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Background and Acknowledgements


Biological diversity, or biodiversity, consists of the myriad species of living things on Earth, their genetic material, and the ecosystems in which they live. The rapid, human-caused loss of biodiversity is one of today's major global environmental issues. A deep concern over the rate of biodiversity loss and an appreciation that tools used by NASA to understand our global environment can also answer conservationists' questions laid the foundation for a workshop on the Applications of NASA Technology for Biodiversity Conservation.

NASA's Mission to Planet Earth (MTPE) is a scientific research program dedicated to observing and understanding the total Earth system and human impacts on it. MTPE is NASA's contribution to a broader national effort called the U.S. Global Change Research Program, in which twelve U.S. Government agencies attempt to come to grips with global change. In working with NASA's MTPE, the biodiversity-conservation community gains access to the work of researchers, and their technology, from around the world.

In mid-1996, NASA began exploring a closer relationship between MTPE and those working on biodiversity issues. Certain MTPE research areas, such as the study of Land-Cover and Land-Use Change, have obvious relevance to biodiversity. But there was also a sense that other facets of MTPE could be relevant to the questions of conservationists. Further education was needed to allow those involved in MTPE and those working on behalf of biodiversity conservation to determine how they could best work together.

In order to promote the joint education necessary for greater collaboration between NASA and the biodiversity-conservation community, a steering committee was formed with representation from the following organizations.

NASA The Nature Conservancy
Smithsonian Institution World Wildlife Fund
American Museum of Natural History Conservation International
The Academy of Natural Sciences Wildlife Conservation Society
The Field Museum of Natural History Center for Marine Conservation
University of Maryland The World Conservation Union--IUCN
George Washington University

This steering committee has played a vital role in bringing NASA and the conservation community together. It served as a relatively-informal forum for NASA to describe MTPE and for representatives from the biodiversity-conservation community to explain their goals. It also played the central role in planning and implementing the April 1997 workshop, which brought together NASA scientists, engineers, and managers with the biodiversity community. The steering committee developed four themes as the basis for developing potential pilot projects. These four themes were:

  • Measuring and Monitoring Global Biodiversity;
  • Measuring, Monitoring and Evaluation for Biodiversity Research and Conservation at the Ecoregional and Site Levels;
  • Priority-Setting for Biodiversity Conservation; and
  • Information Management and Networks.
The workshop was held on April 1-2, 1997, with over 100 participants from 27 organizations in attendance. Highlights included addresses to plenary sessions by the NASA Administrator and by several senior representatives from nongovernmental organizations and museums taking part in the workshop.

The workshop brought forward eighteen ideas for pilot projects in biodiversity conservation. Subsequent review of these ideas by the steering committee has resulted in ten pilot projects. After approximately a year, a symposium will be held to review their results.

With the conclusion of the workshop and initiation of pilot projects, NASA and its partners in the biodiversity-conservation community have taken the first step in a new partnership. More importantly, we have begun a dialogue to explore how space technology can address one of Earths most pressing problems -- the loss of its biodiversity.


Any workshop of this size requires the effort of numerous individuals and this activity was no exception.

Early in the planning process, NASA sought the aid of the Smithsonian Institution and Dr. Tom Lovejoy. As Counselor to the Secretary for Biodiversity and Environmental Affairs at the Smithsonian, Dr. Lovejoy provided unique insight into the workings and needs of the conservation community and helped NASA determine those organizations most likely to respond to an overture. To NASA's great pleasure, Dr. Lovejoy and the Smithsonian Institution also agreed to co-host the workshop. Much of the credit for the success of this new initiative goes to Tom Lovejoy. Also, Sarah Boren, formerly of the Office of the Provost at the Smithsonian, provided invaluable support, insight, and a strong sense of perspective throughout the planning process and during the hectic two days of the workshop itself. A veteran of Smithsonian events, Sarah's organizational talents were a tremendous asset.

Daniel Goldin, the NASA Administrator, has been a strong supporter of NASA's efforts to reach out to the biodiversity-conservation community. He gave the opening address at the workshop and his support set a palpable tone of collaboration for the two days that followed. The workshop was also fortunate to have five senior representatives from the conservation community present their perspective on opportunities and challenges arising from a new partnership with NASA. They were: Douglas Hall from The Nature Conservancy, Cecily Majerus from the Center for Marine Conservation, Francesca Grifo from the American Museum of Natural History, Eric Dinerstein from the World Wildlife Fund, and Silvio Olivieri from Conservation International.

Dr. Lovejoy also hosted a dinner for workshop participants on April 1 in the Smithsonian Castle. At that dinner, Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs Timothy Wirth explained the U.S. Government's approach to key environmental issues facing this country and the world. The thoughts and participation of this leading U.S. policy maker proved a high point of the workshop.

The steering committee was and continues to be NASAs bridge to the biodiversity-conservation community. Its members gave up uncounted hours of their time to attend meetings with NASA personnel and prepare papers between meetings. They formed the core of the workshop and, using their planning experience with NASA, served as interpreters of the MTPE program to their colleagues. They were a committee that really worked.

David Olson - World Wildlife Fund
Prashant Hedao - formerly World Wildlife Fund
Chris Rodstrom - formerly Conservation International
Silvio Olivieri - Conservation International
Deborah Jensen - The Nature Conservancy
Michele Leslie - The Nature Conservancy
Melissa Connor - formerly Wildlife Conservation Society
Fred Koontz - Wildlife Conservation Society
Michael Smith - Center for Marine Conservation
John Waugh - The World Conservation Union (IUCN)
James Dobbin - Dobbin International Inc., for The World Conservation Union (IUCN)
Marsha Sitnik - Smithsonian Institution
Sarah Boren - formerly Smithsonian Institution
James Comiskey - Smithsonian Institution
Eleanor Sterling - American Museum of Natural History
Donat Agosti - American Museum of Natural History
Clyde Goulden - The Academy of Natural Sciences
Peter Crane - The Field Museum of Natural History
Ray Williamson - George Washington University
Pat Murphy - formerly George Washington University
David Inouye - University of Maryland
Anthony Janetos - formerly NASA
Compton Tucker - NASA
Blanche Meeson - NASA
Gene Feldman - NASA
Woody Turner - NASA

The following graduate students from the University of Maryland donated their time and effort to the workshop, serving as recorders for its working groups. They provided a faithful record of those parts of the workshop that planned the future of this initiative.

Anita Walz Charlene Houle
Corinne Egner Jill Rooth
Jonathan Adams Stephanie Wilsen
Sylvia Tognetti

Kerry Murray of George Washington University also provided critical assistance in writing up the results of two working group meetings.

Much of the credit for conceiving of this workshop and seeing it through fruition (as well as providing an excellent description of the NASA MTPE scientific program at the workshop itself) belongs to Robert Harriss, former Director of the Science Division in NASA's Office of Mission to Planet Earth. Without Bob's belief that it was the right thing to do there would not have been a workshop.

And finally, Tony Janetos, formerly Manager of the MTPE Land-Cover and Land-Use Change Program, deserves the gratitude of all for establishing the steering committee, chairing its meetings, running the workshop, delivering its outputs, and generally providing the intellectual (and in most cases the material) guidance for the entire initiative.

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