The AOU Conservation Award was established in 2005 to honor persons who have made extraordinary scientific contributions to the conservation, restoration, or preservation of birds and their habitats. Dr. J. Michael Scott is one such person whose contributions to the conservation of birds around the world have been extraordinary. From his ground-breaking work on furthering our understanding of endemic Hawaiian birds, through his efforts on preservation of the California Condor (Gymnogyps californianus), to the development of the Gap Analysis Program conservation effort, he has consistently developed new tools for conducting scientifically based conservation assessments. Throughout his career, results of his work have had a significant impact and have influenced policy decisions regarding the conservation and protection of birds locally, nationally, and on an international scale.
Dr. Scott received his Ph.D. at Oregon State University under the tutelage of John A. Wiens. In Oregon, he studied resource allocation in seabirds and played an important role in the formation of the Pacific Seabird Group (PSG). He was the first chairman of the PSG and helped focus that organization on seabird conservation issues. Scott was one of the first endangered- species biologists hired by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. From 1974 to 1984, he worked in Hawaii studying endangered Hawaiian songbirds. At a time when most ecologists were conducting single-species studies, Scott was assessing the distribution, abundance, habitat associations, and limiting factors of endangered forest birds across their entire historical range as part of the Hawaiian Forest Bird Survey. In doing so, he developed new techniques for surveying and estimating bird numbers in difficult conditions. The Hawaiian Forest Bird Survey, the first true large-scale Hawaiian conservation effort, has been characterized as “one of the most ambitious surveys of its kind ever attempted and a model for field surveys of rare and endangered species.” Results of this work were used to establish six protected areas on three islands, including Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge on the Island of Hawaii, a refuge to help preserve the last free-flying Hawaiian crows and, most recently, a 46,400-ha addition to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. His co- authored monograph Forest Bird Communities of the Hawaiian Islands: Their Dynamics, Ecology, and Conservation received the Best Monograph Award from the Wildlife Society.
From 1984 to 1986, Dr. Scott led the conservation and research efforts on preservation of the California Condor. His work on the condor led him to believe that, as important as recovery efforts were for single species, waiting to save species until they were threatened with extinction would never provide the opportunity to prevent extinction at a global scale. Throughout his career, Scott has asked policy- and management-relevant questions. He and his students were among the first to review the long-term status of the listing and delisting process of the Endangered Species Program. Before this effort, assessments of the effectiveness of endangered-species programs had been done on a single-species basis. Similarly, they reviewed translocation efforts in three countries to assess the effectiveness of translocation as a conservation tool. Scott continues his work on endangered species, co-leading a national effort that conducted a 30-year retrospective on the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Under the umbrella of “The Endangered Species Act at Thirty” project, Scott and his colleagues, Dale Goble and Frank Davis, brought together a diverse group of academics, lawyers, and the full range of special-interest groups, including Defenders of Wildlife, National Homebuilders Association, National Center for Housing and the Environment, National Wildlife Federation, and National Cattlemen’s Association. They asked: “What have 30 years of implementing the ESA accomplished, what have we learned, what are we protecting, and how might we improve future implementation of the ESA?” With other colleagues, he has documented the occurrence of conservation-reliant species (i.e., those species that depend on human intervention for their survival) and developed a legally and biologically defensible protocol to facilitate their recovery under the ESA. Results of this work are being used to inform the current congressional discussion on Endangered Species Act reform and have been used by state and federal agencies to inform their recovery policies and practices.
After moving to the University of Idaho in 1986, as leader of the U.S. Geological Survey’s Idaho Cooperative Research Unit, he initiated the Gap Analysis Program (GAP). This program was an accumulation of the many conservation lessons that he had learned in working with endangered species in Hawaii and California. A nationwide effort, GAP assesses gaps in the protective network for species and ecosystems. A major assumption of this research conservation effort is that the best time to save a species is when it is still common. Results from the GAP project found that two-thirds of the mapped landcover types and similar numbers of vertebrate species have <10% of the area of their distribution in nature preserves and that many nature preserves are too small to maintain viable populations or maintain the integrity of ecological processes. Results of the GAP project have been used by private and state groups to protect natural areas and promote bird conservation across North America and throughout the world. The GAP studies are being used to inform conservation planning efforts globally, and completion of a GAP analysis project is now required of every signatory nation to the Biodiversity Treaty. Results of these projects across the country have provided much of the information for the congressionally mandated, comprehensive statewide wildlife conservation plans that exist today.
Dr. Scott has directed his avian conservation efforts not only to the research arena, but to all levels of society. He has served on science advisory boards of The Nature Conservancy, Idaho Department of Fish and Game, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, and privately owned cattle ranches. In serving on these science advisory boards, he has consistently advanced the use of conservation science in making land-use decisions for bird protection. Scott received the Distinguished Service Award (1993) for his contributions to conservation Biology and the LaRoe Award (1998) for making a difference at the science-policy interface, both from the Society for Conservation Biology. He has also received honorary membership in the Cooper Ornithological Society and was elected a Fellow of the American Ornithologists’ Union and of the American Association for the Advancement of Science for his contributions to ornithology and conservation of birds.
In recognition of his extraordinary scientific contributions to the conservation of avian species throughout the world, the AOU presents J. Michael Scott with the AOU Conservation Award for 2006.
The AOU Conservation Award recognizes extraordinary scientific contributions to the conservation, restoration, or preservation of birds and/or their habitats by an individual or small team (usually fewer than 10 people). Contributions from throughout the world and over any time course are eligible. Appropriate activities include: (1) applied research, restoration, and educational actions that conserve birds or preserve significant bird habitats; (2) scientific examination of the principles of avian conservation and application of new insights into species restoration; and (3) scientific evaluation, guidance, creation, and oversight of avian recovery programs or habitat-reserve restoration programs. The award consists of a framed certificate and an honorarium.