"In the famous words of E.O. Wilson, we in conservation biology have a discipline with a deadline!"
As a Senior Director at WWF-Canada what is a typical work day like for you?
A typical work day is no longer bird surveys or pollination biology, as in my thesis days! It’s an odd but welcome mix of conservation science, public awareness, leadership of a team of science and sustainability staff, strategy development and fundraising! All skills are vital to success, especially in an environmental NGO like WWF. It’s a varied job for sure, but challenging and fun, in spite of the seriousness of the subject.
Do you have a conservation hero?
My conservation hero is the unsung worker who hangs in there, day in and day out, with modest support and often in trying conditions, attending community meetings, talking to landowners, finding allies and knitting networks, and regularly facing hostility, apathy and even personal danger. They have a long-term view, a remarkable patience for short-term ups and downs, and outstanding commitment to community service.
What makes your job right for you?
The chance to help the fundraisers, marketers, lawyers, policy experts, media staff and others understand the conservation challenge to priority species and habitat targets. It’s also vital that we conservation biologists tap our natural history knowledge to inform and motivate others about the urgency of the challenges and the opportunities to solve what are or might seem like desperate situations.
Steven Price, Senior Director, Conservation Science and Practice, WWF Canada
In your opinion, what are the biggest conservation challenges today in Canada?
In 2012, we have seen that the role of sound science as the foundation for conservation policy in Canada is severely eroding, due to sweeping reform by the federal government, in the face of decades of tradition and practice. We must re-establish appreciation for the role of science as a self-correcting system of inquiry and recommendation. I think also that society has not appreciated the extent to which species migration and other ecological ties bind nations together, and that the footprint of ingredients in our daily consumption of food and other products reaches like tentacles all around the globe, with alarming impacts.
You are a scientist with degrees in zoology and botany, but you are also a communicator. When and why did you decide that you wanted to take your message to the public?
There can be no conservation without communication, and indeed education. We need to reach out and understand one another’s contexts, history and challenges, then work toward achieving conservation goals vital to us all. All conservationists and indeed scientists really need to develop and practice their communications skills, if we are to serve society well and see the consequences of our work adopted in the real world.
What was your biggest challenge in learning how to become an effective communicator?
It’s taken a whole career for me to learn, accept and thoroughly apply what communications professionals will tell you on day one: that people aren’t moved by facts, but by stories, especially stories about people they can relate to. We can say that North American grassland species and habitats are among the most endangered in the world, but what people respond to is the hopeful story of the many dedicated people involved in the re-discovery, captive breeding and reintroduction of the black-footed ferret to the wild, in the U.S., Mexico and Canada.
When communicating with the public, what’s the biggest mistake a scientist can make?
I think we all fall into the trap of assuming communication is what we say. Communication is not what we say, nor even what’s heard, but what’s actually understood by the audience. Tell them a story involving people depending on lands and waters, and you’ll promote understanding.
Do you have any words of wisdom for aspiring conservation professionals, and for those with many years of experience?
It takes all types to succeed in conservation. Remember, biologists/conservation scientists can and should have the lead on identifying what’s at risk and what constitutes successful recovery, in terms of population size, diversity, protection and so forth. That said, what it takes to effect recovery in the social, cultural, business and governmental realms may be best led by others – the policy wonks, lawyers, social experts, indigenous peoples, accountants and marketers – but always measuring progress in the field using the indicators biologists identify as barometers of success. Sometimes we biologists feel we have the policy or media or business smarts – perhaps some of us do, but we should recruit with our knowledge and passion the support and advice of experts in those sectors, while holding on to our targets and indicators for guidance.
What do you like to do in your free time?
Natural history, birding, outdoors, canoeing. In 2011, I was part of a group of four who took two canoes with all our food and equipment some 1,500 km over 42 days from Yellowknife on Great Slave Lake in the Northwest Territories, along the Thelon River system to Baker Lake near Hudson Bay in Nunavut. It was a wonderful challenge and a delightful west-east transition from boreal forest to tundra. I find it important to recharge the batteries with a healthy dose of fresh air in the outdoors. After all, “inspiration” means both breathing in and inciting!
Please finish this sentence, SCB is a place for you to…
…meet, learn from and collaborate with like-minded people who share a commitment to conservation and an impatience for constructive action. In the famous words of E.O. Wilson, we in conservation biology have a discipline with a deadline!