The nature of conservation evidence: Imperfect, but good enough (commentary)

The nature of conservation evidence: Imperfect, but good enough (commentary)

The best fictional detectives — Holmes, Tennison, Mars, Warshawski, Wallander — all employ their almost miraculous skills of observation and deduction to solve a whodunit. They rely on instinct, yes, but they also lean on lessons learned from past cases and clues gleaned from forensics and psychology so they can make decisions fast to keep up with and eventually catch the culprit. Today’s conservationists are not all that different. In the field, they often must decide quickly what actions to take based on whatever evidence is available at the time. There typically isn’t the luxury to engage in a more formal information-gathering process. Instead, they tap into their experience and a solid foundation in subjects like ecology and human behavior. Now, however, there is a push within the conservation community to move further toward a more extensive investigative process in order to prioritize what works and avoid funding failure. This is not a bad idea. But, if we are to be successful at this most urgent time for wildlife, we can’t lose sight of a lesson learned from Holmes and his colleagues: As was referenced in Mongabay’s original series on conservation evidence, evidence is lots of things, and when it comes to conservation, it should not be solely interpreted as randomized control trials and rigorous statistical analyses. Conservation evidence is also observations on the fly and anecdotes from past projects. It’s all the stuff that gives us confidence that we know whodunit. If we entangle our field staff in a…

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