U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Directorate Decision

Executive Summary


Conceptual Framework




References Cited

List of Tables

List of Figures

V D. Ecosystem Boundaries, Teams, and Partnering

These three aspects of the Ecosystem Approach were often discussed or commented on in parallel. The ecosystem boundaries set the parameters within which teams operated and the teams were seen as mechanisms for promoting more effective partner involvement. Each of these issues also received much attention during discussion of recommendations.

Recommendation 7: Leave the ecosystem boundaries as they are.

As reported in Chapter IV, several individuals interviewed and focus groups involved in the data collection process felt that the Service should reconsider its current ecosystem boundaries. Some expressed concern that the boundaries do not match those of other agencies and therefore make partnership difficult. Others cited the fact that critical ecosystems, such as the Prairie Potholes region, were artificially divided through the use of watershed boundaries. Finally, the existence of ecosystems that cut across Regional lines reportedly create situations where either 1) competition for control is keen, or 2) the exact opposite, where the ecosystem and its issues are ignored by all Regions involved. The impact of ecosystem boundaries was not addressed in the questionnaire, but comments written by respondents were consistent with these observations.

Although these concerns are valid and should be addressed by the Service as the Ecosystem Approach philosophy is further implemented, the magnitude of their impact does not seem to warrant a reconfiguration of boundaries and the subsequent disruption. There are too many higher priority actions currently facing the Service. The Assessment Team recommends that the watershed boundaries continue to be used and that the Regional Directors who have concerns about the impact of boundary definitions on resource management decision making or partnerships raise these issues for discussion and resolution. Some of this discussion may result in minor redrawing of boundaries.

Recommendation 8: Keep the ecosystem teams in place, but support them in becoming more issue focused.

As noted above, the Assessment Team recommends that ecosystem boundaries remain intact. In concert with this it is recommended that the teams formed for each ecosystem continue to meet. It was the overwhelming opinion of Service personnel that the cross program understanding and resource sharing that resulted from team activity is the greatest accomplishment thus far of the Ecosystem Approach and associated organizational changes. However, there was a strong cry to provide the teams with additional guidance and support. These findings were consistent across all data collected.

Many of the ecosystem teams exist in name only. Some, however, are flourishing. The differences seem slight, but significant. The teams that are functioning effectively have two key elements in common. They have coalesced around one or a small number of key resource management issues that are often of concern to partners and stakeholders as well. Through their mutual concern and interest, team members and partners have found creative ways to cooperate, share resources, and learn from one another.

There is also a spark of nontraditional leadership present in the teams that seem to be operating successfully. One or more people in these teams have motivated the group to grasp of situation and work to improve it, regardless of whether or not they have funding or formal authority. Often these groups have successfully worked outside traditional channels although they have been careful to inform themselves fully of the political climate in which they are operating.

As a result of these, findings the Assessment Team recommends that each ecosystem continue to have at least one team. This is consistent with the recommendations discussed in Chapter IV. In most ecosystems however, multiple subteams should be formed to address specific resource issues. For instance, in the interviews and focus groups, several references were made to the difficulty the full Upper Mississippi ecosystem team has had in coming together around a common set of concerns. The extent of geography and range of issues have made identifying a central list of issues, of concern to all, nearly impossible to achieve. However, there are critical issues associated with the river itself and with the plains on either side. This group should be encouraged to meet once or twice a year as a full group to share information and to discuss emerging issues. However, the major activity should be focused in subgroups. Though subteams exist in some ecosystems today, they should become more the norm than the exception.

In some cases, issues may cross ecosystem boundaries and/or Regional lines. Subteam leaders should be encouraged to disregard boundaries when soliciting membership. Membership should be determined by the issue and resource management challenge, not the administrative jurisdiction. Managers should still be involved in the final approval of their people as members of teams, but should be sensitive to resource needs when making their decisions. They should be applauded and rewarded for their efforts to support critical activity outside their area of responsibility.

