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Regan Nelson: Bridging the Gaps between Science and Policy

With a background steeped in science and policy, Regan Nelson brings a unique skillset to her new role as Interim Coordinator of the Crown Conservation Initiative.

We all know that government policy doesn’t change overnight. On the other hand, when the time is ripe, nothing changes a policy faster than public pressure combined with sound scientific evidence.

Regan Nelson, the new Interim Coordinator for Crown Conservation Initiative (CCI), has worked at the interface between conservation science and policy for more than 15 years, and that’s right where she want to be. “My scientist colleagues consider me a policy expert, and my policy colleagues consider me a scientist,” says Regan. “Given the constraints of what we can accomplish with existing conservation resources, I am most interested in how our investments accomplish the most for wildlife and ecosystems.”

Regan getting ready for a hike in the woods of West Virginia.

In her previous role as CCI’s Climate Change Adaptation Program Manager, Regan certainly proved her scientific chops. She conducted a Crown-wide assessment of climate change adaptation needs, and crafted recommendations for CCI to enhance the resilience and ecological integrity of the Crown of the Continent landscape.

In her new role, Regan’s policy expertise will surely be a major asset as well. A collaborative network of 14 conservation and academic organizations, CCI works across several jurisdictions to conserve the Crown of the Continent Ecosystem—an extraordinary landscape that straddles the U.S.-Canada border at the nexus of Montana, British Columbia and Alberta.

Walking down is easier than going up, especially in the mountainous terrain of Wyoming's Tetons.

The Crown, as it’s affectionately called, is a bastion of Northern Rockies biodiversity. It still boasts the full complement of native species present when explorers Lewis and Clark first traveled through, and it functions as North America’s water tower, containing the headwaters of rivers that flow to three different ocean basins: the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic. No wonder the Crown is a priority landscape within the larger Yellowstone to Yukon region.

With all those interconnections and jurisdictions to consider, building a shared conservation vision for the region is a complex undertaking. But as Regan settles into her new role, she’s relishing the challenge.

“At CCI, we can leverage the resources, capacities and strategies of all member groups to protect the Crown’s intact ecosystems and to keep those areas connected,” she says. “Collectively, we’ve already helped to accomplish several significant goals, including the designation of the Castle Wildland and Provincial Park in Alberta, and contributing to efforts to protect Montana’s Badger-Two Medicine region from oil and gas development.”

The stunning vistas of Montana's Badger-Two Medicine region, a key part of the Crown of the Continent Ecosystem. Photo: Stephen Legault.

As for CCI’s future objectives, Regan says the network will be focused on the effects of climate change on the Crown’s ecosystems. “Land protections will reduce threats related to industrial development or reckless recreation impacts,” she says, “but we also need to think critically about how rapid climate change will affect the region’s wildlife and special places.”

With Regan coordinating things, we can be sure that all CCI’s conservation work will be based on the best available science. The hope is that will lead to policies that protect the Crown’s unique ecosystems and diverse wildlife too.

Regan poses for a snapshot with her son, Charlie.
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