BWS Director Eric Dinerstein – Why I Joined RESOLVE
Nov 21, 2014
For much of the past 25 years, I had a dream job—serving as WWF’s Chief Scientist and VP for Science, a coveted position that took me all over the world to work on behalf of endangered species and their habitats. The chance to continue to pursue my life’s mission entered a new chapter when, six months ago, Steve D’Esposito, the President and CEO of RESOLVE, made me one of those proverbial offers you can’t refuse. Come on over to our small NGO, he proposed, and bring your core team of innovators with you to create a new program, Biodiversity and Wildlife Solutions (BWS).
The move to RESOLVE seemed like a natural continuation of pursuing my passion and commitment to speaking for those species that have no voice in their own future. Since 1975, my mission in life has been to save endangered wildlife. My career began when, as a U.S. Peace Corps volunteer, Nepal’s Department of National Parks and Wildlife in Nepal, and their Chief Ecologist, Hemanta Mishra, assigned me to census tigers in the newly created Bardia Wildlife Reserve. After Peace Corps service, I returned to graduate school at the University of Washington and conducted research on tropical fruit bats in Costa Rica. After my PhD, I joined the Smithsonian’s Conservation and Research Center of the National Zoo to conduct five years of field research on rhinos and tigers in Nepal’s Chitwan National Park and then moved on to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). While at WWF, my science program gave birth to delineations of, and books on, the terrestrial, freshwater, and marine ecoregions of the world, the Global 200 ecoregions, ecoregion-based conservation, HydroSheds, Tiger Conservation Landscapes, and WildFinder. Our program also provided key support to important collaborations like the Global Tiger Summit, the Global Tiger Initiative, and the Alliance for Zero Extinction, among other initiatives.
The chance to innovate was what brought our team to RESOLVE. RESOLVE’s expanded vision to attract exciting new solutions-based programs—Peace Diamonds, Solutions for Hope, Resource Diplomacy Initiative, Resilient West Africa (post-Ebola crisis) to name a few—is what drew us in, a spirit to tackle big problems supported by a staff highly efficient but limited in number. One of the wisest and most experienced conservationists I know told me soon after joining RESOLVE: “Eric, I am convinced that in the future, the breakthroughs in conservation are going to come from those small NGOs, like yours, devoted to a few issues where a small team of experts can innovate without the bureaucracy of a large organization, that are nimble to seize opportunities, boots-on-the-ground, and pragmatic. You are on the right track.”
At BWS, our focus is laser-sharp. Our program targets two of the greatest conservation crises of our time: the approaching extinction of endangered wildlife and the destruction of tropical forests where more than 50% of the world’s species resides in only 5% of the land area. By combining creative, field-oriented approaches to conservation and technological innovations, we hope to add ideas, scalable projects, and solutions that can halt, even reverse these destructive trends. We have launched three new solutions-focused programs with these aims in mind. In each we seek to bring together leading partners from different sectors.
WildTech connects front-line wildlife conservationists with technology leaders to identify, adapt, and apply innovative science and technology to dramatically improve how we monitor and protect endangered wildlife and their habitats. The technologies we help catalyze will be open-source, low-cost, durable, efficient, and easy-to-use. For example, an upcoming post will feature David Olson, Nathan Hahn, of BWS and Marc Goss of the Mara Elephant Project as they train Tanzanian wildlife officials to use a low-cost, unmanned airborne vehicle designed to deter wild elephants from entering and destroying villagers’ croplands. We will also apply innovations from other sectors, such as networks for communication in remote areas and hidden cameras with face recognition and real-time image transmission, to help reduce illegal hunting of large mammals and other wildlife-related challenges. Pioneering the development and use of a variety of innovative technologies will improve the success of research teams and conservation agencies and, in turn, help us accelerate our understanding and the recovery of highly persecuted species.
Global Forest Watch Biodiversity is a partnership with World Resources Institute, a leading NGO that brought forth in February 2014 the most powerful new conservation tool in decades: an interactive website that displays near real-time updates of changes in tree cover across the world’s forests. This amazing tool greatly enhances our ability to map changes in tropical forests, where a disproportionate number of species live. For example, we recently used Global Forest Watch, to conduct, in collaboration with other tiger experts, the first ever State of the Tiger Habitat analysis. Conservation leaders in tiger-range countries are now considering this analysis of forest cover as the monitoring tool to measure progress towards protecting tiger habitat, a prerequisite to reach the goal of doubling the wild tiger population by 2022—the next Year of the Tiger in the Chinese calendar. Other applications of the monitoring tool—to aid conservation of elephants, great apes, rare vertebrates—are in the works.
The Biodiversity Leadership Forum, our newest venture, provides a platform in Washington, D.C. for efforts to bring together the leading thinkers and practitioners in conservation to ensure that biodiversity conservation remains an important consideration in the eyes of decision-makers and the public. A formational grant from the Weeden Family Foundation has launched this effort that will allow those interested in working across organizations for the good of nature conservation to connect with colleagues with whom to collaborate.
I know we can create an exciting, vibrant, and relevant program because we have done it before in creating the Conservation Science Program at WWF almost 25 years ago. Here at BWS, we can call upon a group of world-class scientists and conservationists with decades of experience across all the continents. Some of our team include familiar faces who have collaborated previously —including David Olson, Sue Palminteri, Eric Wikramanayake, Anup Joshi, Tom Allnutt, and independent adviser George Powell. They are joined by dozens of other advisers and contributors. Even my former Peace Corps boss, Hemanta Mishra, the winner of the Getty Prize for Conservation and the architect of Nepal’s exceptional protected area system, has joined our team.
Working with such seasoned conservation biologists offers a further advantage: it has the potential to attract and nurture the brightest young scientists and students to be mentored by the world’s best and save endangered wildlife. As our way of honoring the memory of Russell Train, the founder of WWF-US and the African Wildlife Foundation, who also helped nurture RESOLVE as it grew, we are committed to mentoring outstanding young biologists from the U.S. and from developing countries, place them into the field with our expert biologists, and then guide them to graduate programs to propel them on their careers.
The new journey has just started. Please join us in support of our programs and conservation!