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In the Center for Conservation Innovation (CCI) at Defenders of Wildlife, we pioneer creative, pragmatic conservation solutions at the intersection of science, technology, and policy. This unique combination of approaches is essential in an age of increasing threats to wildlife and static or dwindling resources for conservation; new ideas are needed now more than ever. We identify current and emerging conservation challenges, develop solutions that improve conservation outcomes, and use a suite of techniques and partnerships to advocate for those solutions.

From Malcom and Li, 2018, Conservation Letters.


We work across Defenders and with collaborators in government, academia, the private sector, and the non-governmental sector to integrate science into decision-making for improved conservation outcomes. Not only does CCI stay abreast of and use science to inform conservation across Defenders, we lead or collaborate on original research, such as:

What’s ahead: In addition to research with administrative ESA data, we are expanding to integrate novel biological, sociological, and technological data sources in our science. That will include more tightly connecting conservation to human health and engaging a broader audience in the science of conservation. Not only do we gain new insights into conservation challenges, CCI’s research underpins solutions.


Automated habitat change detection developed in the Center; see analysis here.

We are always looking for ways to develop and deploy new technologies to improve conservation outcomes. That may mean approaches as simple as using common web tools to improve ESA recovery plans or research on ESA compliance using Google Earth. But sometimes the topic is much more technical, such as creating a new platform for automatically detecting habitat change. We use computational tools for natural language processing to automate data mining of large document sets, and computer vision to detect and identify objects in drone footage and aerial imagery.

What’s ahead: We continue pursuing data and software innovations, and also expect to expand into hardware applications for conservation. What intractable challenges in conservation can be addressed with creative combinations of technology and policy? Our goal is to find out.


The best science and technology developments are of little use to conservation if they don’t have application. Based in Washington, DC, our application focus is conservation law and policy. We think creatively about how science, technology, and policy are developed together, and collaborate with Defenders’ Government Relations and Conservation Law departments, as well as policymakers and lawmakers, to create tightly integrated solutions. We also evaluate and comment on policies that affect conservation indirectly, such as NOAA regulations on space-based remote sensing licensing.

What’s ahead: We have an eye towards developing and promoting next-generation conservation policies, on topics as varied as how genomic data informs ESA implementation; new ways to involve a broader swath of the public in conservation; and novel ways to fund essential conservation activities.