Conservation without Conflict: A Persuasive Step-by-Step Guide to Achieving Collaborative Conservation

Conservation efforts are critical to preserving our planet’s precious biodiversity, especially listed and at-risk species. However, different approaches to conservation practices often impede progress, inadvertently create conflict, and hinder the achievement of our shared environmental goals. This persuasive step-by-step guide aims to inspire and empower readers to embrace voluntary, collaborative conservation practices. Doing so will foster understanding, cooperation, and realization of mutual benefits for all stakeholders, ensuring working lands continue working and species conservation goals are achieved.

This guide is a living document.  It was developed based on a wide array of case studies gathered by our coalition members and personal experiences. By no means is this guide intended to be prescriptive. It is simply “a guide” to provide some of the basic common factors present in many successful fish and wildlife conservation endeavors. Our intent is to help you spark new ideas and approaches that could be adapted and used to address a specific conservation context or the needs of landowners, local communities and any other stakeholders involved.

Before exploring the guide, itself, I would like to encourage all of you to provide any feedback you may have by leaving comments below.  I would also like to encourage you to share any examples or case studies you may have that illustrate this voluntary approach. You can use this template [click here] to send us your example or you may use any other format that may be better for you and email it to  You may not have a specific example; however, you can probably identify challenges you may have encountered and do not know where to start to overcome those challenges. If so, feel free to send us a note to the email address above. We will be more than glad to discuss those challenges and provide ideas and/or contacts to help you navigate them.

Effective conservation without conflict involves several important steps.  These include:

Step 1: Embrace the Local Context

Embrace and understand the local context by carefully listening to local stakeholders. Dive deeply into the unique social, economic, cultural, political, and historical factors that shape the members and communities where conservation initiatives are taking place. Engage genuinely with individuals, local communities, indigenous groups, and stakeholders to establish trust and respect. It takes time. By showing genuine interest and understanding their needs, concerns, and aspirations, we can lay the foundation for fruitful collaboration.

Step 2: Empower Meaningful Engagement and Participation

Empower landowners, local communities, NGOs, government agencies, scientists, and other key stakeholders through meaningful engagement and participation early in the process. Identify and consult with any tribes whose interests may be impacted. Create spaces for open and safe dialogue, workshops, field trips and any other type of forums where everyone’s voices are heard. Make sure they are involved in the beginning of the scoping or planning processes and encourage active participation in decision-making processes, ensuring that their invaluable perspectives are incorporated into conservation strategies. By embracing collaboration, we can tap into a wealth of local knowledge and experiences, fostering a sense of ownership and shared land stewardship.

Step 3:  Clarity of Purpose: Unite Around Shared Goals

Identify and be crystal clear about the shared goals of the initiative for the natural environment, the landowners, local communities, and any other stakeholder involved. Clarity of purpose provides direction, focus, and motivation, guiding our decisions and actions. With a clear purpose, we align our values, foster unity, cooperation, and productivity. Clarity of purpose empowers us to make purposeful choices and create a positive impact.  Showcase the benefits of how conservation efforts can enhance and sustain local economies and livelihoods, and bolster ecosystem services. Emphasize the positive outcomes that can be achieved, such as improved health (physical and mental), sustainable income generation, and a resilient environment for future generations. By uniting around these shared aspirations, we can build strong alliances based on trust and overcome potential conflicts.

Step 4: Implement Adaptive Management Strategies

Adopt adaptive management strategies that promote flexibility, learning, and continuous improvement. Never stop learning. Conservation and sustainability are an evolving process, and we must be responsive to changing circumstances and emerging insights. Regularly monitor and evaluate the outcomes of our actions, seeking feedback from local landowners and communities and adjust the strategies and tactics accordingly. By embracing adaptability, we foster innovation, build trust, and ensure that our conservation approaches remain effective and relevant.

Step 5: Foster Sustainable Livelihoods and Conservation

Highlight the shared goals and benefits of working lands and integrate livelihood considerations into conservation planning and implementation. Acknowledge the dependence of landowners and communities on natural resources for their well-being and economic survival. Explore opportunities for sustainable income generation through sustainable resource management, outdoor activities, or any other nature-based business initiatives. By linking sustainable livelihoods with conservation efforts, we can create incentives for individuals and communities to actively support and engage in collaborative conservation activities.

Step 6: Build Capacity and Empower Landowners and Local Communities

Invest in capacity-building initiatives that empower landowners and local communities to take charge of conservation efforts. Provide training, education, and skills development programs that enhance their understanding of sustainable resource management. Encourage the formation of local groups and ensure their inclusion in decision-making processes. By empowering landowners and local communities, we foster a sense of ownership and land stewardship, ensuring the long-term success of collaborative conservation endeavors.

Step 7: Establish Collaborative Governance Mechanisms

Create very simple but inclusive and transparent governance mechanisms that actively involve all stakeholders in decision-making processes. This could be formal or informal. Clearly define the authorities, responsibilities, and expectations for each public and private partner.  Collaborate with landowners, communities, businesses, government agencies, NGOs, and other relevant entities to develop joint partnerships. By sharing knowledge, decision-making power, resolving conflicts, and ensuring equitable distribution of responsibilities and benefits, we can create a harmonious and inclusive collaborative conservation framework.

