NAU adds voice to research that calls for national conservation plan

Jacqueline Vaughn

Northern Arizona University found itself among prestigious company in a collaborative course five years ago, and today the conclusions of research based on that experience have been published in a scholarly journal.

“A State-Based National Network for Effective Wildlife Conservation” appears online in Bioscience and includes as a co-author Jacqueline Vaughn, an NAU professor in the Department of Politics and International Affairs.

The distributed graduate seminar involved students from eight universities who took the same wildlife conservation course at the same time but independent of one another. Vaughn was one of the instructors, a “policy wonk,” she said, among faculty in conservation biology, forestry and other science fields.

“NAU participated with some of the top conservation schools in the country,” Vaughn said, naming Indiana University, Duke University and the University of Michigan, among others. “It was sort of a coup for NAU to be included.”

What the faculty found, after years of compiling and analyzing data generated by the graduate students, was that state wildlife action plans are rife with inconsistencies and lack a comprehensive approach.

Vaughn said that coordination has become more important because politics has not kept up with science.

“There has been research on wildlife corridors that cross boundaries, say from Arizona to Colorado, and that wildlife needs to be managed in a way that respects the fact that there are corridors that are biologically based rather than politically based,” Vaughn said.

“What interested me as a political science and policy expert was now that we have science that tells us the corridors are there, what do we do politically to help manage these corridors?”

Among the conclusions of the Bioscience paper, Vaughn said, is that a federal conservation plan would help to overcome the lack of coordination of state plans. In addition, some state plans were found lacking in public participation and partnerships with conservation organizations.

Vaughn said she will try to track down the 18 NAU students who were involved in the seminar, in fields of study ranging from biology, to forestry, to political science to sociology.

“I want to find out where they’ve gone and what they’ve done,” Vaughn said, “and make sure they get a copy of the article. The work they’ve done as graduate students has paid off in a pretty strong policy statement about where the federal government ought to go next in wildlife conservation.”