Welcome and Opening Remarks by WMI President Steve Williams at the 82nd North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference

Welcome and Opening Remarks by WMI President Steve Williams at the 82nd North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference

Welcome to the 82nd North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference here in Spokane, Washington. I thank you all for participating and offer special thanks to our state agencies, federal agencies, non-governmental organizations, businesses, industries, and exhibitors for your financial support to help make this conference successful. In addition, WMI thanks all the special session chairs, workshop chairs, and the speakers, for addressing some of the most pressing conservation challenges facing our nation. Finally, thank you Jim Unsworth for your welcome to the great state of Washington.

Once again, the federal government is in the process of transition – in this case, with a change in the political party in power both at the White House and on Capitol Hill. We recognize the recent confirmation of Ryan Zinke as the Secretary of the Interior and await a decision on the Secretary of Agriculture nominee, Sonny Perdue. It is too early to speculate about the path forward for these federal departments but the rumored budget cuts at EPA, Interior, and Agriculture demand our attention and advocacy in support of the tried and true conservation programs provided by these federal funds.

So many challenges face our community – sustainable funding, balancing energy development with landscape conservation, the threat of large-scale federal land transfer, agency funding levels, wildfire funding, wild horse and burro management, Endangered Species Act reform, Farm Bill incentive programs for private land conservation, active management of federal lands – the list can go on. However, I believe two other issues are of equal or greater importance to the future success of our collective efforts.

First is the issue of conservation relevancy. The Blue Ribbon Panel concluded that this issue must and will be addressed. In large measure, the late Dr. Stephen Kellert, a giant in the field of social ecology and a Professor Emeritus at Yale University, helped set that course. Dr. Kellert’s contributions to our profession should be recognized and celebrated. He authored more than 150 publications, most focused on the necessity of humans’ connection with nature. Dr. Kellert cautioned us all, “… we must remain true to our biology, which is rooted in nature,” he wrote. “If we stray too far from our inherited dependence on the natural world, we do so at our own peril.”

"When we recognize the advantage of incorporating social sciences and economic impacts into our programs, we will step to another level in the evolution of the 21st century fish and wildlife profession."

Recognizing the need to adapt to social change, agency efforts across the country have started to change the way we manage public trust resources. The Wildlife Governance Principles’ workshops and presentations promise to transform how agencies serve the public. Efforts to incorporate human dimensions research into agency programs are slowly but steadily growing. Marketing and social media efforts are increasing in an effort to better understand and reach out to the public. When we recognize the advantage of incorporating social sciences and economic impacts into our programs, we will step to another level in the evolution of the 21st century fish and wildlife profession.

The second issue we must address is the strained relationship between federal conservation agencies and state fish and wildlife agencies. The tension and conflict between these two levels of government is nothing new but it can be nearly paralyzing. De-escalation of this conflict is critical for the future of natural resource management. There are numerous reasons for the conflict but I believe they center on the issues of respect, trust, and leadership. Federal and state agencies must recognize the respective commitment and expertise of their counterparts to effectively conserve our natural resources. This recognition leads to respect for each other’s capabilities. Building trust among partners may be a difficult endeavor but one that is essential for collaborative work. Trust is built by developing personal and professional relationships one on one, at all levels of organizations. It takes time and a conscious effort to understand rather than to criticize. Finally, it will require leadership at both state and federal levels to communicate the importance of cooperation and collaboration between agencies. Leaders must never falter in their mission to strengthen the relationship between state and federal agencies. It must be job one.

WMI is doing our best to contribute to conservation relevancy and leadership. We continue to serve on the Blue Ribbon Panel and we are partners in the Wildlife Governance Principles effort. WMI has provided national leadership in the recruitment, retention, and reactivation of our nations’ hunters and anglers. We are actively enhancing partnerships among state and federal agencies and the industries that support the Wildlife Restoration Program. Our work in the Northeast, Appalachians, and Great Lakes regions is making habitat management relevant for private and industrial forest owners. Our programmatic evaluations have focused, in part, on the necessity of public engagement, an engagement that makes programs relevant to a larger public audience. We are committed to serving the entire profession – state and federal agencies, NGOs, and the industries that support conservation efforts.

This conference continues its commitment to the profession. We do our best to provide topical issues for discussion. The conference has again focused largely on the relevancy of conservation to the American public. Dave Case, our next presenter, will highlight the results of an unprecedented, scientific survey of the American public with respect to their understanding and connection to nature. This work, carried out in conjunction with Dr. Kellert, is extremely important to all conference participants. It demonstrates Americans’ connection to nature regardless of their place of home and work, gender, race, or ethnicity. I believe it will help us connect with a broader audience and guide our agency programs for the future.

Tovar Cerulli will conclude the plenary session with a thoughtful examination of his transformational experience from an observer of nature to a participant in nature. His comments should broaden your horizon about whom you serve in your role as a fish and wildlife conservationist.

Thank you for participating in this conference and I thank you for your dedication to fish and wildlife conservation.

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Photo Credit
DJ Case & Associates
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March 17, 2017