Step 8: Cultivate Continuous Communication and Learning

Maintain constant open lines of communication with all stakeholders and establish feedback mechanisms that facilitate ongoing dialogue and learning. Be available. Regularly share information, updates, and progress reports regarding conservation activities to ensure there are no surprises. Promote sharing of information in formal and informal settings. Openly celebrate success. Openly acknowledge and learn from your mistakes. Actively involve landowners and communities in monitoring and data collection efforts, valuing their traditional knowledge and observations. Ensure that information is fully accessible, culturally appropriate, and delivered through various mediums to foster effective communication.

Conclusion: The Conservation without Conflict model is not only possible but necessary for the long-term sustainability of our planet’s biodiversity and the well-being of local communities. By embracing the local context, empowering engagement, uniting around shared goals, implementing adaptive management strategies, fostering sustainable livelihoods, building capacity, establishing collaborative governance, cultivating continuous communication, and building trust, we can achieve collaborative conservation that benefits us all and ensures working lands can continue to work. Let us join forces, build trust to overcome conflicts, and work together to create a sustainable and thriving future for our nation and its remarkable species.

By Leopoldo Miranda-Castro

Restoring Alligator Snapping Turtles to Their Native Waters: A Success Story in Collaborative Conservation

The “dinosaur-like” alligator snapping turtles (Macrochelys temminckii) are among the largest freshwater turtles in the world and are the largest in North America. They can weigh up to 200 pounds and can live to be 100 years!

The project to restore Alligator Snapping Turtles (ASTs) to their natural habitat was initiated as a response to a poaching sting operation conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) law enforcement. Approximately 30 live ASTs were confiscated during the operation and held at the Natchitoches National Fish Hatchery in Louisiana while the case was prosecuted. It was suspected that these turtles were taken from Texas and brought to Louisiana by poachers. To ensure the turtles’ return to their native habitat in Texas, state and federal resource agencies sought landowner cooperation.

Voluntary and collaborative conservation actions were taken to facilitate the successful reintroduction of the ASTs. Resource agencies, in coordination with hatchery staff and veterinarians from the Houston Zoo, conducted health checks and genetic sampling of the turtles prior to release. This measure aimed to prevent the introduction of pathogens or genes that could have negative consequences for wild populations. Landowners with potential release locations were identified and asked if they were willing to participate. Additionally, researchers conducted pre-release population surveys at the release sites, while personnel from various agencies coordinated efforts to facilitate the release. Telemetry equipment was fitted on the turtles before their release, enabling a long-term study to assess the success of the reintroduction and enhance our understanding of AST behavior.

However, the project encountered challenges and obstacles along the way. Firstly, the AST Species Status Assessment raised concerns that the released turtles might soon be listed as Threatened or Endangered under the Endangered Species Act. This led to hesitancy among landowners, who were wary of the increased risk associated with introducing potentially listed species on their land. Secondly, genetic analysis was deemed necessary to determine the turtles’ river basin of origin and prevent unforeseen genetic consequences among wild populations.

Despite these challenges, the project successfully overcame them. The USFWS drafted an Endangered Species Act “Section 7” consultation (e.g., conference opinion) on the plan to release turtles. In the event of listing, this consultation would already have given incidental take authorization, minimizing the risk and eliminating the regulatory burden for landowners helping the species.

Additionally, the Turtle Survival Alliance provided funding and logistical support to Tangled Bank Conservation, which developed a range-wide population genetics framework to identify the drainages from which the confiscated turtles originated. The Sabine River Authority of Texas and the Northeast Texas Municipal Water District funded the genetic analysis to ensure the turtles were returned to their proper river basins.

The outcomes of the project were significant and will continue to provide conservation benefits long-term. Twenty-two adult and seven juvenile ASTs were returned to the wild six years after their confiscation. These individuals will contribute to local turtle populations in the areas where they were originally poached. Furthermore, the project used the Conservation without Conflict approach by fostering collaboration and trust among river authorities, state and federal resource agencies, universities, and private landowners. Their collective efforts and commitment to the species were recognized by the USFWS with the 2021 Partner of the Year Award.

The project yielded valuable lessons for conservation efforts. It demonstrated that even unusual or difficult challenges can be overcome through creativity, innovation, and effective communication. It also emphasized the importance of challenging conventional approaches and being open to alternative operational methods.

Among the project’s major accomplishments was the strengthening of partnerships between state and federal resource agencies and the establishment of a foundation for future conservation agreements and collaborations. Returning illegally collected wildlife to their native waters served as a great example of wildlife conservation without conflict in Texas and across the nation.

Looking back, the project organizers acknowledged the need for more time and resources for coordination. Although deliberate efforts were made to coordinate with the diverse range of partners involved, each entity had its own internal coordination needs and expectations. Recognizing these needs and expectations early on could make projects like this even more successful.

Funding for the project was provided by the Texas Parks and Wildlife, Sabine River Authority, Northeast Texas Municipal Water District, and The Turtle Survival Alliance.

While the project itself was short-term, it laid the groundwork for future long-term conservation efforts. A long-term telemetry study will be conducted to assess the success and sustainability of the reintroduction, as well as to gain a deeper understanding of AST habitat use, range, and movements. The project serves as a testament to the power of collaborative conservation and highlights the potential for successful outcomes when multiple stakeholders work together towards a common goal.

By Bill Kirby, Sabine River Authority of Texas