After 36 years with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, most recently as Director of the Division of Habitat and Species Conservation, Tim Breault this summer was named the first Coordinator for the Peninsular Florida Landscape Conservation Cooperative. While attending the Conserving the Future Conference for the National Wildlife Refuge System in Madison, Wisconsin in July, Tim answered a few questions about his new job.
Q: Why did you decide to take this job?
A: The short answer is that having worked on the national scale through Joint Ventures and the formation of the LCCs, the idea of all wildlife, all fish, all habitats was to me a very intriguing approach. It’s the next step in the evolution of conservation. We transitioned from single species management and place-based management with refuges, forests, and wildlife management areas to the continental element with flyways for migratory birds. Now we’re recognizing that no single person, no single entity, no single agency can do effective conservation alone. The landscape level approach is the divine ‘a-ha.’
I wish I had another 30-year career. I wish I could start all over again right now. We’re on the cusp of that next big leap of effectiveness. There’s a growing understanding that this is what we need to do. With so much budget uncertainty, now’s the time to work together and combine our talent, combine our resources, on that bigger vision.
Q: What is the biggest challenge facing the Peninsular Florida LCC?
A: To marshal all the partnerships. People do conservation delivery, design and planning. There’re a lot of entities. The biggest challenge is to establish that partnership and make it self-directed. Who’s involved in what activities and where, and at what scale? We need to get our arms around what the conservation picture looks like right now, and where can we collaborate to get efficiencies. Where are the gaps?
You move at the speed of trust. We need to establish that partnership, get people talking and get some trust among partners.
The second big challenge is to get people to understand that working together doesn’t mean you have to share 100 percent of your values or outcome. If your area of overlap is 80 percent or even 60 percent, that’s really huge. That’s pretty important. That’s going to be another trigger point in terms of how we move ahead.
Twenty years ago in my naiveté, I thought a partner is a person who shares my values and potential outcomes 100 percent, and they’re going to bring in money for me. That’s a model that we’re going to have to break through. We all have different areas of responsibility and authority, and we operate at a different scale. And that’s all OK. To bring them (partners) all together and figure out how they relate to one another is going to be the key. And to build that trust.
The good news is we all have the same desired outcome, which is a better future for Floridians, with sustainable natural and cultural resources. We all want to be in the same place. We just need to articulate how we get there together.
Q: Florida seems to have a leg up on forming strong partnerships among conservation groups. Why is that?
A: Most of the conservation partners in Florida are operating under a shared adversity: out of control development, invasive species and water quality and quantity issues. We have had to start to basically marshal our scarce resources to work together. We’ve set up cooperatives to control invasive plants. We’ve got cities, counties, state agencies and federal agencies that have come together to look at a particular area and pool our grant dollars to target invasive plants like melaluca. We’re now starting to look at focal areas, beyond specific boundaries, to get control of exotic species.
But I feel like in Florida we do random acts of conservation. People are doing jobs in certain place and they are not coordinated or connected. We need to work together on a common conservation vision for Florida. Let’s all come together to work on priority restoration areas, for example, and then apply for a block grant. Then we can start working at a bigger scale. It’s also more highly effective.
Other states have not seen that massive change in terms of alteration and degradation. We’ve seen the future and people don’t like the way that future looks. So I think the (LCC) partnership will coalesce pretty quickly… We have the sense of need, sense of urgency and the desire to work together. Those are the three things that are going to be the catalyst to help the Peninsular Florida LCC move forward fairly quickly.
Q: What do you do about partnership fatigue, in which state and federal agencies and non-governmental organizations say they’re stretched thin between conservation partnerships that have formed over the years for various purposes?
A: My goal is to make that LCC partnership so valuable that that’s the partnership they want to participate in. If it’s all fish, all wildlife, all habitats, uplands and wetlands, it can be a value added.
A lot of the partnership initiatives have been formed with very top level agency heads and division directors who now have travel restrictions and other things looming, so it’s very hard to go to these steering committees or board meetings. I want to set up working groups involving people at different levels... It’s a more tiered approach to who’s doing the work. It’s information management after that.
Q: How will you show partners that the LCC is value added?
A: By demonstrating some early success. In the last year or two we’ve had great successes in collaboration with multi-agency partners. A recent example would be the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, the Natural Resources Conservation Service and The Nature Conservancy working together in the Wetland Reserve Program to enroll eight ranches and 80,000 acres under a permanent easement to restore the headwaters of Fisheating Creek, which flows into Lake Okeechobee. It’s an example of people bring different expertise to the table. It was the biggest WRP ever done in the U.S.
Q: What will be your first short-term objective as Coordinator?
A: Getting the partnership together and starting to talk to each other in terms of who’s doing conservation and where they are doing it. There’s a lot of good work going on out there and nobody knows all of it.
We need look for any gaps out there in the conservation tapestry. Do we need additional science capacity? Additional resources? Do we need people to say this is a new priority?
Once we can show how our different partners work together, I think we’ll have to beat people off with a stick.
Q: What’s your two-minute sales job to a potential partner?
A: Anybody that affects what happens on the land affects everybody else. We talk about sustainable agriculture, sustainable forestry, and sustainable fish and wildlife. It’s all connected. If you have an unsustainable forest, then you’re going to have unsustainable fish and wildlife. It’s all connected because it’s all about the land.
The second thing is if you’re at the table we can talk about how we can collectively move forward so your interest is protected and maintained and we have that shared outcome that works for everybody. We need to work on the issues and not your perspective. The issue is how can you continue to grow trees and how can we continue to protect fish and wildlife.