies remain bastions of hope for wildlife, they have lost significant bureaucratic and electoral power because today’s conservationists choose to be divided and thus politically neutered.  One might also conclude they are too self interested to care.

But what if each of us declared that this time is one of the great periods of conservation, what would it look like?  Can we replicate earlier success at stopping the industrial scale cleansing of our nation wildlife in all but public lands, like so many unwanted aliens in a wasteland of factory farms, forests and waters?

I say yes because its not as difficult as it seems.  In many places it’s a simple choice followed by unswerving intent.  This is possible in any part of our lives and we all know how that goes.  Losing weight is simply a choice in the end, eat healthy and you lose weight.  Simple, and yet not so simple.  Often it comes down to making a step, than another and hope for the best.

It’s why I don’t pretend better conservation can come at a large scale.  The industrial control of state and federal political systems has grown so pervasive, challenging it would be a herculean effort without a massively mobilized public.  But we can take a step by caring for the landscapes we call home, or at least the landscape we love to call home.

At a smaller scale it’s possible because the wildlife of most land and water systems can be restored.  It’s the beauty inherent in every wild system: let it rest, give it love, in the form of restoration and most of the time it will come back.  The reader might point to the many lands that are so drained of life, they could be never more than  sad reminders of our inhumanity to other life for generations.  But even in these seemingly hopeless cases decisive action can restore life.  Take a look at the west branch of the Susquehanna River.

Flowing out of the Appalachian Plateau of Pennsylvania, it runs red with the acid waste seeping from coal mines abandoned decades ago, some centuries old. The river ran red 40 years ago when, as a graduate student at Penn State, I searched fruitlessly for life as I walked the tragically dead waterway. The cost to the river towns is immeasurable.  The red river robs every town of a lucrative tourist economy, a productive fishery and very likely healthy lives for long-term residents.  One simple choice, cleaning the mine waters would turn all this around, and it can be done sometimes with surprisingly simple solutions.  But it took a voice, Trout Unlimited to partner with government, The Pennsylvania Fish Commission, to create a new cooperative project that is now 10 years into healing the river and restoring fish populations.  If the cooperative effort can continue, the river will run clear, be populated by brook trout, attract people as tourists, increase waterside property values and the rural economy will prosper. One simple but difficult choice that can only happen when a determined and public voice speaks for the animals with no voice and makes a simple choice to make things better.


The West Branch of the Susquehanna River drains so many sources of acid mine drainage it and many of its tributaries run red. Here on the South Branch of Bear Run, PA Trout Unlimited in partnership with PA Fish Commission, restored this damaged stream into a trout producing stream ( see left picture ) Photos from Restoration of West Branch of Susquehanna River. Drainage






Thus my commitment to Delaware Bay; it is both home and the landscape I love most in this world.  The reader may reasonably be discouraged by the minor scale of restoring a small place compared to the continent-wide resource rape now underway.   But if the people who care for one place show success than it will inspire others to seek the same in their own place.  Disparate voices can become one voice, powerful enough to demand the attention of the politicians now so devoted to the river of money flowing from corporate America.

next: Conserving Delaware Bay

Improving Conservation on Delaware Bay 8: Six goals to help reshape conservation on Delaware Bay

