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Participatory implementation of a public/private endangered species habitat preservation policy.

Abstract

This article summarizes a study of the implementation of the Colorado Species Conservation Partnership (CSCP), a voluntary, landowner-initiated state endangered species policy implemented by the Colorado Division of Wildlife (CDOW) and designed to conserve threatened and endangered species and their habitat in rapidly developing Colorado. A qualitative case study design was used to determine if the implementation process for CSCP has been successful in achieving wise habitat preservation and species management agreements between landowners, CDOW and, in certain cases, a third party, nongovernmental organization; for critical, threatened, and endangered species. The research examined links in the causal chain (implementation) between X (initial conditions) and Y (future consequences), not the long-term results of the linkage. The implementation process for CSCP was found to be very successful and dependent on a strong bottom-up, democratic, participatory approach to policy implementation by CDOW, perhaps best characterized as Interactive Symbiosis in that each of the participant implementation actors became reciprocally active in a cooperative relationship beneficial to all. Literature-based concepts of successful implementation, value-added through discretion, mutual adaptation, policy learning and incentives, were all part of successful implementation. Additionally, CDOW understood the political, economic and social contexts that affected CSCP implementation and disseminated that understanding throughout the implementation process. No single factor emerged as being the primary determinant for landowner participation; rather, many factors aligned. Study results can be readily generalized to other jurisdictions.

Introduction

Since most economic activities harmful to wildlife and wildlife habitat occur on private land, and the most significant cause of species endangerment is habitat loss, fragmentation, and disruption induced through the inherent conflict between human development activities and habitat needs of species (Sierra Club 2004, Endangeredspecie.com 2002, National Wildlife Federation 2001, Stanford Environmental Law Society 2001, Czech et al. 2000, Shogren 1998, Somach 1994), preservation of private landscapes is essential to saving threatened and endangered species. Sprawling land development to accommodate population growth--urban and exurban sprawl--along with development of second residences (usually in the form of 35 acre "ranchettes" in Colorado), agricultural and other economic activities endangers more species listed through the Endangered Species Act (ESA) than any other cause (Czech et al. 2000, Wilcove et al. 1998). However, lands that remain in agricultural-related production are far more beneficial to wildlife than are developed parcels (Maestas, Knight et al. 2003; Mitchell, Knight et al. 2002), especially when they are untilled (Colorado Division of Wildlife 2002a; McCain, Reading & Miller 2000). Compounding the inherent problems within these trends, the majority of present and potential habitat for species listed under the ESA exists on non-federal property owned by private citizens, states, municipalities, Native American tribal governments and other non-federal entities (United States General Accounting Office 1994).

Much ESA literature (Bean 1999, Shogren et al. 1999, Shogren 1998) is in general agreement that regulatory prohibitions against harmful private behavior, including not only urban and exurban sprawl but harmful agricultural practices, or any other harmful behavior is unlikely to bring about the restoration and active management of habitat needed for improving the status of endangered, threatened and critical species. In fact, such regulations often create perverse incentives and unintended consequences that lead to further degradation or outright destruction of species habitat. New and creative policy and implementation approaches, usually incentive-based, have been called for (Parkhurst 2003, Bean 2000 & 1993) and are being implemented by state and federal agencies.

Thus, many states, especially those in the West, including Colorado, oppose federal ESA listings because they allow the federal government to assume control over what many view as local concerns (Runfed 2005, Kincaid 2004, Welner 1995) and because federal listing supersedes a state's on-the-ground capacity to apply valuable biological data and insular know-how in order to best accomplish recovery (Runfed 2005).

Many states that are experiencing significant population growth and corollary rises in real estate value and development, and/or increasing pressure on privately held habitat due to other economic activities (e.g. gas and oil exploration and agricultural activities), such as Colorado, are struggling to avoid species listings under the ESA while simultaneously allowing for economic development. Implementation of resultant voluntary, private land preservation programs is usually the responsibility of state wildlife agencies that must balance the requirements of the ESA with the interests of landowners and other key stakeholders. Since apparently no comprehensive studies of successful implementation of these programs have been attempted, new state programs such as CSCP have little if any comprehensive information to guide them.

