A farewell and tribute to outgoing Species Survival Commission Chair, David Brackett

Bangkok, Thailand (17.11.2004) IUCN-The World Conservation Union. David Brackett will leave Bangkok with lighter shoulders. For the past eight years he has headed IUCN’s largest volunteer network, the Species Survival Commission (SSC) – a task aptly and affectionately described by some as “herding cats”.

During his Chairmanship, SSC has grown from a membership of 5,000 to nearly 8,000 today with an ever-complex structure of more than 120 Specialist Groups, Task Forces, and Committees. David completes his second term at the World Conservation Congress and stands down under the rules of the IUCN statutes.

It takes an experienced manager, strategist, negotiator and diplomat, to deal with the complexities and politics inherent within this unique body of conservation experts from all backgrounds and cultures, and from all corners of the globe.

The sheer volume of work that crosses the SSC Chair ’s desk is staggering and David managed all this whilst also, until 2002, Director General of the Canadian Wildlife Service. Not least among the tasks of his “day” job was shepherding the Species at Risk Act, Canada ’s threatened species legislation, through Parliament.

Yet it hasn’t all been so gruelling. David has thrived on the challenges, conservation milestones and achievements witnessed and generated by the SSC. In his own words it has been a “pleasure and an honour” to serve as SSC Chair .

During his two terms in office, David has presided over numerous meetings of SSC's Steering and Executive Committees and has attended many Specialist Group meetings, undoubtedly the “fun part,” engaging in their strategic planning and on-ground conservation activities alike.

David has often been described as a policy “heavy weight." He is a respected and pivotal figure in both national and global environmental organizations, constantly working to forge the links between science and policy. Although stepping down as SSC Chair, he will still have close working ties with IUCN/SSC in his role as senior advisor on international conservation for the Canadian government.

Under his leadership, the Species Survival Commission united under its 10 year Strategic Plan (2001-2010) with its goal, “t he extinction crisis and massive loss in biodiversity are universally adopted as a shared responsibility resulting in action to reduce this loss of diversity within species, among species, and of ecosystems.”

David firmly believes the development of the SSC goal and the debate surrounding it influenced the Convention on Biological Diversity’s Strategic Plan with its goal that was later picked up by the world’s heads of government at the World Summit on Sustainable Development – to significantly reduce the rate of loss of biodiversity by 2010.

“We can rightly claim that the thinking that went into the SSC Strategic Plan had an influence on both those processes, and that we have made great progress on the first half of our goal, that of recognition of the crisis,” he said.

The SSC has evolved considerably and is proving its value more and more, in providing the science and information needed for sound conservation and development decision making.

Central to this, and a major highlight for David has been seeing the Species Information Service, SSC’s biodiversity data management initiative, evolve from concept to reality. Major donors are now lining up to help the SIS meet its full potential with an announcement of a substantial donation due to be made at the World Conservation Congress.

Counted among David’s other highlights are witnessing the evolution of the IUCN Red List from the hard copy 1996 edition of the IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals and the 1997 IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants, to an integrated List (both plants and animals), universally available (and searchable) on the web. David will be on the podium at the World Conservation Congress opening press conference, presenting the findings of the 2004 Red List of Threatened Species and Global Species Assessment, the most comprehensive evaluation ever undertaken of the status of the world’s biodiversity.

Also during his two terms, SSC consolidated the IUCN Red List Categories and Criteria , established clear guidelines for the production of annual updates to the Red List, included a robust challenge function, and begun the work of extending the assessment process to cover a much wider range of species.

Recognizing the size of the Red List initiative, IUCN/SSC established the Red List Consortium comprising BirdLife International, Conservation International, and NatureServe, heralding a new era in partnerships for the Commission.

“David’s contribution to IUCN and his influence in streamlining the operations of the Union during his eight-year term have been immense. Under his leadership, SSC has consolidated its position as the world’s leading authority on the status of biodiversity. He has helped put the idea of partnerships for conservation into action which has significantly increased SSC’s global reach and impact. We are indebted to him,” said Achim Steiner, IUCN Director General.

Other highlights for David include the insights gained through the SSC Voluntarism Study, the establishment of the Sir Peter Scott Fund for Conservation Action, and the launch of the new SSC awards, including the Harry Messel Conservation Leadership Award.

Not only did he serve as SSC Chair, but David was also IUCN Councillor and “Chair of Chairs”, helping integrate the work of IUCN’s six Commissions into the IUCN Global Programme.

Having worked in the wildlife conservation field for almost 25 years, David was ideally suited for the SSC Chair. He has worked in positions ranging from field technician in remote northern Canada, conducting surveys of caribou and moose, to senior management, with extensive experience at the regional, national, and international level.

This stood him in good stead for the constant demand of attending meetings and conferences across the globe. He traveled, on average, 100 days a year whilst in office, displaying astonishing stamina and energy, often locked in negotiations well into the early hours of the morning.

David is grateful to his “home” institution, Environment Canada for allowing him to carry out the Chair position whilst being employed by them. Since June 2002 he was also supported by the Center for Applied Biodiversity Science of Conservation International, which allowed him to spend much more time on IUCN/SSC matters.

David Brackett leaves a lasting legacy - a more focused, integrated and effective body of conservation experts, primed to take on the challenges facing conservation in the 21st century.

For more information contact:

Anna Knee or Andrew McMullin, IUCN/SSC Communications Officers, alk@iucn.org or mcmullina@iucn.org; Tel: ++41 22 999 0153

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