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Q&A with GWC’s new manager of IUCN Red List assessments

In January GWC welcomed Jennifer Luedtke to the team as manager of IUCN Red List assessments. Along with GWC Amphibians Red List Officer Kelsey Neam and 22 ARLA Regional Coordinators, Jennifer leads the Global Amphibian Assessment, an initiative that seeks to assess the extinction risk of all known species of frog, toad and caecilian. We had a chance to talk to Jennifer about her important work with the IUCN Red List and her passion for conservation.

Here’s what she had to say:

Q. How did you develop your passion for conservation?
A. Like so many people, my passion began with a childhood love for animals. This compelled me to not only beg my parents for pets, but also absorb science books and nature documentaries. This love was soon paired with a sense of responsibility as my father taught my sister and I to “leave no trace”—and to even clean up other people’s traces! In between his tree identification quizzes, we followed his example and dutifully collected the trash we found during family hikes.

Common Fire Salamander

Thanks to the passion of friends and family, the burden of care for the planet was made lighter with the gift of delight. They showed me the hiding places of Fire Salamanders, taught me to imitate the song of a chickadee, and rattled off the weird and wonderful names of mushrooms and flowers. I cherish their impact on my imagination: the revelation that it is possible to know and enjoy first-hand the world that I had discovered on the page and on the screen.

Q. How are IUCN Red List assessments critical to conservation?
A. The reality we face is that resources for conservation are scarce and the pressures on species are immense. The IUCN Red List helps direct funding and action to the species that most need our concerted efforts to survive. In an ever-changing world, the Red List does this by being a dynamic snapshot of the state of life on earth; a “Barometer of Life.” As use of forests and oceans intensify, as diseases spread, and climate shifts, so do the Red List assessments. The exercise of assessing species for the Red List is critical to understanding which species are at greatest risk of extinction, why they are threatened, and where they are.

IUCN Red List threat categories.

Q. What primary goals do you have this year for GWC’s IUCN Red List work?
A. I serve as global coordinator for the IUCN SSC Amphibian Red List Authority (ARLA). The ARLA is a group established in 2009 to maintain updated amphibian assessments on the IUCN Red List—also called the Global Amphibian Assessment (GAA) initiative. The first GAA took place during 2001-2004 and the ARLA is currently working on the second GAA. However, we’re behind schedule, so one of my goals for 2017 is to make serious progress on this front.

In addition to finding the resources to complete the current initiative, I will also be working this year with colleagues at GWC to lay the groundwork for the third GAA. I am looking forward to identifying synergies with GWC colleagues over the next few months. One that is already underway is a close collaboration with Penny Langhammer, GWC’s director of Key Biodiversity Areas and Species Assessment, to ensure that our assessments contain the information required for the identification of Key Biodiversity Areas.

Banding a Red-bellied sapsucker in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest, California with the US Fish and Wildlife Service. The goal of bird monitoring in this area is to track the response of bird species in riparian habitats to the restoration activities that were part of the Trinity River Restoration Program. (Photo courtesy of Jennifer Luedtke)

Q. What is your favorite part of working in conservation?
A. I get to live and work in a community of people who share my curiosity and love for the world. Their knowledge of the astounding diversity of life and their passion for keeping it alive makes for a very rich working environment. Selfishly, I love how much I get to learn every day: learning is a key motivator for me and the conservation community provides an endless smorgasbord of new information—I’m incredibly spoiled.

Q. What is your favorite part of working in the field?
A. Working in the field fulfils my unfortunate love of logistics and sampling protocols. But more significantly, there is a magic to waking up in the same clothes you’ve been wearing for a few days, seeing, hearing—and sometimes touching—wild animals, and feeling the effects of concrete and schedules melt away. It is both physically taxing and spiritually renewing. I feel more human in the field. More myself.

Exciting opportunity in 2015 to feed the recently arrived Japanese Giant Salamanders (Andrias japonicus) at Honolulu Zoo before they moved into their permanent homes in the new amphibian and reptile house. Honolulu Zoo is partnering with the Hanzaki Institute, Japan to study these salamanders and develop a long-range conservation plan for their survival in the wild. (Photo courtesy of Jennifer Luedtke)

Q. Do you have a particular favorite moment from the field? What did that moment feel like for you?
A. The first time I held a hummingbird is a moment I will never forget. In 2008, I was surveying and banding birds in northern California. The majesty of the redwoods, the churning of snowmelt as it rushed through gorges, the rage of forest fires between our survey sites, and the power of summer thunderstorms pummelling the mountaintops were all reminders of how small we humans are. But it was feeling the tiny heartbeat of the hummingbird that truly adjusted my perspective.

About the Author

Lindsay Renick Mayer

Lindsay Renick Mayer

Lindsay is the associate director of communications for Global Wildlife Conservation and has a particular interest in leveraging communications to inspire conservation action. Lindsay is passionate about species-based conservation and finding compelling ways to tell stories that demonstrate the value of all of the planet’s critters, big and microscopic.