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Interview: Cynthia Jacobson, Chair of CAFF

"From my perspective, we have a clear opportunity now to do things well in the Arctic, and that is what the Arctic Council is all about."

What is your background, and how is that you came to be the Chair of CAFF?

I have worked in natural resource policy and planning in Alaska for nearly two decades, leading collaborative, science-informed conservation in the Region. Prior to assuming the role as full-time Chair of the Conservation of Flora and Fauna Working Group (CAFF), I was the Assistant Regional Director for Science Applications, United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). I oversaw coordination of the Region’s climate change and landscape-scale conservation efforts, all either fully or partially within the Arctic. These collaboratives convened diverse, sometimes international partners to achieve shared conservation goals and objectives for their geographies. In that role, I convened and facilitated many multi-interest stakeholder groups to address high-profile conservation issues, and have chaired regional and national committees. During my tenure in Alaska, I developed expertise in Arctic issues and established strong relationships within local, state, and federal agencies; with Tribes and Alaska Native associations; non-governmental organizations; industry; university and other partners. Prior to working for the USFWS, I was the Assistant Director for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s Division of Wildlife Conservation, where I worked for 12 years. I received a B.A. from the University of Colorado and M.S. and Ph.D. from the Department of Natural Resources at Cornell University. The focus of my dissertation work was on transformation of conservation agencies to address societal changes and funding challenges. Based on my passion about and experience working in collaborative conservation in Alaska, the decision to pursue the opportunity to be the CAFF Chair was an easy one.

Have you spent much time in the Arctic? If so, what’s the most memorable experience that you’ve had during that time?

During my tenure in Alaska, I have had the great fortune to spend a considerable time working and recreating in the Arctic. I have grown an immense appreciation for the people, wildlife and vast, intact landscapes of the Arctic. While working for the State of Alaska, I convened numerous stakeholder groups to address conservation issues in the Arctic. For example, I led a diverse stakeholder group In Northwestern Alaska to help resolve issues between Indigenous people living in Kotzebue and surrounding villages and non-locals regarding the Western Arctic Caribou Herd. While Assistant Regional Director with the USFWS, I oversaw a series of coastal resilience and adaptation workshops to engage communities in the Arctic, including Nome and Unalaska. I was fortunate enough to join a research cruise along the Aleutian Chain on the USFWS Research Vessel Tiglax. In addition, I spent time in the lovely village of Kaktovik, Alaska where I was able to view polar bears and see the beautiful Arctic National Wildlife Refuge! All of these experiences were memorable, but I think walking on a rickety plank above a fur seal rookery on St. Paul Island in the Pribalofs would be near the top!

What is it about the work that takes place in CAFF that most inspires or excites you?

The opportunity to work collaboratively with an international group of people dedicated to proactive and applied biodiversity conservation in the circumpolar Arctic inspires me. From my perspective, we have a clear opportunity now to do things well in the Arctic, and that is what the Arctic Council is all about. In order to be successful, we must continue to be innovative and broaden our partnerships to increase the relevancy of Arctic biodiversity by linking it to human health and well-being. The importance of the work being done by the CAFF Working Group and the countless number of individuals from the eight Arctic countries, Permanent Participants, Observer Countries and organizations gives me hope that the future is bright for the Arctic.

When you were considering the position of Chair, what – in general – made the idea appealing to you? What made this role attractive?

The Arctic Council and its subsidiary groups have an excellent reputation for effective international collaboration, so the opportunity to be a part of that broad partnership focused on Arctic biodiversity conservation was very appealing to me. I feel very fortunate to have been chosen to serve in the position of the CAFF Working Group Chair. Every day, I learn something new and become increasingly excited about the possibilities. A welcome challenge has been to identify some emphasis areas, within the portfolio of existing CAFF work, on which to help focus the U.S. Chairmanship. With input from many engaged with the CAFF Working Group, I have done just that as a starting point, but recognize the importance of being flexible to emerging needs and creative ideas. These emphasis areas are included in the brochure that was produced for the CAFF launch event in conjunction with the Fairbanks Ministerial last month. (Click here to read the brochure.)