An Evaluation of Natural Heritage Programs

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2021-04-30

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Abstract

NatureServe, a nonprofit that seeks to provide access to high quality biodiversity data, works with a network of natural heritage programs across the United States, Canada, Latin America, and South America to collect data about rare and at-risk species. In 2020, NatureServe conducted a survey of the natural heritage programs it works with in the United States and Canada. NatureServe’s goal was to assess the status of the natural heritage programs it works with by better understanding how these programs operate and identifying ways to improve struggling natural heritage programs. This report analyzes the responses to the 2020 survey.

The introduction section of this report provides an overview of NatureServe, natural heritage programs, and past studies of natural heritage programs. NatureServe is a non-profit that seeks “to provide the scientific basis for effective conservation action” through a public-private partnership with a network of natural heritage programs. The natural heritage programs that NatureServe works with are government organizations located across the United States, Canada, Latin America, and South America that were created to “gather, organize, and distribute” high quality data about the biodiversity in the jurisdictions in which they are located. Natural heritage programs can vary greatly in size, budget, staff, and program priorities. In 2016, NatureServe conducted a survey similar to the one conducted for this report and produced a series of descriptive statistics to analyze the results.

The methods section of this report provides information on the 2020 survey, describes the analyses of the survey responses, and critiques the structure of the 2020 survey. NatureServe distributed the survey to natural heritage programs in the United States and Canada and received 64 responses. The survey asked questions about budgets, staff, data collection, and challenges faced by natural heritage programs. I created a linear regression model with the size of a natural heritage program’s element occurrence data backlog as the dependent variable and a natural heritage program’s estimated funding, average yearly data requests, number of programmatic positions filled, and number of programmatic positions that need to be filled. Descriptive statistics were conducted on the survey responses. The survey could be improved by refining the purpose of the survey, using more precise language in the questions, and refining the answer choices to closed ended questions.

The results section of this report describes the results of the analyses conducted on the responses to the 2020 survey. The linear regression model was unable to explain the variation in the size of a natural heritage program’s data backlog in a statistically significant way. This section of the report also provides tables of descriptive statistics of the survey results grouped into categories of challenges, funding, stakeholders, staffing, data and tools, land management, guiding statute, collaborating with other programs, and COVID-19.

The discussion section of this report discusses the results of the linear regression model and provides recommendations on actions that NatureServe can take to improve the natural heritage program network based on the descriptive statistics. There was no statistically significant relationship between the size of a program’s element occurrence data backlog and the independent variables. This could be due to the high variability between natural heritage programs that defies accurate predictions by quantitative models. Alternatively, the size of the backlog could be explained by variables not included in the model and not captured in the survey. Natural heritage programs consistently identify funding and staffing as challenges that they face. The average budget for a natural heritage program did not change significantly between the 2016 and 2020 survey. To address the funding challenges faced by natural heritage programs, NatureServe could consider encouraging programs to ask for more government funding, apply for more grants, and consider ways to increase funding from the private sector. Additionally, the staffing needs of natural heritage programs did not change significantly between the 2016 and 2020 survey. NatureServe could address the staffing needs faced by natural heritage programs by encouraging natural heritage programs to implement intern and extern programs and connect with university career services centers to increase recruitment of new staff.

The report offers the following conclusion. A successful natural heritage program is one that can remain flexible and responsive to the challenges that it will face in the coming years. NatureServe can support the natural heritage programs in its networks by helping them to address their funding and staffing challenges. Regular and continued monitoring of the status of natural heritage programs would be helpful moving forward in order to identify new challenges and to determine if the responses to past challenges have been effective.

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Rose, Victoria (2021). An Evaluation of Natural Heritage Programs. Master's project, Duke University. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/22692.


Dukes student scholarship is made available to the public using a Creative Commons Attribution / Non-commercial / No derivative (CC-BY-NC-ND) license.