At the Center for Conservation Innovation (CCI) at Defenders of Wildlife, we work at the intersection of science, technology, and policy to pioneer creative, pragmatic conservation solutions. Much of this work focuses on improving endangered species conservation in the U.S., especially under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the strongest wildlife protection law in the world.

Featured Project

What has happened as Congress has starved the ESA over many years? One consequence is that nearly 1/4 of listed species lack a recovery plan and the median age for recovery plans is over 22 years old. Find out more in our new paper, recently published in Conservation Letters! 

This research is closely related to our analysis on the importance of sufficiently funding the ESA.

What we do


We work across Defenders and with collaborators in government, academia, and non-governmental sectors to integrate science into decision-making for improved conservation outcomes. Not only does CCI stay abreast of and use science to inform conservation work across Defenders, we do science, such as:

What’s ahead: In addition to continuing our work with administrative ESA data, we are expanding to integrate novel biological, sociological, and technological data sources in our science. In doing so, we will identify new insights into conservation challenges.


We are always interested in finding ways that new technologies can be deployed to improve conservation outcomes. That may mean work 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:

Satellite imagery of habitat changes.
Snapshots of the change in image reflectance (top) and inferred wind development sites (bottom) in Lesser Prairie Chicken habitat. True-color images are present on the right side of both images.

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, but also expect to expand into hardware applications for conservation. What intractable challenges in conservation can be addressed with creative combinations of technologies?


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 work with Defenders’ Government Relations and Conservation Law departments, as well as policymakers and lawmakers, to create tightly integrated solutions. For example, we watch the Federal Register and other source for any notice that may affect conservation or our work, and as warranted, submit formal or informal comments to shape outcomes.

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 funding mechanisms to fund essential conservation activities.

What is here

This is the “Grand Central Junction” for our research, web applications, policy documents, and more.

Intro Video

For example, you can easily get to our full text search application for ESA-related documents, ESAdocs Search, from here. The navigation bar at the top of the page allows easy access to different categories, and the Directory collects posts for all of the products on a single page. The search box in the navigation bar can often be the fastest way to get where you want to go.

You can also find CCI on ResearchGate.

Contact us

If you have any questions, comments, or ideas about CCI, please feel free to get in touch with us. For more about the team, see here. Interested in joining CCI? Look for positions, including CCI internships and staff positions, on Defenders’ jobs page.

In the header

The map image in the header is from an ongoing CCI project looking at ESA expenditures. The size of the circles show estimates ESA expenditures for each US county (larger = more expenditures) and the color indicates the number of ESA-listed species in the county (red = more species). More results soon!