Landscape-scale What?

Here’s a memo I commend to the attention of anyone who wants to communicate clearly about conservation issues: “The Language of Conservation 2013: Updated Recommendations on How to Communicate Effectively to Build Support for Conservation.”

It’s based on a representative national survey of American voters, commissioned by The Nature Conservancy in 2012 and conducted by a bipartisan research team.

Many of its recommendations mention wildlife, but I paid special attention to those that address wildlife conservation issues specifically. One is, “Do not refer to landscape-scale conservation.”

In Arizona, we use this term frequently, especially as it relates to preventing or mitigating the effects of wildfire. Decades of fire suppression have left our forests in grave danger. Here’s a jaw-dropping statistic: The Rodeo-Chediski Fire of  2002 and the Wallow Fire of 2011 burned one-quarter of Arizona’s ponderosa pine forest. The entire forest is in danger.

Most experts agree that preventing further catastrophic fires requires urgent efforts across the entire forest. We often refer to this as a need for “landscape-scale restoration of Arizona’s forests,” and think we’re getting the message across.

Not so, states the memo. “Voters respond to the idea of preserving large, connected areas like entire forests, mountain ranges, wildlife habitats, or wetlands when described as such, and think conservation should be planned and carried out on a regional, integrated level. However, they do not think of this as ‘landscape scale’ nor can they articulate the rationales behind why ‘landscape-scale’ conservation might be important.”

In other words, voters agree with the idea of “landscape-scale conservation,” but they don’t connect that idea with the words “landscape scale.” They aren’t sure what that term means or why it is important. But if you say, “Habitat conservation plans need to be carried out throughout Arizona’s forests, to prevent further catastrophic fires and restore healthy habitat,” they get that.

Goodbye, “landscape-scale conservation;” hello, “conservation carried out on a regional, integrated level.”

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