Conservation Policy Classics, Reissued



Averting Extinction: Reconstructing Endangered Species Recovery. Clark, S.G. 2011. Yale University Press, New Haven, CT. 270 pp. $32.00 (paperback). ISBN 9780300113334.

The Policy Process: A Practical Guide for Natural Resource Professionals. Clark, S.G. 2011. Yale University Press, New Haven, CT. 228 pp. $29.95 (paperback). ISBN 9780300090123.

Foundations of Natural Resource Policy and Management. Clark, S.G., Willard, A.W., and Cromley, C.M., editors. 2011. Yale University Press, New Haven, CT. 384 pp. $37.00 (paperback). ISBN 9780300081442.

Longtime readers of this journal will no doubt be familiar with Susan Clark's research, published under the name Timothy W. Clark until 2006. Yale University Press has now reissued 3 of Susan's classic works, and they are worth the attention of a new generation of conservationists.

Homer-Dixon (2001) conferred the title of “the ingenuity gap” on our society's collective failure to improve our problem-solving capabilities sufficiently to keep pace with the accelerating complexity of global social–ecological challenges. In few fields of human endeavor is this gap more apparent than in conservation biology. Clark's books represent very deliberate attempts to close the ingenuity gap by focusing attention on neglected dimensions of conservation problems, especially questioning the ways we conventionally think about them. However, these books have a very different objective than conventional policy analyses or human-dimensions texts: they demonstrate how to apply a proven and genuinely interdisciplinary framework for solving problems, rather than simply offering up further techniques for studying them. The difference is subtle, yet critical. These 3 titles collectively distill decades of hard-won experience and thoughtful analyses with the explicit goal of helping conservation practitioners and scientists improve their professional effectiveness. Who among us doesn't want to do that?

The Policy Process is exactly what its name implies: a handbook that describes an approach for orienting oneself to complex problems with social and ecological dimensions and determining one's preferred course of action. For the past 3 years, I have used this book as the primary text in a graduate course I teach on environmental and sustainability decision making. It fills the bill for such a task nicely. It is readable, comprehensive, extensively referenced, and reasonably priced. Largely for those reasons, students in this course—who have come from 14 countries to date—respond warmly to the book. It is not only for academics though. This handbook would be equally at home on the desks of working professionals for use as a ready reference and provision of a handy dose of perspective when the going gets tough. As Forester (1989) observed about the practice of planning, “[G]ood theory is what we need when we get stuck.” Time spent with this book would be a good way for perplexed conservation biologists facing challenging situations to get themselves unstuck.

The book begins by discussing professional challenges (many of which will sound all too familiar to those with any field experience) and proceeds iteratively through steps of mapping the context of the issue at hand, clarifying and securing the common interest, and focusing on clearly and comprehensively defining problems to find solutions. The following two chapters discuss more theoretical and methodological topics: policy-oriented professionalism and policy analysis and multiple methods. The last chapter in particular, on natural resources, human rights, and policy learning, is probably more urgent and resonant today than it was when the book was first published a decade ago. The Policy Process has stood the test of time remarkably well, although it would have been nice to see some updated figures and schema. No one has yet developed a concise way to present the framework however, graphically or otherwise, so I acknowledge that is a tall order for such a complex framework with extensive, specific terminology (Brunner 1997). However, coupled with creative multimedia a future edition of this book would have the potential to make just those sorts of advances.

Foundations of Natural Resource Policy and Management is an edited volume of 10 case-study analyses developed by Clark's colleagues and students at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. Apparently designed to be paired with The Policy Process, this book is best considered as a set of teaching cases because its treatment of the theoretical framework is light. These cases however are richly detailed, international in scope, and presented in a consistent format. These attributes make it easier for readers to extract applicable lessons from individual cases and to compare these lessons and draw their own conclusions. Further development of teaching cases would be useful in future editions, perhaps incorporating cases written from even more diverse standpoints (e.g., indigenous peoples) and adding an instructor guide for each case.

