Role of Nonprofit Organizations in Biodiversity and Conservation

Updated July 19, 2021

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Role of Nonprofit Organizations in Biodiversity and Conservation essay

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The conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity is one of the main global environmental issues. Although international conservation policy was initially established in 18th century, researchers and government players have in the last few decades put more emphasis on biodiversity aspects (Hannigan, 2006). The development of conservation strategies was originally done at country levels. After the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, held in 1992, the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities was adopted.

Conservation strategies shifted to addressing global challenges, using varying local approaches and priorities across countries. This strengthened the of role conservation nonprofits working at various levels including globally, regionally and at the grassroots. This literature review will showcase various strategies employed in biodiversity conservation across the world. The main focus will be on the approaches of nonprofits organizations implementing projects biodiversity conservation projects across the world.

The Strategies Employed in Conservations across the World

In principle, conservation strategies can be adopted by any public or private organization, agency, or enterprise that holds the obligation to incorporate sustainability principles in its operations. The initiators and participants can bring many benefits if all stakeholders in a long-term planning exercise are incorporated (Halpern et al., 2006). For instance, in the region of Lac St. Jean, Quebec, Canada, a new partnership between business and various government bodies was forged to realize collective regional development objectives. Another example is in Honduras, where farmers were mobilized to form a regional strategy development within a conservation area, designating them as participants responsible for its management. Brockington and Scholfield (2010) argue that, alone, conservation strategies are incapable of ensuring sustainable development; although, they can be crucial first step.

For many years advocates of conversation took an ‘anti-development’ standpoint that demanded for complete protection of wilderness lands, resources and habitat from any human contact. This approach appeared to be unattractive to many countries that depend on natural resources to generate economic growth. This is because complete protection is likely to remove large areas from future use (Fishburn et al., 2009). In 1980, the World Conservation Strategy (WCS) was established to reconcile goals of environmental protection with those of economic development. The development of WCS was led by two conservation nonprofits; the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) working together with the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP).

Elliot et al. (2012) highlights an Adaptive Conservation Strategy which is a two-pronged approach that can help both conservation scientists and resource managers. One of the goals of this strategy is to foster applied science through true adaptive management on-the-ground. The other goal is to foster “learning organizations” through the development of Adaptive Conservation Plans. An Adaptive Conservation Strategy recognizes that; “we all learn best by doing and by learning from the experience of others.” This is achieved through synthesizing data, sharing learning, and influencing policy across sites and ecosystems. Adaptive Conservation Strategies mainly focuses on monitoring of bird populations. This is because many bird species construct exceptional indicators of health and integrity of the ecosystem.

Lawrer (2013) discusses other general adaptation strategies that have been proposed to work and how can they be effectively applied. They include: removing other threats and reducing additional stresses; expanding reserve networks; enhancing connectivity; restoring habitats and system dynamics; adaptive management; and translocations. The vast majority of these strategies are those recommended for protecting biodiversity and managing natural resources in globally. However, each of these strategies—increasing connectivity, restoration, translocations—need to be applied in biodiversity hotspots that transverse across country boarders.

Role of Nonprofit Organizations in Conservation

Globally, nonprofit collaborative ventures are progressively being used to provide human services. As such, many scholars have put great interest on the subject, conducting continuous research to understand the emergence, the operation, and the outcomes related to these ventures. Nonprofit collaborative partnerships can take many forms. Large networks of nonprofits can work together to create a system of services entwined within a single inter-organizational collaboration (Sowa, 2008).

Nonprofits organizations play an important role in biodiversity conservation. At the local level, these organizations collaborative partnerships deliver conservation through management and restoration of habitats. They also mobilize public awareness of biodiversity through education and outreach. At state and national levels, nonprofits are the key players in advocating for better public institutions, political appointees leading them, and government spending on conservation (Fishburn et al., 2009).

Internationally, Halpern et al. (2006) contends that it is the responsibility of nonprofits to channel funds that have been dispersed by donors to steer conservation in more affluent nations to poorer countries where biodiversity is richest but highly prone to risks and dangers. In that light, nonprofits have managed to the take the lead role, where many governments have failed. Breckenridge (2009) article examines the shifts in nonprofit roles and their institutional implications. It focuses mainly on federal regulatory initiatives that safeguard water quality, swamplands, and habitat to wildlife, that are not within the federal lands. The article concludes that nonprofits are expected to develop innovative ways to pool resources for conservation actions in site-specific ways.

