Greetings, SULi members and all others interested in sustainable use of wild species and their ecosystems, and its contribution to local livelihoods across the planet. Over the last few months one of the most important things that has been going on in SULi is the development of a draft strategy for SULi. SULi members have had the opportunity to comment on a first draft over the last month or so. This was followed by a very rich and constructive discussion on the topic at the SULi Steering Committee meeting held in early September in Cambridge (1). A substantially revised draft of the strategy will be circulated in the coming month or so.
While in general there appears to be good support for the main elements of the draft, there is still a lot of work to do to refine the scope of work, meanings of key terms, and the strategic approach. Some of the main issues that have arisen in discussion on the listserv, comments sent separately to me, and discussion at the Steering Committee meeting include the meaning of sustainable use; the use of what, exactly, our work should cover (biodiversity? wild living resources? species? species and ecosystems? – all of these have slightly different meanings); our basic objectives (conservation, but in an equitable way? sustainable livelihoods? promoting sustainable use itself?); how to refine where within the enormous potential scope of work on use and livelihoods we focus our efforts; the role of governance; and whether we need an explicit focus on strengthening the role of sustainable use within IUCN as an institution.
Our discussions on the meaning of "sustainable use" have been particularly comprehensive, and from these I think there are four key elements that need to be included in a clarification of what we mean by this term. While the precise wording of these needs careful attention, the basic elements are as follows. First, the target resource has to be used within its capacity to renew itself. Second, wider negative impacts on the ecosystem need to be kept within acceptable limits, consistent with the conservation of species and ecosystems. These include impacts such as modification of the habitat or simplification of the ecosystem to favour the target species, or disturbance to other species from the harvest. What is acceptable in any situation has to be socially determined and context-specific - a greater impact might be acceptable in situations where, say, community livelihoods are dependent on high production of a resource, or the alternative to the sustainable use of wild resources (with its negative side-effects) is wholesale conversion of the land to pastoralism or agriculture. Third, it is important to include in our understanding of the term that this is not something that can be understood from a purely biological perspective, from examination of a tightly circumscribed system (say, examining the level of harvest over time of a single species). These systems are nested within broader social, economic, cultural and political systems that shape dynamics of use and fundamentally determine whether uses are likely to be sustainable. This element is not so much part of the definition of sustainable use as an understanding that must shape our approach to understanding, assessing and trying to influence it. Finally, and closely related to the third, is the recognition that the critical factor determining whether a use is likely to be sustainable over any meaningful length of time is generally the governance system in place for the use. Both ecosystems and the human systems that depend on them change constantly, and even a use that is sustainable at a given point in time is unlikely to remain so without a governance system capable of detecting, assessing, and responding appropriately to significant changes in the system. Governance goes beyond management - it includes who makes decisions and how they make them, and effective governance systems for sustainable use can include those that are community-based or private as well as government, informal (even illegal) as well as formal. This focus on the institutional context of sustainable use as a fundamental determinant of its relationship to conservation and livelihoods shapes both how we seek to understand whether a particular use should be considered sustainable and how we assess interventions aimed at promoting sustainability.
Other items discussed at the SULi Steering Committee meeting included the governance structure of SULi, and in particular the role of regional groups; membership; finances and fundraising; communication; and upcoming events. On regional groups, while we had only a short time to review the work of the two regional groups currently operating (under the leadership of Shane Mahoney in North America and Robert Kenward in Europe), we agreed that while SULi had a single overall structure the emergence of coherent sub-groups focused on common issues (whether regional or thematic) was to be supported. We want to see this process develop organically rather than being imposed from above, from nuclei of interacting members that can grow into organised structures. This can start with the establishment of sub-groups on DGroups for particular regions or themes - as have been established for "CITES", "Hunting" and the "Sustainable Development Goals". If you would like to request a subgroup to be established for your region or topic, please do get in touch.
Finally, I'd like to let you all know I am expecting a second baby in January! This will mean I'll be taking some time off and some time doing less work next year. I'm sorting out arrangements to ensure the work of SULi continues over this period at the moment and will inform everyone about these when they are finalised.
(1) Those present from the Steering Committee were Bernardo Ortiz (Ecuador), Tahir Rasheed (Pakistan), Holly Dublin (Kenya), Steve Broad (UK), Thomasina Oldfield (UK), Shane Mahoney (Canada), with Grazia Borrini-Feyerabend (Switzerland) and Mike Murphree (South Africa) as invited guests. Fred Nelson (USA) was unable to attend.