Colorado's Species Conservation Partnership was chosen for examination for three significant reasons. First, Colorado was proportionately the third fastest growing state in the 1990's and although growth had slowed somewhat by the end of 2004, the state was still ranked fourteenth in its growth rate (U.S. Census Bureau 2004), thus experiencing habitat fragmentation, disruption and loss. Second, Colorado has 49 species (not including fish or mollusks) listed as either federally endangered, federally threatened, state endangered, state threatened or of state special concern (not a statutory category) (Colorado Division of Wildlife 2006). Third, the ideal time to study policy implementation is during the time the policy is actually being put into place in order to provide formative evaluation to agency officials, legislators, target populations, academics and other relevant groups (Werner 2004, Schneider 1999, Browne & Wildavsky 1984, Williams 1982). This information can, in turn, provide timely information for those executing policy implementation, be used to change discretionary choices, alter implementation strategies, solve problems, provide impetus to change the policy if necessary, and pre-empt possible fatal flaws (Schneider 1999, Williams 1982).

Results should be particularly helpful for state natural resource departments and divisions since, in the words of an Arizona Game and Fish Department specialist. "We have all the biological research we need. We need to know more about effective implementation--this study is important" (Avey 2003).

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Origins and Funding of CSCP

The concept of a major landowner incentive program, created specifically for at-risk wildlife species in Colorado, was initiated in the summer of 2001. Discussions between the Colorado Division of Wildlife (CDOW), Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) and the Colorado Department of Natural Resources (CDNR) uncovered strong mutual interest in creating a program geared toward protection of threatened and endangered species habitat on private lands. With support from top management of each organization, CDOW staff began to formulate a landowner incentive program--the future Colorado Species Conservation Partnership (CSCP)--its operational guidelines, financial requirements, staffing needs and a myriad of other issues including requisite needs necessary when establishing any new state program (CDOW 2002b).

In November 2002, CDOW officially applied for federal funding of CSCP through the federal Landowner Incentive Program and called for raising and spending $25 million of state and federal funds. Its purpose is to "provide technical assistance to private landowners for projects for the protection and management of habitat on private lands for species-at-risk" and pledges a "voluntary, incentive-based program to protect and enhance crucial habitat for threatened, endangered or at-risk species on private lands" (CDOW 2002b, p1). Furthermore, CSCP pledged to "improve the outlook for the long-term conservation of species in three focus areas, provide quantifiable information on target species on private lands, and promote habitat improvements consistent with farming and ranching operations" (CDOW 2002b, p7).

The initial budget projected for CSCP called for $25 million in funding leveraged on a 1:1 basis between federal and non-federal funds. This projection has since come to fruition with approximately $12.5 million in federal funds being derived from LIP. The nonfederal match has been obtained from various funds within GOCO as well as a required 12.5 percent of assessed value contribution by each participating landowner. Funds are used to acquire conservation easements, provide incentives--as listed in management agreements--to landowners for implementing land use practices that protect species, operating costs to implement protection activities and endowing future stewardship costs through the Wildlife for Future Generations Trust Fund, established within the Colorado Revised Statutes and stewardship endowments of participating land trusts (CDOW 2002c).

Methods

Using a mid-range research design, the investigator entered the study with no predetermined framework of what constituted a successfully implemented program, but rather, allowed such a determination to emerge from the data. Research was focused and bounded by a literature review, a rudimentary conceptual framework and a set of research questions that focused on the negotiation process between landowners, a third party conservation easement facilitator (in most cases) and CDOW--the implementing agency--and the resultant agreements entered into between the parties.

The literature review yielded a narrow and operational definition of implementation, a rudimentary conceptual framework and assisted in developing a set of research questions and enabled the creation of initial, theoretical categories before going into the field, which is sometimes referred to as a modified grounded theory study. The conceptual framework was utilized to graphically explain "the main things to be studied--the key factors, constructs or variables--and the presumed relationships among them" (Miles & Huberman 1994).

Table 4.1 displays the relationship between initial theoretical and contextual categories, CSCP stakeholders and implementation process success criteria. This association between stakeholders, theoretical categories and contextual elements forms the nexus from which emerged the criteria for successful implementation, the determination of whether or not wise agreements were consummated and the number of designated acres of habitat conserved.