The questionnaire, interview, and focus group data showed that many teams currently involve only project leaders. The cross-programmatic understanding that has developed due to team activity has touched a small percentage of Service personnel. Washington and Regional office staff should be included on teams as issues warrant and these individuals should be encouraged, if not expected, to participate in teams that are discussing issues they are interested in and can assist in addressing. Technical experts (e.g., a contaminants expert) could serve as full members of teams or as technical advisors to many teams. Project leaders should be held accountable for involving their staffs in the issue-focused subteams that develop over time.

Most people who discussed teams in their interviews, focus groups, or questionnaires comments recommended that the teams not be held accountable for budget responsibility or for the creation of elaborate written plans. The recommended funding mechanisms for team activities will be discussed in the Structure and Budget section later in this document. Most people did recommend that the teams be held accountable for addressing on-the-ground resource issues. The Assessment Team members agree with all of these recommendations. Teams and subteams should spend their time sharing information and dealing with resource challenges. People in management roles with team input should create budgets and reports necessary to support the work.

Team members need more guidance and education about how to work together in teams and how to anticipate and manage the unique political and social circumstances in which they are functioning. The first of these needs should be addressed through training and the support of a facilitator (in many cases Ecosystem Coordinators have played this role successfully).

The second need must be addressed by Service leaders. Many people involved in the data collection processes suggested that teams were often left to make decisions in the name of "empowerment," but were not informed enough to make good decisions that addressed all of the relevant technical, political, and social considerations. As a result, team decisions were overruled and the teams lost energy. It is the responsibility of leaders to educate teams and then hold them accountable for making effective decisions. This theme will be addressed again in the Structure and Budget section.

Recommendation 9: More fully incorporate partners and stakeholders in teams.

Data collected for this assessment generally showed that the Service has become more active in partnering over the past three years. However, the extent of partnering is well below the expectations of most people who participated in the data collection effort and partnering was usually not mentioned by most interviewees without prompting. The full enactment of an Ecosystem Approach mindset and the demands of today's political, economic, and social environment suggest that partnering needs to become more prevalent.

Like ecosystem management, partnering needs to take place at many levels. Formal partnerships should be created at the Washington level with the National offices of other agencies and constituency groups. This process should be replicated at the Regional level. The Regional Directors and some Washington officials seem able to foster these types of partnerships, but Service leadership in general needs more of these skills. In addition, there is a reported need to focus more attention on potential partners who do not always agree with Service policies. The stories told through the partner letters, the interviews and focus groups revealed a concern that the Service talks only to people who generally agree with the agency.

At the local level, partnerships seems to be a confusing concept. Many field people reported a history of working informally with local constituents, agencies, and landowners. They expressed concern that the recent focus on partnerships has resulted in a "if you can't count it, it doesn't exist" mentality, which requires a formality to partnerships that is unrealistic and unproductive at the local level. One interviewee said "you are never going to get a farmer to sign a formal partnership agreement, but he might well work with you to reestablish a wetland on his land if you let him graze a few cows on part of your land. This is the type of deal you strike over coffee, not in a formal partnership meeting." The issue-focused subteams should become a major focus of the informal and formal partnering activities at the local level. Issue-focused subteams should be expected to develop a partnership strategy that identifies and targets important potential partners and involves them appropriately. In some cases, the subteam may decide to join actions already begun by potential or current partners. In others it may work to motivate partners to charter discussions around their issues of interest. The partnership strategy they choose should be consistent with the political and social norms of their geographic area. However, they should be held accountable for partnering with both friends and objectors.

Both informal and formal partnership activity needs to be fostered and people need to be trained in how to effectively create and negotiate partnerships. There is a great deal of confusion between the terms "partners" and "stakeholders" which needs clarification. These terms apparently take on specific meanings in the courses the Service offers, but these meaning do not seem to be utilized in official documents about partnering. These terminology inconsistencies should be addressed.

Comments from the stakeholder letters also indicate that Service personnel need to learn to function as team members in settings where majority interest in an issue is held by a partner or partner(s). Stakeholders pointed out that Service personnel often try to assume leadership and agenda setting without considering the stake held by other federal and/or state agencies. Since most landscape scale ecosystem issues require consideration beyond Service holdings, negotiating skills and an understanding of collaboration are critical. In some cases, Service personnel may be involved in influencing a partner to initiate team activities; in others they may simply be joining an existing team or discussion.

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