Theories of change lie within the province of smart people who seek to shift large organizations to better places. Professionals build theories of change with the help of other professionals steeped in the methods of developing them. I am not a theory of change professional. But building and testing a hypothesis has been the focus of my life-long effort to conserve wildlife. So as to not to besmirch the integrity of more formal theories of change, lets call this effort theory of change lite. 2012.11.08.hamster-webcam But I do not take this lightly. This biologist believes conservationists face challenges similar to those faced by those of the early 1900’s or the mid thirties. ( this paper is a wonderful and easily read history of wildlife conservation in the US). Then as now, Industrial exploitation of our natural resources impoverishes both rural people and wildlife. In our time, moneyed interests have successfully diminished the political power of conservationists with issues like gun rights and anti-hunting thus muting any significant political voice for wildlife. Moneyed interests have forced the public out of wildlife conservation work insisting all work be done by professionals so industry can trust the results. This righteous requirement was followed by vicious cuts to the budgets of conservation professionals preventing them from doing the work that might oppose industrial interests. With a free hand, Industrial scale farming, forestry and fishing have ruined rural economies by channeling most of the wealth into the hands of investors and the rich leaving most rural communities impoverished. Ironically their best prescription to overcome these losses is serving them through long-on-promise short-on-return ecotourism projects. What little conservation does take place is usually done at the end of a long history of abuse and with insufficient resources to restore the damaged system. All this while an intentionally disengaged and consequently disinterested public watches without alarm. How do we get free of this cycle that began in the 70’s and now reaches it apotheosis? I suggest 6 pathways.

  1. Free conservation from left-right politics

The people who love animals, whether birder or sportsmen must come together and take a more active leadership role. Citizen wildlife enthusiasts have always been at the heart of bold conservation, in fact it is the only way to create bold action. The great historical conservation movements of the early 1900’s and 1930’s are remembered by their leaders, Teddy Roosevelt, Gilford Pinchot, Ding Darling, Aldo Leopold. In fact these people gained power because the legions of conservationists were willing to support the cause with both political and economic power. Sportsmen, still vigorously support sport hunting and fishing, but allow the agencies they support to waste funding and power. They have also allowed themselves to become part of a right-wing segment more loyal to the NRA than to conservation. Birders on the other hand barely support the nonprofits that serve their interests forcing them to take only bit-parts in the nationwide drama over reversing the problems facing wildlife. Like sportsmen, birders diminish their power by taking on issues detrimental to the cause of conservation like feral cat protection, anti-hunting and anti-trapping. If ever they could put aside their political differences, the two groups together would form a truly powerful coalition of voters, that might stand up to well organized industrial exploitation of land and water resources. If only a small portion of the people who identify themselves as wildlife enthusiasts were to vote as a block, all wildlife in this country would have a long and prosperous future.

  1. Allow the people who love birds to pay for a system that protects them  

Conservation has always depended on the good will of people who love animals. Hunters and fishermen knew this in the 30’s and worked together to create new funding systems like the Pittman Robertson Fish and Wildlife Recovery Act, that created the USFWS and state fish and wildlife agencies as we know them today. Why? Because it was the only way to take on industrial and political interest that only cared for short-term exploitation of fish and wildlife.  The beauty of sportsmen’s system is that it still depends on the hunters and fishermen to maintain it and requires they play significant role. For example the NJ Division of Fish and Wildife is overseen by the Fish and Game Council, composed mostly of hunters and fishermen. Now we need the rest of conservationists to take their part. We need to tax our equipment and use this money to create a new system. Maybe not the same system created by hunters and fishermen nearly 75 years ago but perhaps one based more heavily on public-private partnership that embraces the important role of non-profit conservation groups and community action groups.

  1. Encourage projects within which government agencies take part but citizen groups, communities and non-profits lead.

Government involvement is a necessary part of conservation, but all too often agencies insist on a leadership role with their partners (if they include partners) and relegate citizens to peripheral roles or no role at all. Depending on government leadership in this day of declining budgets and extraordinary political interference, leaves wildlife victim to the interests of moneyed interests. Creating true public private partnerships can help overcome government mistrust and involve more citizens in the process.  Allowing communities, especially rural commutnities, access to project funding would also help more citizens take part.   There is of course a place for agency authority, the history of conservation is replete with the courageous actions of agencies fending off selfish or greedy local authorities or business interests.  But they can only do this with our help. Now is a time for a fresh look at the respective roles of government, conservation groups and citizens. The majority of citizen conservationists and groups they support stand ready to help at a time when agencies can no longer count on increasing staff to meet the challenges they face. Project development and implementation should lean more heavily on the meaningful involvement of citizens in projects funded by state and federal authorities. These projects need not be delivered by government agencies but instead through coalitions of conservation groups that now populate the bayshore, the state and the surrounding region.

