ROCKPORT PILOT

Balance of Human, Whooper Needs Sought

Sep 23, 2010 | Rockport Pilot | Related Press

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Anyone interested in developing a community-based planning process seeking to balance human needs with those of the recovery of the whooping crane are urged to attended a kickoff meeting for Community-Based Planning (CBP) around the Whooping Crane. That session will be held at 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 30, at the Paws and Taws Fulton Convention Center.

This is a project of the Texas A&M Institute of Renewable Natural Resources. Program representatives Leigh Bernacchi and Chara Ragland from Texas A&M University’s Agrilife Research and Extension office addressed the Aransas County commissioners court Monday, Sept. 13 regarding the meeting and project.

It was explained the area surrounding Aransas National Wildlife Refuge serves the diverse needs of many individuals, communities and industries in coastal Texas as well as the endangered Whooping Crane. Meeting the demands for both humans and this species has become increasingly difficult in the Aransas area and in other parts of the country. As a result, organizers began working on the development of a multi-stakeholder CBP program that will seek to balance the human needs with those of the recovery of this crane listed under the Endangered Species Act.

This project was designed to facilitate and to encourage local initiative for community-based planning. The project will also attempt to identify potential barriers that may affect progress in the development and implementation of program activities.

The process should enable community participants to generate recommendations for how such barriers can be avoided or transformed into opportunities. Information gained from this project will be used to provide program participants an increased understanding of how to conduct an effective collaborative process associated with a CBP program, while providing information to the natural resource management agencies for the development of future CBP processes. Researchers will be conducting as many as 100 interviews with community members and other interested stakeholders. They will also observe and document all public meetings associated with the program. Small focus groups and surveys may also be conducted as a means for gathering additional information.

Research began in the spring of 2010 as researchers began with a media analysis of cranes in the news and an attentive briefing about biological and resilience studies of the crane and the community. However, they are social science researchers, emphasizing environmental communication. They needed to know how people were communicating about their communities and the whooping crane. In accordance with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s request for a study of the capacity for a process, they set about to conduct 40 interviews to learn from locals about what they wanted for this place, their relationship with the crane, the current situation and future opportunities. The responses have been rich and rewarding, and have been augmented by informal communication online, through  listserv, and in person, Bernacchi and Ragland indicated.

It also was pointed out a litany of federal and state regulations has increased the power of the public in decision-making processes about natural resource management. The manner in which agencies engage the public can be as simple as accepting public comments to as intensive as citizen advisory committees who learn along with the officiating government body.

After much litigation and conflict, agencies, communities and wildlife are benefitting from more collaboration. In their continuing research of the community and of collaborative theory and practice, they are looking for evidence of an interest and capacity for developing a community-based planning around the Whooping Crane.

Researchers will be sharing initial findings from interviews as well as a review of how the community could structure its planning process. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will give a presentation about the current status of the Aransas-Wood Buffalo flock of Whooping Cranes. Part of the meeting will be dedicated to exploring participant feedback, and opening the conversation about how this process might move forward.

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