President's Letter: Sizing up conservation

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"When a landscape or species or community is threatened, any solution will depend on the specific needs of the cultures and the places involved."

Carter Roberts
President & CEO, WWF

One of my mentors, John Sawhill, drilled into me the Rule of Threes. He believed that every good strategy or approach should be reduced to its three most important elements. Three facts or statements was all you could truly expect anyone to accurately absorb and re-member. So whether writing annual goals or devising broader organizational targets, it’s important to be clear-minded about the very highest priorities, measured against our mission, and how to most effectively move them forward.

But I’ve also realized the importance of building into all of these approaches some allowance for flexibility and customization. Because even the most detailed strategies or well-reasoned goals can’t realize their full potential without responding to the changing world around us.

So whether we’re mapping the ecoregions of the world, or increasing tenfold the number of marine protected areas, or doubling the number of tigers in the wild, we must always be nimble and take the long view.

I’ll never forget a moment during a trip to the coast of Mozambique with our Board of Directors and the board of CARE, an organization with which we do a great deal of work, particularly around poverty and livelihoods. In the midst of a passionate, wide-ranging discussion about how our partnership might create conservation models that could be applied across the world, one of the most thoughtful people in our group raised his hand and said, “Let’s not forget that every place is different.”

It was a crystalline moment, as everyone registered this simple reminder: When a landscape or species or community is threatened, any solution will depend on the specific needs of the cultures and the places involved.

Given the quickening pace of change in the world today, we embrace the imperative of ceaselessly imagining and executing new approaches to the extraordinary challenges we face. And all of this must be done in the context of the places where WWF works—in more than 100 countries that represent unique communities of all sizes, capabilities, and cultures. It is in the context of those differences that we continue to invent.

This issue of the magazine highlights two examples of invention where we’ve come together with partners to address issues that are intrinsically local and seemingly straightforward, but still multifaceted and complex.

The Northern Great Plains region spans more than 180 million acres. It is the most iconic American landscape. It crosses five US states and two Canadian provinces, and stands as one of only four remaining intact temperate grasslands in the world. It encompasses the historic range of the Plains bison and other flagship species. And it is home to several tribal nations, ranching communities, and other stakeholders with whom we are working to maintain grasslands, restore native species, and nurture nature-based economies that can take root and thrive. There is no other place like it on Earth.

In remote Placencia Village in Belize, we’re helping create highly local—but eminently scalable—solutions to multiple environmental challenges, including illegal fishing, aquaculture, and the many climate-induced stresses on coral reefs.

We’re partnering with the Southern Environmental Alliance, the Natural Capital Alliance, the Aquaculture Stewardship Council, and several other community stakeholders to imagine new approaches, across borders, in a comprehensive effort to keep Placencia’s reefs healthy and sustain Belizean communities dependent on fisheries and ecotourism.

I love solutions like these, which come down to the essential importance of—and respect for—place. These places are in large part defined by the people who call them home, and we must never forget that. And so we work with communities to restore what has been lost and to strengthen what is vulnerable, always building on the history, traditions, and knowledge of the people who know these places best. When we get it right, we help communities create new forms of resilience, sized to fit their own places, in the face of all the changes sweeping the Earth.

Carter Roberts

President and CEO

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World Wildlife magazine provides an inspiring, in-depth look at the connections between animals, people and our planet. Published quarterly by WWF, the magazine helps make you a part of our efforts to solve some of the most pressing issues facing the natural world.

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