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BDC Achievements, Challenges, and Support

The founders and supporters of BDC are responsible for three significant achievements in the conservation of biodiversity. These may be thought of as three steps towards rectifying the strategic mistake which Professor Wilson argues the world is making.

First is the development of concepts, methods, and protocols which address the questions: Which elements of biodiversity are in fact imperiled? Where exactly are these located on the landscape, so that proposed development projects can avoid destroying these valuable resources and positive, scientifically valid steps to preserve them can be taken? Focusing systematically on the status of biodiversity's elements (species and ecosystem types) rather than on the basically incomparable areas in which they occur was a simple but great stride forward, as was the gathering of data on each and every occurrence of elements of significance. Ranking elements, first preliminarily, then ultimately on the basis of occurrence data puts quantitative science behind conservation prioritizing. The development of software systems to enable implementation of the conceptual apparatus is also a major achievement. Starting back before the personal computer, then advancing with each leap in what hardware could enable, generation after generation of this software was drafted, tested in decision/data centers, and then further upgraded and improved. The design of the system is the major factor in helping it to endure.

Second is the propagation of this system throughout a substantial part of the world, the training of participants, and the tying of all together into a network. Securing this network on a lasting basis is a further contribution to world conservation -- one which has no end. This achievement rests on the key insight that entering into partnership with state and provincial government agencies and making the system meet their needs is essential. Government is one of the few things that endures forever, and the consequence of the partnership is to remove each program, and the network as a whole, from being limited-term studies. Instead they are enabled to become permanent institutions. This partnership also greatly -- very greatly -- expands the total funds available to the enterprise. A further aspect of propagation of the system is empowering all stakeholders in the biodiversity resource, businesses, organizations, researchers, ethnic minorities and others, in addition to government agencies. The system brings science to social decision-making in a broad sense by enabling knowledgeable participation even by groups such as ethnic minorities often effectively excluded from the process because of their lack of information. An instance of this particular type of enabling is found in the Navajo Natural Heritage Program, which BDC's founders built.

Third is taking initial steps towards bringing this system to Asia. We began by selecting from the original effort those individuals who were interested in this new continent and were willing to launch a new "action project," as yet very small, which we now call BDC. In China, BDC has begun creating an appropriate-technology version of the basic system and translated this for use in Chinese and then again for use in Central Asia. This is a start on expanding the network to a vast new region, and to an entirely new source of biodiversity, one under particular threat. In addition, BDC has begun by establishing working relationships with local institutions in these two regions, thereby furthering the expansion effort.

BDC is proud to stand on many other achievements as well. But BDC faces significant challenges.

Challenges

BDC's greatest challenge is finding the resources needed to sustain the effort it has begun.

If further biodiversity destruction, much of it done in ignorance of the resources being destroyed (let alone of their ultimate value), is to be prevented, the sort of conservation decision center BDC is bringing to Asia needs to be not only established and proven to be of use, but widely expanded throughout many jurisdictions. Finding the resources simply to move beyond the important first step BDC has taken and begin to address this crying need is a very great challenge indeed.

In China, BDC faces the task now of taking its successful beginning, a beginning achieved with the help of its supporters in Yunnan, and building something that stands out clearly as the definitive source of biodiversity data. The next step is then to demonstrate this fact to agencies that need data -- and also to demonstrate the NHCDC's ability to meet those needs. In this way a strong foothold in China can be secured, and the prospect of expanding to other provinces can even be entertained.

In the short term, this challenge consists mainly of finding funds to move beyond using graduate students for staff, and hiring for three to five years a permanent staff of young scientists from Yunnan trained by BDC in the core methodology. We need a botanist, a zoologist, an ecologist, and a data manager to work full time at the center in Kunming.

Another challenge in China is to build a bridge -- a bridge to the existing network in the New World, one which is not merely a link of fellow-feeling, but a two-way utilitarian connection for trading knowledge and experience and for securing mutual support. We need help creating this technological and cultural exchange.

In Central Asia, BDC's challenge is to move its proto effort, which lays down a systems base, into an active natural heritage conservation decision center building just the sort of database the country needs and which it has never had. The challenge here, again, is funding.

In both China and Central Asia, a further challenge is to understand and deal with local ways of doing things which are significantly different from those in the jurisdictions in which the network currently operates. For example, in North America in particular, sharing of data among agencies and among researchers is common. In both China and Central Asia this is not the case. The creation of a new and authoritative decision center on conservation, however, one willing to share its data with those who can further its mission, has the potential to change this and then doubly benefit conservation of biodiversity.

