Conservation on a Regional Scale: Assessing the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative
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Trends in environmental and resource management point to a more collaborative, integrated and regional approach, discussed in terms of concepts such as ecosystem management and collaborative planning. Such an approach has the potential to address some of the shortfalls previously encountered in environmental management and nature conservation, and has been the focus of considerable discussion in the literature. While a number of efforts are underway, there remains a need to identify how a regional approach can best be undertaken in practice. This research assessed the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative (Y2Y), a recent regional conservation initiative in western North America, which has been the focus of considerable attention in the conservation community. This research assessed the strengths and limitations of the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative in terms of its contribution to regional conservation planning, aiming to gain an understanding of implications for similar regional conservation efforts. Literature relating to regional conservation was examined to derive principles for effective regional conservation planning, as a basis for comparison with Y2Y. Drawing from needs of ecosystem management, collaborative planning, and related concepts, criteria were developed to assess the formative stages of a regional approach, emphasising capacity building measures and preconditions for success. In order to assess the strengths and limitations of Y2Y at a regional scale, this research attempted to obtain an understanding of how the Y2Y initiative was perceived by multiple stakeholders in regional conservation, as a basis for interpreting multi-stakeholder involvement and buy-in. A series of semi-structured interviews were conducted with a diverse range of individuals involved (directly and indirectly) in conservation planning, in two communities in the Y2Y region, Canmore and Crowsnest Pass, Alberta. These communities were selected to provide a degree of representation of areas within the Alberta portion of the Y2Y region. Perceptions of successes and obstacles of the initiative were compared with the criteria for effective regional conservation planning. Findings pointed to three recurring themes that influenced the initiative's ability to meet the criteria. These were the need to address both ecological and social components of conservation, the need to include diverse participants, and the need to operate at regional and local scales. These themes are consistent with limitations of traditional conservation and management practices critiqued in the literature, and suggest some substantial obstacles for employing a truly collaborative regional approach to conservation. Reflecting on the findings revealed that the Y2Y initiative was primarily understood as a vision. The Y2Y vision is one that has garnered a great deal of support and momentum, although there is a need to progress beyond the vision to address its potential and apply the ideals it puts forward. Recommendations of this study for Y2Y and similar initiatives included the need to build partnerships with more diverse groups, and the need for the Y2Y vision to be promoted in terms of some tangible, more specific goals. This study identified a need for biophysical, social science, and stakeholder information needs to be assessed and prioritised at the start of an initiative. Additionally, a vision was recognised as an effective rallying point from which to develop a regional conservation planning initiative.