Opening Remarks by WMI President Steve Williams During the 84th North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference

Opening Remarks by WMI President Steve Williams During the 84th North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference

Welcome to the 84th North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference. I want to thank all the attendees for taking time out of your busy schedules to participate in this conference. I offer special thanks to all the state agency, federal agency, non-governmental organizations, businesses, industries, and exhibitors for your financial support to help make this conference successful. I also want to recognize the special session chairs, workshop chairs, and the speakers. Thank you for your time and efforts to provide meaningful dialogue on the conservation challenges facing our nation.

Steve Williams delivers opening remarks at North American Conference

On the national legislative front, we have a lot to be thankful for. After years of effort by many of the groups sitting in this room, the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) reauthorization passed Congress. LWCF will now provide permanent funding for land conservation at both the federal and state level. Equally as important, 3 percent of LWCF funds have been directed to open landlocked federal lands by providing public access across private lands. This will allow hunters, anglers, and outdoor enthusiasts to enjoy millions of acres of public lands currently inaccessible. Although many organizations worked on this legislation, I think it is fitting to recognize and thank the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation for their long-standing commitment to this issue.

The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (RAWA) legislation has been reintroduced in Congress and enjoys a level of bipartisan support. The Alliance for America’s Fish and Wildlife has developed a campaign to help shepherd this bill through Congress. An impressive array of organizations, industries, and businesses are supporting this effort. This unprecedented level and breadth of support will be needed to assure passage of the RAWA bill. We all recognize the tremendous effort it will take to convince Congress that $1.3 billion a year is a wise investment that would pay tremendous dividends for the American public. This is not just about fish and wildlife; it is about clean air, clean water, healthy habitats, outdoor recreation, and most importantly, our quality of life.

The Pittman-Robertson Fund Modernization bill has also been reintroduced. Although it passed the House last session, it did not receive passage in the Senate. Again, numerous organizations are working tirelessly to pass the bill that would provide state agencies with the flexibility to use a portion of their P-R funds to advance hunter recruitment and to provide safe and modern shooting ranges for recreational shooters. In addition, the Multistate Conservation Grant program would receive additional funding that would be used to actively encourage more participation in hunting and shooting sports. Declining participation threatens the financial lifeblood of most state agencies. Passage of this bill would allow innovative recruitment programs like those already in place for angling and boating.

Obviously, Congress is in a state of flux, to be diplomatic. The change in House leadership and new committee make-up may complicate advancing legislative proposals. A politically divided government presents challenges and opportunities. It is more important now than in the past for our community to work together to demonstrate to Congress that conservation is a long-term endeavor that benefits the public of all political stripes. Conservation should not and cannot be a partisan issue. Our work is relevant to all of society not just our valued and traditional partners, hunters and anglers.

To that end, the Blue Ribbon Panel Relevancy Working Group has labored over the past year or so to develop a Roadmap to Relevancy. This effort is critical for our future. It is not only a practical effort, it is a necessary effort to serve as public stewards of our natural resources. We manage the public trust for all beneficiaries of that trust – all Americans. I am proud to mention that WMI has been at the forefront of this effort for more than 10 years now. This conference has provided the forum and the crucible to promote conservation relevancy. Tony Wasley and I express our sincere appreciation for the work of some 60 individuals representing federal and state agencies and the private conservation sector for their hard work completed to date.

WMI continues our efforts to serve the conservation community. In addition to our work on the Relevancy Working Group, we are involved in more than 30 national, regional, and state level conservation efforts. Since our last meeting in Spokane, we have assisted state agencies in reviewing and evaluating agency programs, rules, and regulations. We have provided limited-term employees who work on agency projects that could not be completed with agency full-time staff. Our work spans issues such as: Chronic Wasting Disease, the Harvest Information Program, monarch butterfly conservation, national and state level R3 efforts, agency/industry relations, early successional forests, landscape-scale conservation, the North American Waterfowl Management Plan, big game migration corridors, and wildlife poaching and trafficking. I name these efforts as a tribute to the knowledge and skills of a small cadre of WMI staff who have devoted their careers to enhance the scientific management of wildlife and its habitat. We may be a small outfit, but we play big.

This morning we will hear from two important speakers, first, Tony Wasley, Director of the Nevada Department of Wildlife. Tony and I co-chair the Blue Ribbon Panel Relevancy Working Group. Tony will explain our goals and accomplishments over the last 5 months. This work promises to provide conservation organizations with a roadmap to enhance conservation relevancy and to engage and serve a broader range of the public.

Second, David Bernhardt, Acting Secretary of the Interior, will discuss the Department’s efforts to improve federal and state agency cooperation and coordination. The President has announced his intention to nominate David to the post of Secretary of the Interior. I am sure I speak for those assembled here when I say we are eager to hear your plans David and we welcome your thoughts on this critical conservation partnership.

Finally, and as always, I thank you for participating in this conference and thank you for your dedication to fish and wildlife conservation.

Photo Credit
Crystal Egli
March 15, 2019