Interview with Charlie Pelizza
Ms. Sexton: Welcome to the new podcast Series, Conservation in HD! I’m Natalie Sexton with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Human Dimensions Branch in Refuges and this podcast series is part of an effort to put tools and resources related to human dimensions into the hands of natural resource practitioners. This is the collaboration with the Human Dimensions Branch and NCTC Conservation Land Management Branch. In today’s podcast, “Beyond the Blue Goose Signs,” we will focus on human dimensions of landscape conservation and here with me today is Charlie Pelizza, Project Leader for Everglades Headwaters Refuge Complex. Hi Charlie!
Mr. Pelizza: Hi Natalie. I’m glad to be here.
Ms. Sexton: Yes. So we thought we’d talk a little bit about the Everglades Headwaters Project to get some insight into landscape conservation and, you know, thinking about it historically you managed our first wildlife refuge, Pelican Island, and one of our most recent refuges, Everglades Headwaters, and you know back in 1903 Teddy Roosevelt said, was there any law that will prevent me from declaring Pelican Island a federal bird reservation and when he was told no, he said, very well, then I so declare it and I think about that and think about Everglades Headwaters. Compare and contrast those two refuges a little bit and set that historical context for us.
Mr. Pelizza: Way back when Teddy Roosevelt established Pelican Island we were thinking very specifically on points on a map and resources that needed to be protected and conserved and for a long time that’s how we established national wildlife refuges in this country. We were looking at the finite resources, enclosing them all within the box behind the Blue Goose signs and recently we’ve had to think larger at a bigger landscape scale and so we’re not only involving the scientific community but we’re also looking at the social landscape as well involving the communities and talking about establishing refuges and what their interests are as well.
Ms. Sexton: So for this project, what necessitated this landscape approach outside the Blue Goose boundary as you say?
Mr. Pelizza: Well, a couple of things. One, is we looked at the resource needs for the animal communities that were present in South Florida and some of those have large distributions range widely across the landscape so there’s a need to connect conservation lands for species like Florida panthers and Florida black bear, but there’s also a human component where we’re looking at a population of 13 million people that derive either their drinking water or their recreational activities from this greater everglades ecosystem and that really was what drove us to be looking at the larger landscape.
Ms. Sexton: So it sounds like you were thinking more than just the ecological landscape? Tell me a little bit more about that.
Mr. Pelizza: Yes, as we move through the design of this project we had to look at three different components and as biologist and ecologists, we’re really good at the scientific component of it, that particular portion of the landscape, looking at the science that’s there to drive us to make our decisions ecologically, but we also had to be looking at the social landscape, who are constituents are, who are the landowners, what are their needs and interest in the landscape and we also have to consider the politics of the area as well.
Ms. Sexton: What was that like?
Mr. Pelizza: That was pretty interesting. We were establishing this refuge during an election year and so politics came into play a great deal especially later on when we were getting ready to establish the refuge.
Ms. Sexton: So Charlie, going back to that social landscape and thinking about – I’m assuming that you had a lot of partnerships that you had to establish to make this happen? Can you talk a little bit about that?
Mr. Pelizza: Yes. We had a couple of really key partnerships when we were designing this project. The National Wildlife Refuge Association and the Nature Conservancy were really instrumental in introducing us to the ranching community and getting us introduced to the landscape and really building a relationship with them and then also we had a relationship that we built and developed with the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and if it wasn’t for them and they really stood with us the entire time.
Ms. Sexton: That’s the Florida State …
Mr. Pelizza: The State agency. And they were the ones that really stood with us and helped us bridge a gap with the sportsmen’s community.
Ms. Sexton: Okay. So using some of those allies as connectors to some of those other stakeholders.
Mr. Pelizza: Yes.
Ms. Sexton: How did you and others cultivate and care for these relationships because this happened over a period of time and you’re probably still working with some of those groups?
Mr. Pelizza: Yes. Well, one of the things that we didn’t do real well is in working with the sportsmen’s community, the refuge system has had a long history of wonderful relations with the hunting, fishing, bird watching communities, and we took it for granted that the sportsmen in South Florida would also be very receptive to having a new national refuge in the area, but they had some past history with Federal agencies that we were unaware of and we didn’t do enough background homework in understanding their needs and their interests and that is when the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commissions stepped in and really helped bridge that gap with us in trying to mend those fences and over the entire course of the project we’ve been meeting with them and getting to understand their needs and their issues and their concerns and trying to address them.