Three research questions help focus and bound this study as well as providing its investigative framework. They are:

1. How successful, as perceived by participatory stakeholder groups, has the Colorado Species Conservation Partnership been in achieving a quantitative net gain (measured in acres) of designated species habitat protected?

2. How successful, as perceived by participatory stakeholder groups, has implementation of the Colorado Species Conservation Partnership been in achieving a wise agreement as defined by Fisher & Ury (1991)?

3. How and why have political, economic and social contexts, as well as the negotiation and incentive elements of the Colorado Species Conservation Partnership, been instrumental to the success of state policy implementation as measured by the results and process criteria stated in research questions 1 and 2, and as interpreted by key stakeholder groups and viewed on a very successful to very unsuccessful continuum?

Triangulation of data sources was used in data collection to enhance construct validity (Yin 2003) and occurred through document analysis, direct observation and open-ended interviews of key stakeholders. Relevant documents were provided by CDOW and include internal communication concerning origins of CSCP, anonymous landowner applications for participation in CSCP, correspondence between CDOW and GOCO, and correspondence between CDOW and selected, anonymous landowners.

Direct observations involved face-to-face interviews with CDOW personnel, Ranchland League personnel and landowner participants. Relevant behaviors and environmental conditions were also observed directly through field visits to CDOW headquarters, Ranchland League headquarters and each of the participant landowner ranches. All but one ranch visit included a walking and/or driving tour of property under a CSCP-generated conservation easement and management agreement and any modifications completed under the management agreement, e.g. fences, tilling, plantings, etc.

Data analysis was accomplished through Constant Comparison Analysis, Classical Content Analysis and Key words-in-Context Analysis (Leech & Ogweugbuzie 2005). Since no significant differences were found in responses to interview questions between landowner and non-landowner interviewees, study results and analysis for both groups were compiled together.

The data were then interpreted by condensing them more and more into a coherent, parsimonious and meaningful understanding of what, how and why, undergoing a progression from description to explanation (Miles & Huberman 1994). In this stage of analysis, the focus was on answering the three research questions. Finally, the emergent themes from each of the embedded cases were synthesized and matched for patterns by visually juxtaposing each embedded case's narrative and graphic displays with each of the other embedded cases in order to draws conclusions, interprets results, suggest implications and limitations, and recommend possibilities for future research.

Results

Unanimously, participatory stakeholder groups, including landowners CDOW and the RL, all view CSCP as very successful in achieving a quantitative net gain (measured in acres) of designated species habitat protected. To date, successful implementation of CSCP has ensured the protection of 22,824 acres (9,130 hectacres) (Kincaid 2006) designated specifically for at-risk species. Approximately 17,000 (6,800 hectacres) acres are under easement in perpetuity and 5,824 (2,330 hectacres) acres are under a 30-year easement. Flexible management agreements accompany each of the easements. These acres and management agreements represent partial fulfillment of larger landscape preservation and management goals as stipulated in Colorado's Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy (CDOW 2005), researched, designed and published to satisfy federal requirements of State Wildlife Grants legislation under Title IX, P.L. 106-553 and Title 1, P.L. 107-63.

Perceptions among all participatory stakeholder groups indicate that the CSCP implementation process has been very successful in achieving wise agreements. Unanimously, landowner participants who placed conservation easements on their property and entered into management agreements with CDOW believe their agreements are "wise" (Fisher, Ury and Patton 1991, p4).

Results further indicate that relationships between the parties--CDOW, the Ranchland League and participatory landowners--were improved through negotiation and consummation of conservation easements and management agreements in each of the embedded cases. Perceptions of CDOW by landowners adjacent to and near CSCP properties, according to interviewees, appear to have been enhanced as a result of successful CSCP negotiation and implementation.

Each side's legitimate interests were met to a large extent through CSCP implementation in that landowners received, in varying degrees, a needed financial boost to keep their operations economically viable, thus allowing them the opportunity to continue their chosen lifestyle. CDOW's interests of preserving targeted habitat for at-risk species, and in turn increasing the probability of avoiding ESA listings, have been met through conservation easements and management agreements with landowners. Management agreements, coupled with attendant monitoring, should ensure that habitat is managed for the maximum benefit of species while allowing agricultural operations to continue.

