If you think about it, our North American model of wildlife conservation is by definition a diverse-perspective partnership where wildlife are recognized as a public trust resource, owned by both nobody and everybody and managed by public agencies for the public good. Yet the places where critters actually live are stewarded by landowners–public, private or otherwise–who may value the land for other uses in addition to wildlife habitat. In the United States, wildlife conservation has been a partnership since our founding!

Multi-perspective partnerships drive what can be called voluntary conservation, or conservation activities that are undertaken without a regulatory requirement by a broad range of individuals and organizations, who in most cases have a range of perspectives. Often voluntary conservation activities are undertaken through partnerships with each party bringing various resources, knowledge, perspectives, and values to the table to achieve shared goals. The relationships that enable partnerships must be based on trust and respect to be sustainable.

How do we know if we have trust or how do we begin to build trust? Just like conversation, listening is a key component of voluntary conservation. Even more critical to conservation conversations is the ability to listen effectively to different perspectives. Stephen Covey was on to something when he came up with the seven habitats of highly effective people, putting “seek first to understand, then to be understood” up near the top. You might have also heard from your parents (like I did) that since we were born with two ears and one mouth, we should try to use them in proportion!

Listening to, understanding, and having empathy for others’ situations, aspirations, and challenges may not sound like conservation, but actually it is foundational to conservation partnerships built on trust. One landowner, when asked about trust, responded that for him trust was achieved when he believed that the partners understood where he was coming from and were as concerned for him, his family, and his land as they were about the nuts and bolts of the project. There is no way to reach that understanding without effective, transparent communication that includes plenty of listening.

Partnerscapes has found that listening and developing ideas both collaboratively and transparently from the start tends to build or reinforce trust as opposed to a single perspective developing a project, program, or plan in a silo. It is in this spirit that Partnerscapes is currently engaged in a series of listening sessions with voluntary conservation practitioners, including landowners and a broad spectrum of partners, to understand what we can do to help those working to build the critical relationships based on trust required to ensure that working landscapes support wildlife and people far into the future. How do you transform desire to build relationships built on trust into the skill and ability to do so among diverse perspectives?  If you have ideas on what is working, what could be working better, and what is missing from voluntary conservation partnerships in your neck of the woods, we would welcome the opportunity to listen to you. Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you have something to share! (info@partnerscapes.org)