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Giving Thanks: For Civil Servants

Thanksgiving, among many other things, is a time to reflect and give thanks to the persons, institutions and circumstances whose actions make one’s life a bit better. I am grateful to many: my family, friends, teachers and colleagues. But at this time of rapid sociopolitical changes around the world, my special thanks go to the civil servants who tirelessly work for the protection of biodiversity and ecosystems.

Government laws and regulations are the bedrock upon which all biodiversity, habitat and environmental protection efforts are based. Even private initiatives, such as privately purchased lands to protect species and ecosystems, or captive breeding of rare species in NGO-managed facilities, are only possible and successful because of the underlying governance and stability established and guarded by government.

It is easy–and commonplace–to dismiss civil servants as employees just implementing laws and policies created by elected politicians. But politicians come and go. Civil servants quietly, determinedly work away from the limelight to effectively implement the changes sought by legislation. Many civil servants work in the same department for much of their professional lives, and are superb subject experts. Many civil servants also accept that they will be rewarded less, and criticized more, than their skill set would be in private enterprise. And yet they persist, gradually improving the current actions and earlier achievements of government and society.

Over the past quarter century, I have interacted with quite a few civil servants in wildlife conservation and other departments in several countries and inter-governmental institutions. Universally, they have been persons devoted and dedicated to improving the protection and conservation of biodiversity, habitats, ecosystems, natural resources, and the environment in general, from individual species and specific protected areas to fighting wildlife trafficking and climate change. They work their part of the system, while encouraging synergistic and complementary actions by NGOs and civil society. I have looked with admiration at how people in the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the US Geological Survey, the Environmental Protection Agency, and others, have weathered virtual storms and earthquakes, from the election of anti-environmental lawmakers to Congress-imposed government shutdowns. They are like the proverbial Chinese bamboos, bending down in the storm and springing up and flourishing once the storm has passed. They have provided the steadiness and continuity of conservation policies, fought against their erosion and breakdown when necessary, and guided their rebuilding and strengthening where possible.

I give my profound thanks to their dedication and actions, and wish them every possible strength and determination for the future.

(Photo by Jim Mogen/USFWS)

About the Author

Peter Paul van Dijk

Peter Paul van Dijk

Dr. Peter Paul van Dijk is a GWC associate conservation scientist (chief turtle geek) and Turtle Conservancy's international programs director. He is focused on the conservation of tortoises and freshwater turtles, by facilitating and conducting natural history research, trade monitoring and analysis, and policy work, in partnership with like-minded individuals, organizations and institutions.