Company: US Fish and Wildlife Service
Innovation: Merging Global Diversity and Green Conservation
Date Introduced: 2012
Award Recognition: Top Ten (#1)

Since the early 1900s, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (Service) has engaged international communities with the goal of conserving species and their ecosystems. Together with partner countries, the Service has developed an innovative approach to conservation that involves the creation of ecotourism industries that pump funding into local economies and in turn create jobs for local citizens.

To achieve this goal, the Service needed to address two primary obstacles in partner countries: the lack of trained personnel and environmental values. In response, the Service engaged in providing conservation professionals with training and expertise in critically protected area management issues and creating a community-owned trust responsible for local land management.

The Great Apes Conservation program is an outcome of this approach. In 2000, the U.S. Congress passed the Great Ape Conservation Act. Since then Wildlife Without Borders has been building the capacity of governments and private organizations to address the threats to great apes ranging from poaching to illegal trafficking. It is also engaged in the creation of ecotourism sites. As part of this initiative, the Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo has positioned itself as an ecotourism destination to view gorillas and other endangered species in their natural habitat. Community members have been trained and employed as park rangers, and tourism has contributed to the growth of local enterprises. The result is a self-sustained economy based on the survival and conservation of wildlife.

An initiative launched in 2012, Managing for Excellence, will train Mexico’s 500 reserve wardens. Training includes field and online components to reach all wardens throughout the country. It is university-certified, allowing trainees to apply credits toward the completion of academic degrees. This certification requires graduates to replicate the training locally and maintain a network of trained personnel.

In 2012, the Service awarded over $16 million in grants to partner countries, spurring ecotourism and jobs. All of these efforts have led local communities to not only vest in conservation as a means of sustaining local economies and jobs, but are helping to produce the next generation of diverse professional conservationists.