Richards and Ratsirarson (2013) article provides a summary of the thirty – seven-year history of Bezà Mahafaly initiative in Madagascar, which has been the site of a partnership for conservation. The analysis focused on three issues: the pivotal role of politics and economics towards partnership development, evolving interpretation of the term ‘community’; and the relationship between local, regional and national influences that contributed to either constraints or opportunities. The review draws five conclusions: the importance of relationships and trust; the integral vulnerability of community – based collaborations; importance of sustained financial inputs and risks of expanding these inputs; and the unforeseen key role played by a village-based biodiversity monitoring teams.

Sterling et al. (2017) reviewed evidence from the peer-reviewed and grey literatures related to stakeholder engagement role in biodiversity conservation at the local scale. The study employed both quantitative and qualitative approaches. A mixed methods approach for case studies and meta-analyses – published from 2011 to 2015 was used to critically appraise and extract data; the sample being 82 and 31 respectively. The qualitative analysis findings suggest that an important role in all types of stakeholder engagement efforts is critical for understanding governance and varying social-cultural context.

Similarly, Gavin et al. (2018) review debates on whether global-scale policy initiatives, together with the Convention on Biological Diversity, have been unsuccessful in preventing the loss of biodiversity. They argue that they slow down the conservation progress by wasting time and resources, failing to make out the need for sundry solutions, overlooking the most important goals, and paying no attention to the key question of which players are responsible for conservation processes. They emphasize the need for multicultural, partnership-based, and dynamic strategies to conservation.

Structure of Conservation Nonprofits Implementing Projects across the World

Organizational structures determine how efficiently they allocate existing resources to achieve objectives. For instance, how efficiently an industry will consume limited resources for the sake of meeting the threshold, in regards to societal demands for products, is -determined by the way in which an industry is configured (Cabral, 2000). There is not much difference in application of economic principles on active organizations related to biodiversity conservation from for-profit related businesses within the scope of other sectors. Sutherland et al. (2009) noted that one of the scientific research topics with immerse prospective of improving biodiversity conservation practice globally is first, understanding the implication of organization structure that vastly ensures conservation effectiveness.

Armsworth et al. (2012) reviewed empirical patterns in terms of; size, concentration, and growth, involving over 1700 nonprofits working on biodiversity-conservation in the USA. The study was within the context of relevant economic theory. It was established that size of nonprofit-conservation varies by six to seven orders of magnitude therefore comprising different sizes, operations and models that encompass diverse opportunities.

Sutherland et al. (2009) noted that the suite of organizations within the scope of conservation nonprofit sector is rich and diverse – in line with biodiversity it is supposed to protect. There are numerous writings about the scope and priorities on which conservation nonprofits should focus given their role in protecting biodiversity (Breckenridge, 2009; Sutherland et al. 2009; Sterling et al. 2017 and Gavin et al. 2018). However, as abovementioned, despite Armsworth (2012) study; little is known about how the conservation-nonprofit sector is structured, the varied responsibilities it must bear and how effectively it should fulfill them.

Case Study of BirdLife International

BirdLife International is a nonprofit whose approach has created a global network that applies a set of internationally agreed criteria to recognize fragile sites for bird and biodiversity conservation all over the world. To date, the nonprofit organization has been able to identify more than 10,000 important sites for conservation. BirdLife Partners are involved in various activities to ensure conservation action from global to local levels.

BirdLife Partners are local nonprofits that have complementary skills and experience for the purpose of delivering above mentioned objectives (BirdLife International, 2008). Further, BirdLife Partners form relationships with other organizations at local-level, with the aim of delivering combined conservation and development objectives. Four strategic pillars are stated in BirdLife’s new 2020 strategy: saving species; conservation of sites and habitats; upholding ecological sustainability; and local communities and people empowerment (BirdLife International, 2013).


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  2. BirdLife International (2008). BirdLife NGO Health Check Survey.
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  8. Fishburn, I.S., Kareiva, P. Gaston, K.J., Evans, K.L. & Armsworth, P.R. (2009). State-level variation in conservation investment by a major nongovernmental organisation. Conservation Letters 2: 74–81.
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  10. Halpern, B.S., Pyke, C.R., Fox, H.E., Haney, J.C., Schlaepfer. M.A. & Zaradic, P. (2006). Gaps and mismatches between global conservation priorities and spending. Conservation Biology 20: 56–64.
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  13. Richard, A. & Ratsirarson, J. (2013). Partnership in practice: making conservation work at Bezà Mahafaly, southwest Madagascar. Retrieved from https://campuspress.yale.edu/bezamahafaly/files/2015/01/Richard-and-Ratsirarson-20131.pdf
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  15. Sutherland, W.J., et al. (2009). One hundred questions of importance to the conservation of global biological diversity. Conservation Biology 23: 557–567.
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