Learning as a Strategy for Improving Endangered Species Conservation

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

Many people believe that the endangered species conservation process is not working very well.
Extinction rates remain high, and few species have recovered to healthy, viable populations in secure
habitats. Improving the professionals' and organizations' learning abilities that are involved
in species recovery may upgrade conservation, perhaps significantly. Learning, however, involves
more than changing or fine tuning experimental scientific methods. It requires a commitment to
focus systematically and explicitly on learning capabilities from the individual, professional, organizational,
and policy levels. Effective, proactive learning improves performance by looking critically,
but constructively, at past performance, current problems, and the context of the problem(s),
and applying the lessons to new situations. Though organizations involved in endangered species
conservation need to learn, the way that individuals and organizations do learn is still unclear. This
paper reviews current learning theory which offers ideas and suggestions, reviews current barriers
to learning, and suggests ways to facilitate improved learning to upgrade our conservation efforts.
If individuals and organizations involved in biological conservation can learn and apply lessons of
hindsight, and then translate them into foresight for future efforts, species recovery and protection
can greatly improve. The very health of the entire ecosphere is at stake.