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Interdisciplinary Problem Solving in Species and Ecosystem Conservation

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   Interdisciplinary Problem Solving in Species and Ecosystem ConservationTim W. ClarkYale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, Institution for Social and Policy Studies at Yale,Northern Rockies Conservation CooperativeABSTRACTMany species and ecosystems are threatened worldwide. Improved problem solving and leadership are needed to addressthis growing problem. Interdisciplinary problem solving is an innovation that permits leaders to address complex problemsmore rationally, practically, and morally than use of traditional disciplinary methods. This proven interdisciplinary approachcan guide problem solvers in their search for improved conservation policy and programs for species and ecosystemsustainability. The approach focuses inquiry on “defining” the problem at hand and understanding its context in terms of thehuman social and decision process at play. Basic problem-solving tools include problem orientation, mapping the social anddecision process, and analyzing basic beliefs. Because a professional can assume many roles in the search for conservationimprovements, he or she must also clarify his or her standpoint. Finally, all the above must be integrated into an overalljudgment, and responsibility taken for this judgment. Interdisciplinary problem solving is a skill that can be taught, learned, andapplied. It can aid leaders and professionals in their search for improved conservation. This paper poses and answers questionsabout the policy or management process and the content of interdisciplinary problem solving. The Yellowstone grizzly bearconservation case is used to illustrate the interdisciplinary approach. The analytic framework detailed in this paper can guidea professional in his or her work.Species and ecosystem conservation requires problem-solving strategies. Thetraditional strategy used until recently is disciplinism, emphasizing a singlediscipline, or a few disciplines in a multidisciplinary approach, to addressproblems. However, demands are being placed on professionals to becomemore interdisciplinary, policy relevant, and effective on many fronts (e.g., Pool1990). If we think of a policy process (or management process) as the develop-ment and implementation of strategic aims, then skilled professionals havemuch to offer society to improve conservation. For example, human impactson Yellowstone National Park and the surrounding national forests andwildlife refuges are receiving increasing attention and eliciting demands forimproved management and policy (Clark and Minta 1994). Grizzly bear (Ursusarctos) management in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE) is oneparticularly high profile case. Threats to grizzly bears may be defined in termsof habitat and population fragmentation and the biological measures neededto maintain or restore populations (e.g., Knight et al. 1999). However, they mayalso be understood as an interdisciplinary management problem, realizing thatthe conservation of grizzly bears and their ecosystem are only partly a technicalproblem and largely an outcome of complex human social dynamics—a policyprocess. Understanding this policy process and making it more effective is thekey to achieving effective grizzly bear and ecosystem conservation.This paper first offers a brief overview of the policy process. Second, itexamines three basic interdisciplinary problem-solving elements or perspec-tives that can be applied to species and ecosystem conservation. These can beSpecies and ecosystemconservation requiresproblem-solving strategies.The traditional strategyused until recently isdisciplinism, emphasizing asingle discipline, or a fewdisciplines in a multi-disciplinary approach, toaddress problems.    stated as questions about a given policy or management effort (is it rational? isit politically practical? is it morally justified?), which can be answered using aset of logically comprehensive, conceptual tools. This toolkit for problemsolving includes rational problem orientation, social and decision processmapping, and basic belief analysis. Third, the paper discusses the roles orstandpoints professionals play in the social and decision processes they are partof, and finally focuses on integrating knowledge about rationality, politics,morality, and standpoint into an overall judgment. Even a little knowledge ofthese basic concepts and how to use them practically can dramatically enhanceprofessional effectiveness. Grizzly bear conservation in GYE will be used hereto illustrate this principle (see Primm 1996).BACKGROUND AND OVERVIEWEnvironmental professionals are deeply concerned about the loss of species anddegradation or loss of ecosystems and the consequences thereof. These profes-sionals possess discipline-based knowledge that is important to conservationand management issues; however, another kind of knowledge is also needed ifwe are to be successful. This second kind of knowledge is skill at interdiscipli-nary problem solving within the entire policy process. But what is interdiscipli-nary problem solving? What is policy process? How can knowledge and skill beobtained? What role can and should professionals play? How can professionalsbe most effective? The more a professional knows about both kinds of knowl-edge—disciplinary and interdisciplinary—and how they are interrelated, themore successful he or she is likely to be. Just as theory exists in the disciplinesabout natural resources management, so too there is theory and experienceabout interdisciplinary problem solving. This latter kind of knowledge isseldom taught in biological curricula of universities, and an interdisciplinaryapproach has not yet been applied to grizzly bear conservation.This century in the GYE, the policy process led to many bears being killed,and eventually to the species being listed in 1975 as threatened under the 1973Endangered Species Act. Remember that people and organizations (and na-tions) seek to maximize power, wealth, or some other human value, and in thiscase bears got in the way. Bears were exploited well beyond sustainable levelsand policy ignored their value and needs altogether until recently. Over the lastfew decades, however, efforts have begun to restore the GYE bear


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