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Recapturing a TNC Internal Forum for Invasives

Serbesoff-King, Kristina 10/26/2011

I have been with the Conservancy for just over seven years, the entire time as the invasive species program manager for TNC’s Florida program. During my tenure, I have been exposed to the Conservancy’s national and international work more broadly through a fortunate series of opportunities including, but not limited to:

  • Participating in and facilitating Eastern Invasives Learning Network meetings;
  • Participating on an aquatic non-native species panel;
  • Reviewing other TNC programs’ invasive species strategic plans and having theFlorida plan reviewed;
  • Assisting with the development of a plan for the North Carolina program;
  • Engaging in cross-program policy teams focused on invasive species;
  • Being trained and training others in the Weed Information Management System;
  • Starting and participating in the Caribbean-Florida Fire and Invasives Learning Network; and
  • Meeting colleagues from many of our U.S. programs as well as Mexico, South America, the Caribbean and China.

I am extremely grateful for these opportunities. This exposure to other state and country programs has broadened my perspective of our work. It has solidified my knowledge of invasive species as a major threat to the mission of the Conservancy. It has
made me a better scientist.

But in the past 2.5 years, since the dissolution of the Global Invasive Species Team (GIST), I have struggled to maintain these connections. I, along with others across the Conservancy, have attempted to step in and keep some high leverage work afloat (for
examples, see Doria Gordon’s article in this issue). I have represented the Conservancy on the U.S. National Invasive Species Advisory Committee for the past two years in order to maintain a conservation voice on that body (filling in the much-too-big shoes of
our former colleague Catherine Hazelwood). To the common question from state and national colleagues of “does TNC do invasives anymore?” I respond: “Yes, but we have delegated it to our state and country programs.” While I do believe that is true, I also
believe that our individual program as well as our global work on invasives has suffered from lack of coordination (Lowenstein 2011).

Invasive species pose a threat to our conservation targets everywhere we work and will not go away. Conservancy staff will continue to face hard decisions about how, or if, to address this threat (Jordan 2011). Our past and current efforts on this issue mean that our partners will also continue to rely on our expertise and collaboration. It is important that we have our own house in order.

My intent here is not to lament the loss of GIST, but rather propose one idea for recapturing a communication network for invasive species issues within TNC. I am also open to other ideas; however, I feel that this is a critical step for the Conservancy and that addressing invasives is necessary for us to achieve effective conservation.1

I would like to propose the formation of a TNC Invasive Species Advisory Committee, along the following steps:
Establish a TNC internal committee:

  • One person designated as lead to coordinate communications and requests.
  • Committee formed at WO level. All WO Group, Regions and Focal Area Directors and O.U. Directors need to know that this committee exists and that it should be used as an internal resource.
  • Members of this committee can be appointed or self-designated committee members with representation across NACR and international staff. At a minimum, the committee needs to include Bill Toomey, our new NACR forest health director, as well as perhaps five representative staff.

Committee Role

  • Coordinate peer review of state and country program invasive species efforts.
  • Review TNC focal area and external affairs/policy efforts that need invasive species issues to be considered (e.g., energy, Farm Bill, climate change, restoration, emergency response in the Gulf of Mexico, changes in SOPs, etc.)
  • Review internal and external Conservancy messaging that will discuss or reference invasive species (to ensure that as an organization we are not inadvertently undercutting our own science and stewardship efforts).
  • Review requests for biological control releases on TNC preserves and submit committee-approved requests to the Conservancy’s chief scientist.


  • TNC staff can submit requests to the committee as needed (i.e., the committee will not seek work, though committee members can submit requests).
  • Committee can identify TNC staff not on committee to assist with reviews as subject matter warrants. The idea is for this committee to coordinate but not conduct all efforts.
  • Committee will review biological control release requests within two weeks.
  • Committee will maintain information on reviews and committee decisions in order to build an archive of information for staff and to inform future decisions. Ideally, this archive will be maintained in a location accessible to TNC staff.
  • At least one committee member should join the TNC Stewardship listserv in order to provide feedback, if needed, and gain additional information on TNC work through the invasives discussions that occur in that forum.

IDEALLY: this committee will identify an avenue for communicating information on invasive species and strategies to address their impacts to all staff. We have many staff that have been hired in the last 3 years that are unaware of the resources that were lost
with GIST (Jacquart 2011).

Thoughts? Other ideas? This proposal is selfishly motivated. As an example, I have been serving as TNC’s voice on non-native animal import policy for the past 2.5 years. I would have liked to have had a mechanism for ensuring that all those TNC scientists and practitioners dealing with non-native wildlife threats were aware of that work. While I have reached out to many in our organization and to others in my field to provide assistance on this effort, I likely have missed engaging needed expertise from TNC’s wildlife biologists. Equally important, I would gain going forward critical review of my work from a network of peers.

The loss of GIST significantly impacted my work. However, I know that the Conservancy continues to do crucial conservation and that many of us are faced with addressing the threat of invasive species as a part of our jobs. Recapturing an internal forum for invasives will benefit the Conservancy, starting with increasing our communication and our opportunity for peer review on this issue (for more on growing the Conservancy through sharing knowledge, I highly recommend reading the new “Knowledge Initiative Report”2). To further emphasize Frank Lowenstein’s point (Lowenstein 2011), this communication should not only be among operating units (lateral), but among staff who work at site, system and global scales (vertical).

Thanks to Doria Gordon, Doug Pearsall and Ellen Jacquart for assistance and review.

Jacquart, E. 2011. Knowing (and sharing) the difference between ‘non-native’ and ‘invasive.’ Science Chronicles

Jordan, M. 2011. You can’t evolve if you’re extinct: Novel ecosystems & the forgotten food web. Science Chronicles

Lowenstein, F. 2011. Global homogenization, invasives and the Conservancy’s mission. Science Chronicles

Image credit: philipbouchard/Flickr.