Averting Extinction is Clark's most personal and reflective book. It chronicles a situation she was intimately involved with for many years: the rediscovery of black-footed ferrets (Mustela nigripes) in Wyoming in 1981 and the subsequent recovery efforts for a species that had been considered extinct. The book chronicles the story of the ferret recovery process, but offers considerably more. That chronicling is framed analytically, with chapters organized around particular—and usually problematic—identified elements of that policy process. Most prominently these include intelligence failures and delays (contextualized as “common organizational pathologies”); politicization and program structure; major issues surrounding goals and power (particularly competing goals, goal displacement, and goal inversion); questionable establishment of legitimacy and bureaucratization; obstacles to effective organizational learning; and oversimplified definitions of the ferret recovery problem. Again, experienced conservationists will recognize many of these difficulties.

In the second part of the book, Clark turns her attention to extracting lessons from the black-footed ferret case to the broader task of reconstructing endangered species recovery. The chapter situating species recovery as a policy process itself provides an overview of the framework detailed in The Policy Process. Using that framework to guide her appraisal, she makes detailed and comprehensive recommendations for both organizations and individuals involved in endangered species recovery. The final chapter challenges conservationists to question whether the definition of professionalism operative in the field is a healthy one and makes an effective case for a move toward a civically oriented professional outlook and identity. The book has abundant references, which will benefit readers interested in technical or methodological details. A section at the end of each chapter labeled conclusions makes the relevant lessons abundantly clear. Clark's reflection on her own view of the situation is prominent in the book yet not overbearing. Her writing here provides a superb model for other scientists reflecting on their own experiences.

A strong unifying theme among these three books is their application of a common framework for problem identification and analyses that originates from the discipline of the policy sciences. The literature in that field is voluminous (motivated or curious readers can browse the library at, but it is worth pointing out what the approach and framework presented in these books is not. First, it does not provide a recipe for solving problems. Instead, it focuses on comprehensively understanding a problem and recognizes that solutions must be specific to the situation's context and that the definition of a problem—even its very existence—depends on ones’ own standpoint. This is referred to as being problem oriented as opposed to solution oriented. This is a deceptively subtle distinction, but one that makes a difference in the real world. Solutions need to be devised and evaluated in context if they are to succeed, let alone if perverse and counterproductive consequences of solutions are to be avoided. Second, the framework is not just one more competing approach (among many) to policy analyses. It is a theoretical construct that helps one determine how to find a solution. It is not a grand theory that promises simple resolution to complex dilemmas or a routine for simply generating options and selecting among them based on narrowly defined criteria or tenuous assumptions. Third, it is not simply a way to obtain consensus in contentious situations, worthy as that goal may be in principle (Margerum 2011).

Retiring conservation biologist and park warden Gibeau (2012) recently challenged wildlife biologists to question their profession's effectiveness by asking them, “Are you playing checkers while everybody else is playing chess?” I would guess that most readers of this journal have asked themselves similar uncomfortable questions at times; otherwise, conservation biology would have no claim to still be called a crisis discipline decades after its inception (Chan 2008). It is now clear that the toughest challenges in conservation display complex and interacting social and ecological components that defy single-discipline approaches and exhibit the characteristics of wicked problems (Ludwig 2001). These challenges have no definitive formulation (i.e., there is no agreed-on definition of the problem), no stopping rule (one never really solves them definitively), and no test for a solution (one cannot know when they are solved). It could be argued that such problems are not amenable to science, which is exactly the point. Science is vitally necessary but not sufficient to cope with wicked problems. Such problems are out there—like it or not—and faced with them all too many of our endeavors can seem like a game of checkers. This is where the value of an integrative framework for thinking about problems—science, values, and all—is to be found. For conservation scientists and professionals who choose to respond to the challenge of wicked conservation problems, Clark's books are resources of enduring significance.