Spring 2020 Newsletter
Switzer Fellows Tackle Conservation Conundrums
Greetings from my home office to yours! I hope this newsletter finds you and your loved ones safe, healthy, and finding new ways to work, learn, and support one another.

The Switzer Foundation's spring newsletter theme, conservation conundrums, provides both cause for hope and fodder for critical thinking.

In recent years, the environmental movement has embraced "win-win" solutions as a means to link sustainability with economic prosperity, or to achieve environmental solutions that are also socially just and equitable.

Although these co-benefits are commendable, sometimes the apparent solution obscures the necessary trade-offs. In these stories, Switzer Fellows recount their honest efforts to untangle a thorny conundrum, in which the environmentally-friendly solution had unintended consequences that required deeper thinking to resolve-from predator restoration to compostable containers, and genetically-engineered organisms to water conservation.

These stories also highlight bright spots of Switzer Fellows' leadership in a challenging time, illustrating examples in which scientific voices hold a respected place in public discourse, and demonstrating that major changes by governments, institutions, and individuals are possible.

Please enjoy, and we look forward to hearing if you have similar stories to share.

Sarah Reed
Executive Director
Mark Elbroch: The Cougar Conundrum

A century ago, we tried desperately to wipe out mountain lions in North America, and failed. Then, American culture changed. In the mid-20th century, we offered mountain lions limited protection in the form of managed hunting. As a consequence, mountain lion populations rebounded far more successfully than anyone would have predicted, and probably more than many would have liked. Today, mountain lions are as abundant as they ever were in the West, and people are faced with a new reality.

Can we peacefully coexist with such a successful predator?

Read more
Sue Chiang: The Foodware Conundrum

Universities, cities, and now even some countries are starting to phase out single-use plastics, but what will they switch to? Tons of disposable foodware, including products made from agricultural waste and labeled compostable, are used and discarded every day. Some of the products contain chemicals that are associated with adverse health effects such as hormone disruption, increased cholesterol levels, and increased risk of cancer. Ideally, we should phase out single-use plastics and encourage the development of alternatives that are manufactured with and contain inherently safer chemicals. 

How do we incentivize a transition to the best reusable products?

Read more
Jason Delborne: The Gene Drive Conundrum

Much of the opposition to genetically engineered organisms has emerged from within the environmental movement, but what happens when a new biotechnology has an explicit goal of environmental conservation? An international consortium is investigating the potential deployment of an engineered mouse on islands where invasive mice threaten biodiversity. Theoretically, the mouse would "drive" the population to be all male, crashing the mouse population and leading to eradication without the use of environmentally-risky toxicants. But even testing such a technology, known as a "gene drive," has ecological risks. 

How do we decide how to proceed in a way that minimizes risk?

Read more
John Andrew: The Water Conservation Conundrum

Like time and money, water in the West is often characterized by too much demand chasing too little supply. In response to such scarcity, water conservation seems the obvious, environmentally-friendly strategy to achieve the same outcome-a green lawn, food and fiber, or a hot shower-while using less water. Give water users the means to use less, and with any luck, they actually will. But such freedom can also inadvertently lead to more water use, whether that's via lush landscaping, more crops on marginal lands, or longer showers.

How do we balance supply with demand to solve this problem?

Read more
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