The 2017 Pathways Conference took place 17-20 September in the Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, USA. Pathways to Success: Integrating Human Dimensions into Fish and Wildlife Management was an international gathering of over 270 scientists, NGOs, and government agencies from 20 countries. Its theme was FUTURES, addressing the myriad of issues that arise as people and wildlife struggle to coexist in a sustainable and healthy manner. Pathways 2017 was hosted by Colorado State University in partnership with the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
Keynote speakers included Dan Ashe (President and CEO of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums), Joel Berger (Director of a number of projects for the Wildlife Conservation Society, or WCS) and Laurie Marker (Founder and Executive Director of the Cheetah Conservation Fund). In his speech, Dan Ashe called for a more integrated approach to conservation. Such an approach recognizes the human dimensions of fish and wildlife management as the main focus of conservation, not just ‘the social aspect’ of it. Joel Berger subsequently presented several WCS projects in cold and dry locations worldwide, including the success story of the critically endangered saiga antelope (Saiga tatarica), of which recent surveys found more individuals than previously thought. He also spoke of the less successful story of wild animals competing for pasture with a special breed of domestic goat. As the number of these goats has increased dramatically over the past few years, due to growing demand for Pashmina products made with their fine cashmere wool, so too have associated conflicts. The third speaker, Laurie Marker, discussed the amazing story of the Cheetah Conservation Fund and its achievements in East and Southern Africa.
In addition to these captivating sessions, a session on Understanding the Connections Between Humans and Wildlife was organised in tribute to the late Dr. Stephen Kellert (Professor Emeritus of Social Ecology at Yale and author of several books). Several of his former students presented their work, and many of his colleagues and friends were in attendance.
The setting in the middle of the Rocky Mountains was perfect for discussing human-wildlife issues. Elk, mule deer, and even wild turkeys roamed between buildings day and night. Conference participants and tourists alike were amazed at these encounters, constantly taking pictures. With aspen trees changing the colour of their leaves from yellow to orange to to red, and the high mountains covered in snow, the views were stunning – although the location was slightly cold for participants from tropical and Mediterranean climates!
Several social events were organised to promote networking, from a poster session with cheese and wine to a barbecue which even included marshmallow roasting (imagine!). We made new friends, discussed future projects and collaborations, and learned from one another. It was a jam-packed few days, but incredibly fruitful.
The next Pathways Conference will take place in Windhoek, Namibia, 8-11 January 2018. Training will focus on community-based conservation and monitoring, education, human-wildlife conflict mitigation, communication, and more. Keep an eye on the Pathways Africa website for further information. While the setting will not be quite as mountainous, I am sure it will be just as interesting – if not more!
Written by Aida Cuni-Sanchez. Aida is a postdoc with MRI Science Leadership Council (SLC) member Julia Klein at Colorado State University (USA) and is also working in collaboration with MRI SLC member Rob Marchant from the University of York (UK). This blog was first published on the Mountain Sentinels website on 3 November 2017.