Conflicting interests were resolved fairly through win-win, amicable negotiations and ongoing communication between CDOW and participating landowners. On-the-ground monitoring of the agreements should help prevent future conflicts. The agreements are durable since all but one are in perpetuity (the other is for 30 years), provide for regular monitoring and have been arrived at democratically through regular dialogue with landowners, neighbors, and the participation and approval of local (county commissioners) and state (representatives and senators) elected officials. This participatory democratic process has helped insure that community interests have been taken into account and should continue to do so by helping to preserve the rural/agricultural fabric of the affected communities.

Neighbors view CSCP as a tool that potentially can protect adjacent landowners from ESA restrictions. Overall, the successful implementation of CSCP has pleased neighboring landowners--or at least has not displeased them --since none have complained about successfully negotiated agreements.

The contextual and elemental factors of the Colorado Species Conservation Partnership have been instrumental to the successful state policy implementation of CSCP in achieving a quantitative net gain in acres for designated species and securing "wise" management agreements. Successful CSCP implementation has positively transformed political and social attitudes concerning CDOW and, to a lesser degree, the ESA while successfully providing economic incentives in a poor agricultural market. Win-win, principled negotiation (Fisher, Ury & Patton 1994) of conservation easements and management agreements along with financial incentives have allowed participating landowners and their neighbors to continue their rural, agricultural lifestyle and thus maintain the rural/agriculturally-based social fabric of their communities.

Conclusion

On a continuum that runs from very successful to very unsuccessful (Schneider 1999, Lester & Goggin 1998), the Colorado Species Conservation Partnership (CSCP) implementation process has been very successful--to date--in achieving the desired results of wise habitat conservation and species management agreements between landowners, the Colorado Division of Wildlife (CDOW) (and in certain cases, a third party, non-governmental organization) for critical, threatened, and endangered species. This conclusion is based on Pressman & Wildavsky's (1984, pxxiii) definition of implementation as "forging subsequent links in the causal chain so as to obtain desired results" in a process of interaction between the setting of goals and actions geared to achieving them. The research examined links in the causal chain (implementation) between X (initial conditions) and Y (future consequences), not the long-term results of the linkage. The study adopted the premise, gleaned from the literature, that CDOW Area Wildlife Conservation Biologists--the "street-level" implementers--and the agreements they accomplished between the parties (CDOW, landowners and land trusts) are a bridge (or intervening links in the causal chain) between X and Y.

In this case study, X was the species protection tools of the Colorado Division of Wildlife (the "authority"), land conservation tools and incentives to actively assist and induce private landowners to manage and protect Colorado's dwindling species and their essential habitat. Y (the "desired results," or outcome) was securing habitat conservation and management agreements with selected, voluntary landowners in order to begin to recover Colorado's declining species, prevent their further decline, move them toward downlisting and delisting while not undermining the financial viability of any agricultural operation (Colorado Division of Wildlife 2003-2005). CSCP was then, the intervening variable.

The emergent evidence--member-checked by participants for accuracy --verifies and advances much of the implementation literature, pushes forward the frontier of implementation knowledge and provides a formative evaluation of CSCP implementation while generalizing (i.e. providing research-based theoretical and practical guidelines) for policy theoreticians and practitioners. Heeding the literature's advice to study implementation while it is occurring (Schneider 1999, Williams 1982) proved beneficial to this study, since CDOW as well as theoreticians and practitioners elsewhere, if they consider it warranted, can now adjust future implementation actions such as altering implementation strategies, changing discretionary choices, solving problems, pre-empting possible flaws and providing impetus to change the policy if necessary.

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Yin, Robert K. 2003. 1989. 1984. Case Study Research: Design and Methods. Thousand Oaks: Sage.

Matt Bergles (1)

(1) kmbergles@comcast.net

303-909-0831

303-388-8204

Matt Bergles recently completed his doctoral studies in Public Affairs at the Graduate School of Public Affairs/University of Colorado at Denver, where he focused on the relationship between growth and development and wildlife. A Colorado native, he is a candidate for the Colorado General Assembly, and a husband and father.
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Author:Bergles, Matt
Publication:Endangered Species Update
Date:Oct 1, 2006
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