  1. Create new ways for the public to take part in conservation and pay for the privilege.

Many activities like, banding birds, animal rescue and tagging fish can create broad scientific platforms while engaging the public in a true experience with wildlife. In my career I have witnessed the misguided trend to exclude citizens, at first because industry would only credit data from agency scientists but now because the scientists themselves have no time for the care and feeding of volunteers. This is not the case in Europe, where guilds of experienced and trained volunteers do many jobs that in the US are done by paid professionals. Ironically US scientist argue ours is a more robust scientific program, yet the British Trust for Ornithology, which relies primarily on volunteers to collect data, claim databases that are among the best in the world, some populated with over 50 years of good data. Excluding people from doing field work robs them of a personal experience with wildlife thereby diminishing their zeal to protect wildlife. This personal experience is worth money to them and in other countries they pay for the privilege. Aren’t hunters and fishermen– who enjoy their sport, supply biologists with gobs of data, and pay for the privilege – doing the same thing? Why not expand the citizen force to include banding, rehabbing injured wildlife, fish taggers and other valuable conservation related activities.

  1. Create conservation solutions that embrace market forces

My experience, both within and outside of government, has helped me understand the importance of market forces in conservation. Profit incentives sound antithetical to conservation, but doesn’t profit now drive conservation, or the lack of it on Delaware Bay? It’s all semantics. The need for funding often determines the direction of most non-profits activities ( how else can they survive) and agencies ( especially now in the a time of diminishing budgets). The need for income colors the perspective of people living on the bay who really cannot be expected to embrace conservation if it only leads to job loss and economic hardship.   Industries dispassionately determine the need for conservation based on costs and profit including the economic benefits of better public relations. Lets face it, we cannot extract economic considerations from the core issues of conservation. Embracing income and profit in conservation is nothing new. The foundation of protection in the great eras of conservation, the early 1900’s the mid 1930’s, rested on creating good income for farmers, fishermen, foresters and other people living in rural areas. How could it be anyway else? We need to consider the economic impact and embrace solutions that help create wealth. More importantly we need to embrace other aspects of hard-nosed business acumen in our work. Consider cost effectiveness.  Too many conservation projects have meaningless monitoring components that tell nothing of the project effectiveness at achieving goals.  For decades many state agency projects funded through sportsmen and taxpayer dollars produce ineffective outcomes or useless results doing nothing more than employing staff. Yet they persist.  Many conservation group projects overlap or have identical goals because their members or funding sources demand their money be spent on current dazzling projects. This is no way to confront the growing hegemony of industry and politicians in their pocket. It doesn’t give the public confidence to see their hard earned money being squandered on useless but flashy projects, projects that are poorly monitored for success, or duplicative efforts by different groups.  A more business like approach is needed.  Short-term projects with long-term surveillance can prove effectiveness and guide subsequent projects. Competition and adaptive management can create much more impact for the current public and private funds now going into conservation. Better coordination amongst the many different groups is essential.

