Categorized | Public Lands

Conservation in the Information Age

Data.  We live in the information age.  Information is power.  Information and data can help us see problems and solve problems.

Just three days after his inauguration, President Obama issued a memorandum on open government and transparency.

“My Administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government.  We will work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration. Openness will strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in Government.”

In May, 2009, Federal Chief Information Officer, Vivek Kundra, launched Data.gov “to improve access to Federal data and expand creative use of those data beyond the walls of government by encouraging innovative ideas (e.g., web applications). Data.gov strives to make government more transparent and is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government. The openness derived from Data.gov will strengthen our Nation’s democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in Government.”

Data.gov is a surprisingly innovative and modern initiative by the federal government, and invites independent developers to develop “apps” for viewing and processing data, and invites the public to comment on, visualize and participate in an online community around the datasets and what they reveal. Data.gov launched with only 47 datasets and today boasts over 300,000.

But if you are looking for data and information to democratize federal natural resources agencies and help the public understand and solve our pressing conservation problems, well, look again.  Here are the number of datasets available on Data.gov for the major natural resources-related federal agencies:

That’s right: federal conservation agencies have posted a whopping 0.05% of all datasets on Data.gov.

Through our work on the Conservation Registry, we’ve found a fairly high level of resistance to the reality of sharing data, although there are bright spots at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  A related National Database of Conservation Easements has been successful in getting more information from federal sources.

In December of 2009, Office of Management and Budget Director, Peter Orszag, issued a directive to all agencies on implementing the President’s Open Government Initiative.  To speed the availability of government data to the public, the directive required:

“Within 45 days, each agency shall identify and publish online in an open format at least three high-value data sets (see attachment section 3.a.i) and register those data sets via Data.gov. These must be data sets not previously available online or in a downloadable format.”

Apparently these agencies thought the directive said they had 450 days to deliver more information to the public.

True, some of these agencies do have data available, albeit buried, on their agency web pages.  But imagine for a minute if these agencies had embraced the call for transparency and openness.  What connections could we see between agencies?

This post was written by:

- who has written 16 posts on dotWild.

Noah Matson is Defenders’ Vice President Landscape Conservation and Climate Adaptation. Noah directs Defenders’ efforts to create and implement policies and strategies to safeguard wildlife and habitat from the impacts of climate change. Noah also oversees Defenders’ programs to improve the management of wildlife and habitat on federal public lands including national forests, national wildlife refuges, and the National System of Public Lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management.

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dotWild is the blog of scientists and policy experts at Defenders of Wildlife, a national, nonprofit membership organization dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities.

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