Implementing Endangered Species Recovery Policy: Learning As We Go?

Tim W. Clark
Yale University School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, 301 Prospect Street, New Haven, CT 06511 and Northern Rockies Conservation Cooperative, Box 2705, Jackson, WY 83001

Anne H. Harvey
Northern Rockies Conservation Cooperative, Box 2705, Jackson, WY 93001


Endangered species recovery programs face many challenges; chief among them is the implementation
challenge. Implementation is a complex, dynamic, and multifaceted task requiring skilled leadership,
an effective problem solving heuristic, and the capacity to learn and change course as feedback
suggests. In contrast, too often technically-oriented participants often assume that endangered
species recovery is a purely biological problem and thus overlook the many extra-biological
dimensions. For example, these participants and the overall recovery programs may not pay attention
to critical policy and organizational variables that ultimately determine if the program succeeds
or fails. Examples from the endangered black-footed ferret recovery program identify and
describe four aspects of recovery programs that directly complicate implementation challenges.
First is the inherent "complexity of cooperation" among multiple participants involved. They often
have distinct, different perspectives and use contradictory criteria by which success is measured.
Second is "goal displacement" wherein the species conservation task is replaced by bureaucratic
imperatives such as control and power goals. Third is the use of "inappropriate organizational
structures" to interrelate the work, workers, and the species/environment. And fourth is "intelligence
failures and delays" wherein key information is overlooked, underappreciated, or not obtained
and used at all. This and other factors lead to costly delays. Learning from these four kinds
of problems and avoiding them requires professionals and leaders to use knowledge from policy
process and organizational design fields, subjects typically not taught in conventional conservation
biology programs. A commitment to learning and problem solving can help recovery programs
avoid common implementation mistakes and achieve a successful species conservation outcome.