Welcome and Opening Remarks by Steve Williams at the 87th North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference

Welcome and Opening Remarks by Steve Williams at the 87th North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference

Welcome to the 87th North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference. It is so nice to be able to see each other in person and not over a computer screen. I am sure that you, like me, missed reconnecting with your friends and colleagues during the last two years. We are happy that we can provide that opportunity, and also serve those who may not be able to make the conference by providing a virtual component. My sincere thanks to Matt Dunfee, the conference organizer, as well as Cindy Delaney and her talented team for assisting us in this conference. I also thank all the state agency, federal agency, tribal members, non-governmental organizations, businesses, industries, and exhibitors for your participation and financial support to make this 87th conference successful.

Steve Williams delivering opening remarks at 87th North American Conference

In spite of the many issues associated with COVID-19, our profession has made some notable achievements since we last met together in 2020. The passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act has provided funding to address the nation’s roads, bridges, airports, and rail lines. It will help provide clean drinking water, address orphan oil and gas wells, reclaim abandoned mines, and help deal with Superfund sites. Perhaps most exciting to us are the provisions to use natural resiliency to combat climate change impacts. Large-scale landscape and watershed projects, undertaken in partnership with state agencies and conservation organizations, could enhance terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems across the nation. These projects should focus on building protective and resilient solutions to droughts, wildfires, flooding, and coastal habitat restoration. There is a myriad of regional and local, cooperative models already established that would benefit from enhanced funding and opportunities to establish new partnerships to benefit fish, wildlife, and outdoor recreation.

The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (RAWA) is poised for congressional action again this year. The success of the American System for Conservation Funding has been undeniable. We have restored those species eligible for funding under the Pittman-Robertson and Dingell-Johnson Acts. However, thousands of other species need increased resources to halt declines in numbers and declines in available habitat. RAWA does just that. Dedicated funding would implement State Wildlife Action Plans and allow states and tribes to employ effective conservation efforts to conserve those species most in need of conservation. Congress must understand that RAWA complements federal efforts through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to reduce the need for federal protection under the Endangered Species Act. This state financial investment will increase the return on the federal investment in species and their ecosystems. Those members of Congress who disparage the ESA should jump at the chance to address species in greatest need of conservation through efforts of tribes and their own state fish and wildlife agencies, possibly precluding the need for future federal protection.

As our profession engages in the America the Beautiful initiative and the American Conservation and Stewardship Atlas, we have encouraged the administration to view biodiversity threats as challenges that can be addressed just as our predecessors addressed the wildlife challenges at the turn of the 20th century. At that time, foresighted individuals faced these challenges head on and delivered the greatest fish and wildlife success stories in the world. Although the challenges of yesteryear may pale in comparison to current challenges, our profession has evolved in its knowledge, its sophistication, its understanding, and now is equipped with new technologies and analysis tools. Today, we are much better armed to tackle these threats. Today, state and tribal fish and wildlife agencies, academia, and conservation organizations stand ready to address these challenges in collaboration with our federal agency partners. We have cautioned the administration to use the term “conservation” in its original and truest definition—the wise management and use of natural resources, for the greatest good, for the longest time. The Atlas must recognize conservation efforts on private lands and the value of incentive based, voluntary efforts. In constructing the Atlas and the America the Beautiful initiative, we ask that all forms of wildlife-dependent recreation be considered and valued, including hunting, fishing, and trapping.

WMI continues to use our unique niche in this community to advance the wildlife profession. As an independent, non-membership organization, we can accomplish projects in ways that may cause problems for other organizations. We are currently administering 19 competitive grants, 11 of which involve our long-standing commitment to hunter recruitment, retention, and reactivation. In addition, and using the Relevancy Roadmap, we continue our assistance to state agencies eager to broaden the public’s engagement in conservation. We are proud to welcome Ann Forstchen to the WMI staff. With her expertise and experience, we have increased our capacity to address issues such as: agency relevancy, agency leadership, and organizational programs and authorities. Administering the Conservation Without Conflict effort through the work of Lauren Ward, provides WMI with an even larger coalition of conservationists who recognize that conservation is good business and working lands are essential for long-term conservation success. Our recent collaborative work with the Cooperative Research Units and the Fish and Wildlife Service, headed up by Jen Mock Schaeffer, may provide a solution to the extensive data management issues that plague interstate and regional cooperation efforts to conserve species of greatest conservation need.

In closing, I am going to recognize a friend and colleague who has a career that spans some 40 years. He has worked for the National Rifle Association, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, The Nature Conservancy, and for the past 16 years, as the Vice President of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation. Many of you know Gary Kania. Gary is retiring this year to enjoy more time outdoors and with his family. Gary has a keen mind and rapier wit. We can attribute the terms “American System of Conservation Funding” and “user-pays, public-benefits” largely to Gary’s intellect. Many times, Gary and I would cuss and discuss conservation policy. I don’t know if I ever won any of those debates, but I enjoyed the back and forth and his friendship through the years. Unfortunately, Gary cannot be here in Spokane, but I am sure he is listening to this plenary session. Gary, I wish you all the best in your retirement years.

It has been my distinct privilege to address Conference participants 21 times during the past 22 years. This is my 17th year providing a welcome address. I thank all of you for that privilege and for the privilege of working alongside you on some of the most important conservation challenges facing our nation. There is much more to be done and the people that will get it done are here and at work locations all across our country. I am so proud to count myself, just as you all should, as one of the wildlife professionals who has tried to make a difference for the natural world and future generations. Our future is bright, help is on the way, and it is up to each of us to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow.

Enjoy the special sessions, workshops, committee meetings, and social interaction. I hope this is a successful meeting for each and every one of you. Finally, and as always, I thank you for participating in this conference and I thank you for your dedication to fish and wildlife conservation.

Photo Credit
Jon Gassett, Wildlife Management Institute
March 16, 2022