Footnote: Challenges BDC has already overcome include those created by the complete revision of the taxonomy of all Chinese plant species over the past two decades. Flora of China has involved not only the Chinese Academy of Sciences, but major botanical institutions throughout the world. The decision center BDC has laid groundwork for in Yunnan province, YN-NHCDC, faced the challenge of, in effect, trying to keep score while many of the players out on the field are changing their names. The initial part of this challenge has been met, but it has continuing consequences one of which is that the thousands, in some cases millions, of specimens in existing botanical collections, where YN-NHCDC mines much initial data, are in widely varying stages of update to the new taxonomy.

Support

BDC has set foot on a new continent, and we are grateful to those who have believed in us and supported us at the very outset of the journey. Our greatest support in this has so far come from the volunteer efforts of those, including especially those in Asia, who have contributed time and expertise. The Blair Charitable Foundation has helped us by supporting some of our exploratory efforts. BDC was provided with an early grant for Uzbekistan by National Geographic, and another by the former Ecolinks program of USAID-IIE, but now we need to start building on the groundwork laid. Our challenge now, as mentioned, is to find the resources to go beyond the exploratory phase. Our parent, The BioDiversity Institute (BDI), has also been key. One aspect of this is that over 200 individuals and organizations contributed imagery -- wonderful imagery -- to an online field guide which BDI experimented with in order to begin learning how the internet can advance our goals. A link to the credits page for these images is given at the bottom of our gallery pages on this site. BDI has passed this resource and others on to us, the new action program for conserving biodiversity in Asia.

BDC works on a partnership model, one derived from the successful use of that model in the existing network -- partnerships with government agencies, land managers, businesses, organizations, researchers and others. Partners also include farsighted funding sources providing grants needed to establish decision centers for three to five years, long enough for them to establish their usefulness, indeed criticality, to agencies capable of supporting them permanently. In China, notably, start-up costs are lower than they were in North America, which means grants will go further.

Funder-support conceptual frameworks. Some funders will primarily be interested in supporting BDC's core mission, preservation of biodiversity. Here the primary call to action is the plea that Prof. E.O. Wilson is making -- that we must recognize how our most valuable resource is being rapidly diminished and respond with conservation efforts. Support of this framework comes with full understanding of both the enormous opportunities BDC's venture presents and also of the complexity of the new continent, but support here is an investment in beginning a process which is capable of expanding over an entire continent, as it did in North America. Other funders will primarily be interested in establishing bridges across the wide Pacific. Here funders see the chance to go beyond simple relationships of good will and to instead build a permanent link between the established network in the West and a new budding network in the East. Over this bridge ideas, knowledge, and experience can pass in both directions with beneficial results at both ends. There are a number of interesting variations individual funders may have on this framework. The main one is to build particular bridges between your particular state or province and a state or province in Asia. A province as diverse as Yunnan, of course, would benefit from numerous links and would benefit all of its partners on this side of the Pacific as well. Another variation that will appeal to some is to honor the spirit of the Flying Tigers. This voluntary air force of North Americans in China, both before and after Pearl Harbor, was an early bridge across the wide Pacific. The Flying Tigers' headquarters building still exists and is only a few blocks from the YN-NHCDC office. The FT fought to preserve China, and grants now to preserve biodiversity in the FT's home province would honor this spirit. Another variation builds around those with an Asian-American heritage seeking to establish meaningful links between the two continents, links which could ultimately benefit all humanity.

In addition, if funds are available, BDC can make significant contributions to areas of biodiversity work which both supplement BDC's core mission and at the same time advance the interests of related social causes. One example is climate change measurement. Yunnan is virtually a climate change laboratory due to the extreme climatic and elevational variations in the province from north to south. More can be done to exploit this opportunity for a new angle on climate change if our NHCDC there is funded to do it. Another example is that the potential of biodiversity to produce new weapons in the fight against diseases such as cancer and drug-resistant tuberculosis can usefully be pursued by adding specialists to the basic staff of NHCDCs. Yunnan is a case in point. Its biodiversity is far greater than any US or Canadian jurisdiction, and holds great potential, but there is still need to identify and document exactly where that potential lies in terms of the development of new pharmaceuticals.

Funder-support notes. BDC has managed to secure significant amounts of what would would otherwise be normal overhead costs. All grants made to BDC therefore can be put entirely towards staffing, training, and interchange -- an unusual "bang-for-the-buck" situation. Moreover, staffing costs in Asia are significantly lower than in the US and Canada, so dollars go further in supporting these efforts. BDC is also grateful to receive donations of items such as frequent flier miles to support its interchanges, digital images for its websites, etc.

Contact info. The best way to contact BDC is by email to its international office, which can then if desired put you in touch with its local partners in Asia. BDC's principal email address is eyeonbio@gmail.com. BDC's main mailing address in China is The BioDiversity Conservancy, Yunnan Da Xue, Xi Yuan 7-02, Kunming, Yunnan Province, 650091 China.


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