EEB 489: Conservation and the Endangered Species Act (Spring 2008)

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This semester we will examine the status of conservation in the United States, through a detailed examination of the role that the Endangered Species Act has played. We will read a pair of books that resulted from "The Endangered Species Act at Thirty project". Volume 1 (Goble et al. 2006) focuses more on political issues relating to the Act; volume 2 (Scott et al. 2006) focuses more on the biology. But the two topics are inextricably linked and collectively the two volumes provide a comprehensive overview of the state of conservation in the country, with chapters by many of the leading players involved with putting conservation into action.

To learn more about the project that these books arose from, you can check out this YouTube link.

Expectations

Each week we will read chapters from the books and discuss them in class. Discussions will be led by students, and everyone is expected to sign up for a week to lead the discussion. The schedule is posted below.

Discussion leaders: My expectation is that you will present a 5-10 minute (NO MORE!) introduction to the topic. Your introduction should draw on the readings, but should not simply re-state what we have all read. Simply reiterating what the readings say is boring and doesn't accomplish much. Instead, your job as leader is to get a discussion going. This is hard (and I will help), but far more interesting for everyone involved. Here are some tips:

  • Make sure that you have enough to say to keep things moving, but do not feel that you have to say everything that you have thought of or cover every idea in the readings. If the conversation is going well, let it. The worst thing that can happen is that no one says anything. The next worst thing is that the leader completely dominates the conversation (I can be guilty of this sin myself, so feel free to cut me off if I'm talking too much).
  • In your introduction, try to synthesize the material and draw out the major points. What are the 5 things you'd tell your parents if you were going to explain this to them over dinner - the chances are good that these are the same things we should be focused on. Also, feel free to supplement the reading material with other information on the topic to broaden the discussion.
  • Come with a list of questions to ask (more than you think you'll need). The more specific the questions are the better, as this makes them easier for people to respond to. Preferably, email around some questions a day or two before class so that people can think about them while they are reading the materials (if you email them to me, I will forward them to the rest of the class).
  • Ask people what surprised them, and why. If you're not leading, think how you'd answer this question. If people complain about the readings, ask them how things could have been done better, or what needs to be done next.
  • Where possible, try to relate your topic to those we have discussed in previous weeks so that the ideas covered by the class build over the course of the semester.
  • Being purposefully provocative (even if you don't believe what you're saying) can often help to get people talking. If the material is appropriate, set the discussion up as a debate - tell half the class that they have to argue one side and the other half that they have to argue the opposite. This approach can force people to really think about the ideas and about their preconceptions. If you are going to do this, it is best to warn people ahead of time (though don't tell them which side they will be on).
  • When you ask a question, give people lots of time to respond. A good rule is to (slowly) count to 10 in your head before moving on. This is because (a) it often takes people this long to formulate something to say and (b) the uncomfortable silence (and it can be excruciating) is often what it takes to get people talking. This sounds (and can feel) horrible, but it really works, and the discussions that result are much richer.
  • If no one answers a question, and there is a simple yes/no, do you agree/disagree, type answer, then ask for a show of hands - then you can focus in on individuals and ask them to explain their response.
  • Don't pick on individuals and make them comment unless you have to. But if no one says anything, then it is OK to do this. Everyone else is responsible for reading and thinking about the material too, so it should not be a surprise to them. Even though you are in charge of running things, the responsibility for maintaining a discussion lies with everyone in the room.
  • Finally, in weeks when you are not leading, make sure that you have thought about the material enough that you can help the leader out. Come with at least 2 or 3 ideas to talk about if things get too quiet. If the leader has sent out questions, actually think about them before class. And be responsible about doing the reading. If you do all this stuff, others will do the same when it's your turn to lead.

The hardest part is getting the conversation started. Once it's going, it will often run itself - and if it is doing this you should let it. I've been running seminars for a few years now, and I'm only just getting to where I realize that my job is to say as little as possible. If I talk the whole time, then I'm essentially lecturing ... and this is not a lecture format ... the goals are very different, they are to get people thinking on their feet and discussing ideas to help them learn the stuff for themselves. But, it is your job to make sure that we are not just subjected to silence.

PowerPoint: I don't really mind whether you use PowerPoint or not, but if you do, it should be to help maintain a conversation. If there are figures that you want to ask questions about, then putting them up on a screen can really help. Likewise, having your questions on screen for people to refer to can be useful. I will reserve a projector for each class session, but you will need to go and get it from the EEB office before class. If you do not have a laptop, let me know and I will bring mine.

Grading: The course is S/U and it is unusual for people to fail. But, if you hardly ever participate in the discussions, it will happen.


