Welcome and Opening Remarks at the 86th North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference

Welcome and Opening Remarks at the 86th North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference

Good morning! I am Steve Williams, President of the Wildlife Management Institute (WMI), and I welcome all of you to the 86th North American Conference. After leaving Omaha last year, we had no idea that a year later we would be hosting the first virtual conference in 86 years. We are sorry that we need to meet virtually rather than in person but obviously due to COVID-19, we have no choice. I thank all our co-sponsors, session and workshop leaders, and all participants in this event. Special thanks go to Cindy Delaney and her team and Matt Dunfee from WMI for planning and organizing this event. We all look forward to a very productive conference. During the welcome address, I normally recap the previous year’s activities. This year I think an appropriate theme is the title of one of my favorite western movies, “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.” It seems to be an appropriate title for 2020.

Steve Williams delivering opening remarks

“The Good” – Numerous conservation successes have occurred even during the difficult last year. We saw the passage of the Great American Outdoors Act which was a monumental achievement. Included in the Act is the National Parks and Public Land Legacy Fund which will provide $1.9 billion annually for the next 5 years to address deferred maintenance projects for federal land management agencies (NPS, FWS, BLM, USFS, BIA). The Land and Water Conservation Fund was previously provided permanent authorization and now, through the GAOA, will receive mandatory annual spending authorization of $900 million to assist federal, state, and local recreation funding. In addition, the Pittman-Robertson Modernization Act passed allowing the use of a portion of P-R funds to recruit, retain, and reactivate hunters and shooters, an effort to provide outreach to engage people in outdoor recreation. This provision is similar to the Dingell-Johnson Act that also allows outreach to engage anglers and boaters in outdoor recreation.

At the end of last year, the America’s Conservation Enhancement Act (actually a package of bills) was signed into law. This Act strengthened the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, designated a Chronic Wasting Disease task force within the Fish and Wildlife Service, provided further protection for the Chesapeake Bay estuary, and authorized the National Fish Habitat Conservation Through Partnership Act.

We observed organizations starting to implement the Relevancy Roadmap. As a reminder, “Refining the Relevance of Resource Management” was the theme of the 2009 North American Conference. We have made a lot of progress in the last 12 years. WMI staff are assisting with training some state agencies in the use of the Roadmap. Agencies are addressing the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion within agencies and with the constituents whom they serve. We have seen outreach to outdoor recreation interests that will help engage and serve a broader constituency.

“The Bad” - COVID pandemic, need I say more? Sickness, hospitalizations, and loss of life will all haunt our nation for years to come. The necessity of masks, quarantines, and missing face to face time with friends and families all continues into this year. Of course, the economic impact on businesses and jobs has been devastating for so many people.

“The Ugly” – I believe there is another pandemic, of a sort, affecting our country and it has these symptoms: a lack of trust in science and facts to guide policy, day to day decisions, and personal beliefs; a lack of trust in science related to climate change, vaccines, and public health mandates; and a lack of trust in our democratic electoral process leading to the January 6th insurrection at the U.S. Capitol – an ugly and unprecedented event in U.S. history. 2020 was quite a year – it’s been good, it’s been bad, and it sure has been ugly.

So, let’s look forward to 2021. Vaccine distribution and delivery appears to be picking up speed and maybe this year we will return to a sense of normalcy. We anticipate the passage of the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act. The Alliance for America’s Fish and Wildlife campaign provides support and guides passage of the bill. The Act would distribute $1.3 billion annually to implement State Wildlife Action Plans and almost $100 million per year for tribal fish and wildlife management. This funding would address 12,000 species of plants and animals that are in need of conservation. It also provides 10% of those funds for recovery of Endangered Species Act listed species.

We look forward to the rollout of the 30x30 Initiative. The initiative’s intent is to conserve 30% of American lands by 2030. We hope it will involve active collaboration among federal, state, and private interests to conserve public and private lands. We celebrate the 10th Anniversary of the Women in Wildlife Conservation Network. WMI is proud to have been associated with this group of professionals since its inception. We see continued progress on enhancing the relevancy of conservation work to all Americans. We are seeing collaboration with other outdoor recreation interests to sustain the increased outdoor activity observed during the last year.

I hope you will enjoy the Special Sessions and Workshops presented this week. Their topics include:

  • Management of tribal lands and waters
  • Current approaches to COVID and wildlife health
  • Rethinking the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation
  • The kickoff of the Conservation without Conflict Coalition – please welcome Lauren Ward the new Executive Director
  • Climate adaptations for fish and wildlife conservation
  • Benefits of coastal wetlands and connectivity restoration

I hope you enjoy the following plenary presentations. We will receive remarks from the new administration – from the Department of the Interior, Shannon Estenoz, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks and from the Department of Agriculture, we are honored to have Secretary Tom Vilsack. Finally, we will hear remarks from Gloria Tom – Director of the Navajo Nation, Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Again, thank you for your participation in the 86th North American Conference. I hope you find it productive, informative, and fun.

March 15, 2021