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May 07, 2012

Universities as conservation catalysts

Northwest-Montana-The-Crown-of-the-ContinentColleges and universities have long been studied as partners in urban development. Last month, Lincoln Institue fellow Jim Levitt convened a two-day gathering in Boulder to explore ways these institutions can play a role in another area of interest -- land conservation.
The meeting included about three dozen senior professors, staff and administrators from universities, colleges and field research stations from places as diverse as China, California, Kenya, Montana, Florida, Arizona, Australia, and New England, to consider the role that their organizations play as conservation catalysts.
     What do such conservation catalysts do?  Among many things, they can be extraordinarily effective at bringing together players in the public, private, non-profit and academic sectors to coordinate the vision and implementation of large landscape conservation initiatives, says Levitt. At the University of Arizona, for example, researchers have played a catalytic role in bringing together researchers from the United States and Mexico to better understand conditions throughout the endangered Colorado River Delta, and to begin bringing that dessicated region back to life. Similarly, a broad array of students and faculty at the University of Montana have had a decades-long impact on the progress made in conserving the Crown of the Continent ecosystem that spans some 19 million acres across the borders of Montana, Alberta and British Columbia.
     These and other university, college and research station-related large landscape initiatives help to link together large and small parcels of land and bodies of water across boundary lines, sectors, governmental jurisdictions and even national borders to achieve enduring and measurable conservation outcomes. "Large landscape" initiatives are typically further characterized by careful attention to local culture, distinctive and diverse disciplinary approaches, and strategic significance to the future of conservation efforts in their home region.
     The Lincoln Institute plans a series of conferences, books, and resources made available online to further explore this role for universities, colleges and field research stations around the world.

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