If you have never led a discussion in a seminar course before, or feel nervous about doing so, please talk to me beforehand. It isn't as hard as it might seem, and it's always easier if you're well prepared and know what to expect.

Schedule

A class schedule is posted here. If you have EEBedia editing rights then you can go in and sign up for a week yourself. If you do not, email me and tell me which week you'd like to lead so that I can put you on the schedule. If you are flexible on your topic/date, then include a note so that others know they can move things around. DO NOT MOVE ANYONE TO A DIFFERENT SLOT WITHOUT ASKING THEM FIRST. After the first meeting, I will assign topics to anyone who has not yet signed up.

Note that the chapters are not long and the pages are not large, so the readings are not as onerous as they might look. We're going to switch back and forth between the two volumes in order to keep thematically related chapters together, so make sure you are reading the correct chapters from the correct volume each week.


Week Who Topic Reading Notes
23th Jan Chris History of rare species protection Vol.2 Chapters 1-3
30th Jan Michael What has been protected? Vol.1 Chapters 1-3
6th Feb Laura The listing record Vol.1 Chapters 4-6
13th Feb Vanessa Protecting habitat Vol.1 Chapters 7-8; Vol. 2 Chapter 13
20th Feb Sue Private lands Vol.1 Chapters 9-11 Case study of ESA applied to private landsPdficon small.gif
27th Feb Jason Who does conservation? Vol.1 Chapters 12-15
5th Mar Kristina The science of nature protection Vol. 2 Chapters 6-8
12th Mar ---- NO MEETING: SPRING BREAK ---- Speaking of Am. Pronghorn protection
19th Mar Musa Science in the real world Vol. 2 Chapters 9-10
26th Mar Benjamin T. Defining population units Vol. 2 Chapters 11-12
2nd Apr Jessica Values Vol.2 Chapters 4-5, 14-15
9th Apr Polik Incentives to do good Vol 1. Chapter 20; Vol. 2 Chapters 16-18
16th Apr Benjamin P. Conservation in human landscapes Vol. 2 Chapters 19-22
23rd Apr Nicola Looking forward Vol. 1, Chapters 16-19
30th Apr Chris Next generation initiatives Vol. 1 Chapters 21-24 I'm willing to switch dates (but prefer not to)

Discussion/News

If you have any information related to the course (e.g., relevant news items, related web links, etc.), feel free to post it here. Please put the date first, then your name, following the format shown below; be concise; and organize the list so that items are in reverse chronological order. If you're not an EEB graduate student, then you can email items to me and I will add them, but please send them to me in the right format.

4/23 Posted by Nicola: Here are some links to "ESA-like" laws around the world: [1] [2][3] [4][5]

4/17 Posted by Chris: This is the paper about agriculture that I mentioned in class this week: Green et al. 2005. Farming and the fate of wild nature. Science 307: 550 - 555.

4/17 Posted by Nicola:The delicate balance between humans and conservation of natural resources ...[6]

3/1 Posted by Chris: New York Times article on agriculture and endangered species .... is this critical habitat? In Tennessee, 2 Endangered Groups Meet by Chance

2/27 Posted by Chris: BBC News article on wolf de-listing: Grey wolf 'no longer endangered'

2/10 Posted by Chris: This news piece on NPR, Calif. Farmers Struggle with Reduced Water Supply, talks about the endangered Sacramento Delta smelt.

2/10 Posted by Chris: This paper from last summer relates to some of the bigger-picture issues we've been discussing in class: Kareiva, P., S. Watts, R. McDonald, T. Boucher. 2007. Domesticated nature: Shaping landscapes and ecosystems for human welfare. Science Science 316: 1866-1869.

And this one discusses the effectiveness of conservation policies in Europe: Donald, P.F., F.J. Sanderson, I.J. Burfield, S.M. Bierman, R.D. Gregory, Z. Waliczky. 2007. International conservation policy delivers benefits for birds in Europe. Science 317: 810-813.

1/20 Posted by Chris: This week's New York Times magazine has an article that mentions one of the concerns about the effectiveness of the ESA: the move by certain landowners to ensure that their land does not become suitable for rare species so that they do not become subject to the Act's provisions. The NYT article is here. Abstracts for the original research articles that are mentioned are here and here. This issue will come up later in the course.

1/8 Posted by Chris: For additional information on the ESA check out the links under "Course History" (below). You'll find the syllabus and readings from the version of this course that we did in 2004 (before the Goble and Scott books were published). Many of these papers are worth reading, especially if you are planning a career in conservation.

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