Ms. Sexton: And so how did you learn that they weren’t maybe quite on board?
Mr. Pelizza: We learned real quick during our first public meeting when we announced the project.
Ms. Sexton: Oh, public meeting.
Mr. Pelizza: Oh, yes! And it was quite a shock. We thought when we saw the camo and the airboats in the parking lot that we were in for a wonderful reception and that we were going to be embraced and it was the exact opposite.
Ms. Sexton: So how did you handle that?
Mr. Pelizza: Well, like I said, you know, when we started talking with Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the refuge association, we started meeting with them on a personal basis and getting to really understand their psyche, what’s driving them, what their interest and their concerns were and it’s a long term commitment and we’re still working with them to talk about the refuge system, what we can bring to the table and how we can best meet their interests.
Ms. Sexton: So it sounds like you used some alternative ways of connecting with them in addition to those first public meetings.
Mr. Pelizza: Yes. If we had to do it over again, I think what we would have done is spent a little more time getting to know all of our constituents and we did a really good job with the ranching community, getting to know them and understanding their concerns and their needs, but we didn’t understand what we considered our traditional user groups and we should have done a lot more work then. Probably could have used some assistance in having some information brought to us.
Ms. Sexton: Uh-huh.
Mr. Pelizza: So what we really could have benefitted from when we started this project is a little more information and data on the social aspects of the project and I think there’s more and more recognition that needs to become more a part of how we build our design into our projects and where we could relate to and have a need for what your office brings to the table.
Ms. Sexton: Yes, you know, I’m seeing that too with the establishment of the Human Dimensions Branch and Refuges and just a lot of other activity and recognition going on in the Service. You know, we’ve been doing this intuitively for a long time and our great mentor Aldo Leopold was talking about it in the thirties when he said that what interests me is the relationship of people with each other and people to the land, so not really new, but I think that what is new is figuring out how do we bring the social sciences into the decision context and, you know, I think it really just relates back to relevancy not only in doing the most effective and efficient conservation at this landscape scale but also having relevancy for the American public to ensure that continued conservation ethic and the support that we need to do our work, but, as you know it’s not easy. It’s hard stuff. It’s a lot of trial and error, but there is disciplines and methods in the social sciences that can definitely inform throughout the process and I’m wondering what do you feel like are some of the lessons that you learned through this process?
Mr. Pelizza: Well, I think one of the things that we learned is that we should have spent a little more time dealing with that social landscape and understanding who are constituents were and bring them into the process and we actually did make good use of them when we were doing the design for this project and it had a lot to do with how we structured where we’re looking at conservation for the landscape. I think as we go forward in time we have to look beyond those boundaries, beyond the Blue Goose signs and incorporate the needs of society in our designs because if you look at the projects that are currently moving forward: The Crown of the Continent; Dakota Grasslands; Everglades Headwaters, these are all projects that really rely on conservation easements, working with the local communities and the users of the landscape. We need to recognize that it’s not only the Fish and Wildlife Service and we’re just one of many players in the landscape of conservation. We have our partner agencies and organizations, the landowners as well as the special interest groups that all play a key part in conservation across larger landscapes.
Ms. Sexton: So what’s the next chapter in this story, Charlie?
Mr. Pelizza: Well, it’s been a wonderful opportunity to establish a new national wildlife refuge. I spent a little bit of time in J. Clark Salyer shoes and I can only imagine what he felt at the end of the day establishing all of the refuges that he did in the Dakotas, but what’s really interesting is the partnerships that we’ve developed through this project. We have partnerships now with the Department of Defense and USDA in helping them do conservation in the landscape as well and that’s really the exciting and challenging part that brings me to work every day.
Ms. Sexton: Well, thank you so much, Charlie. I really appreciate our time together. If you’ve got questions for Charlie feel free to give him an email. He can be reached at Charlie_Pelizza@fws.gov and for those of you listening I hope this gives you some insight into your own conservation efforts happening at a more landscape scale and I hope that you’ll plan to view our next live HD broadcast on October 1st where we’ll be talking more about this topic with Charlie and others and this conservation in HD podcast series, this is just the first. Our next one is going to be “How to Know it When You See It,” talking a little bit more about how to address the human dimensions of conservation and the social sciences. So if you’re interested on being on notification for these podcasts and also if you have suggestions for future topics, please email me at Natalie_Sexton@fws.gov. Thanks for tuning in!
Click tabs to swap between content that is broken into logical sections.