  1. Allow local citizens a role in deciding the character of conservation in their community

The collapse of wildlife populations on Delaware Bay and surrounding uplands followed similar paths, commercial interests trumped local interests. One would hope that agencies would prevent these preventable collapses but they don’t because industrial and political interests overwhelm or bypass scientifically based management. There are many reasons for this covered above, constituent groups pissing away political power by focusing on divisive issues, most prominent among them. But its also because local people have no say. Who are more likely to care about sustainable management, a international country that has no stake in the local economy, or the people who must earn a living in the local economy?   We need to divest management decisions from industry controlled regional and national organizations and create local management initiatives like that established by Maine Lobstermen or Delaware Bay Oystermen. The latter have suffered from oyster diseases, but they do their best to insure a year after year surplus of oysters that can be harvested safely without destroying the population. Why? Because it is the only way to stay in business. Most people including Federal agencies and funding sources mistakenly believe money and programs flow downhill to local communities but they do not.  In NJ money rarely even flows.  State program consume most of the federal monies coming to them through Federal Aid programs, such as Pittman Robertson or State Wildlife Grants. When money does miraculously appears in a communities, it is with some idealogical handcuffs such forcing hunting on communities that distrust hunters, or small scale outreach programs heavy on agency dogma.  Conservation groups would probably do the same ( but from a liberal perspective) if only their members truly supported them.   More resources should go directly to energetic and forward thinking communities to help them focus on developing the capacity to develop smart conservation initiatives that can be replicated within their neighboring communities.  With the impact of climate change becoming increasingly obvious, they are ready for the responsibility.   These are modest initiatives this blogger has gleaned from communities throughout the western hemisphere from Coral Harbor, Canada to Punta Arenas, Chile, from Cape Cod Ma. to San Francisco Bay, CA. These places have few things in common, and their conservation of wildlife is as inconsistent as our own, but within each place lies a conservation innovation that does not rely on more government money or staff. Moreover in many places citizens seem at home in their natural places because they have more to say in its protection and management. How do these goals as up to a theory of change?

Improving Conservation on Delaware Bay 7: A Theory of Change

The lysate industry’s refusing responsibility for restoration of horseshoe crabs, on which they make millions, is only one sad example of failed policy in the many resource depletions on the bay.   Sturgeon, river herring, American eels and weakfish at sea, bobwhite quail, black rails ( all rails really), grassland birds, northern harriers on land.  As it is in many of our nation’s rural areas, the conservation of wild resources on Delaware Bay is broken.  But the permanent protection of thousands of acres of the bay’s marsh and uplands through land acquisition and regulation always makes wildlife population and habitat restoration feasible.  First of all wildlife need habitat and on the bay much of that habitat is locked away for their use.  It gives restoration something to hang on — one might say the bay has good cheek bones but awaits further refinements.

A map lifted from NJ DEP IMAP showing just the state owned public lands on Delaware Bay. The State only pays in lieu of lost property taxes for fifteen years on a diminishing scale, eventually paying nothing.

A map lifted from NJ DEP IMAP showing just the state owned public lands on Delaware Bay. Add to this lands also dedicated to conservation, USFWS Cape May Refuge, The Nature Conservancy and other conservation groups,  PSEG Bayside tract and other lands privately owed by without development right, and one can imagine how much of the bayshore is permanently protected.  This does not guard against mismanagement and damaging resource use, but it creates an firm basis on which more enlightened management can blossum.


It is the working hypothesis of this blog that we, the conservation community of the bay and those who care about the bay in the region, need to approach conservation in a new way.  This new approach need not rely on more money and staff, at least at first, because significant amounts of people and money are already being deployed.  More would just follow the same projects that have led to where we are right now.  It’s this blog’s view that we need to set aside the need for more resources and instead focus on our approach.

More than ever we need to look more directly at the problems preventing restoration and sustainable use and create new approaches.  More than ever we need to be able to test the veracity of these approaches if only to see if we are on the right track.  In other words we need to create a theory of change, or a testable set of new conservation goals that will take us on a new path to sustainable resource use that benefits wildlife and rural communities.

The previous 6 blogs lay out the need for a new set of goals, the next set will present the goals.  These modest goals aim not at the expression of the problems faced by the people and wildlife of the bay, but the root of those problems, at least in this bloggers opinion.  I draw this theory of change from work done on the bay, but also in all the places in which I have conducted conservation over the course of a 35 year career.   Thus it is a very personal exploration.

Next: 6 new conservation goals for Delaware Bay and other small places like Delaware Bay