Draft Agency Relevancy Roadmap Available for Comment

Draft Agency Relevancy Roadmap Available for Comment

A draft Fish and Wildlife Relevancy Roadmap developed with support from the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (AFWA) and the Wildlife Management Institute (WMI) was distributed to all 50 state fish and wildlife agency directors for their review prior to the upcoming AFWA meeting in Minneapolis September 22-25. The Roadmap is a non-prescriptive guide that agencies can use to engage and serve broader constituencies, while maintaining their historic connections with hunters and anglers. At the upcoming AFWA meeting, the state agency directors will discuss the Roadmap and consider how best to move forward.

Roadmap Cover page

Ed Carter, AFWA President and Director of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency noted, “The research is clear that in America today, our citizens are more and more disconnected from nature and the outdoors, and that disconnection makes our jobs as protectors of fish and wildlife all the more difficult.”

The Roadmap provides strategies, tactics, and examples of ongoing efforts to overcome 19 barriers that make it difficult for agencies to adapt to the changing social and environmental context for conservation today. The barriers relate to agency culture, agency capacity, constituent culture, constituent capacity, and legal and political constraints. Over 60 individuals from the U.S. and Canada employed by state and federal agencies, non-governmental organizations, tribes, business, industry, academia, and private citizens worked for the past year to develop the Roadmap.

Tony Wasley, Director of the Nevada Department of Wildlife, and Steve Williams, President of the Wildlife Management Institute who oversaw development of the Roadmap wrote in the Foreword, “Many involved in this Relevancy Roadmap effort believe that this work addresses the most important challenge confronting natural resource agencies that we have faced in our careers.”

Included below in its entirety is the Executive Summary from the draft plan.

The social and ecological context for fish and wildlife conservation in North America is changing rapidly. Habitat loss, invasive species, declines in biodiversity, and the impacts of climate change are accelerating. At the same time, society is increasingly diverse, urban, and disconnected from nature. The number of hunters and anglers – the historic funding base for state fish and wildlife agencies – is declining. In response to these trends, fish and wildlife agencies must find ways to engage and serve broader constituencies to expand the financial and political support necessary to ensure the future of North America’s conservation legacy.

Starting in early 2018, a small group of staff from several state and federal fish and wildlife agencies, the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (AFWA), and the Wildlife Management Institute (WMI) began working to address relevancy under the leadership of Tony Wasley, Director of the Nevada Department of Wildlife and Steve Williams, President of WMI. The group examined the literature and their professional experience to identify barriers that make it difficult for agencies to engage and serve broader constituencies. The barriers were found to fall within five categories: agency culture, agency capacity, constituent culture, constituent capacity, and political and legal constraints.

An example of a barrier, strategy, steps, and tactics developed to engage and serve broader constituencies

In July 2018, this group met with AFWA leadership and representatives from additional agencies and non-government organizations to refine the list of barriers and outline a process to provide agencies with strategies to overcome those barriers. In September 2018, state fish and wildlife agency directors approved a resolution to proceed with drafting this “Relevancy Roadmap” as a non-prescriptive tool to help agencies chart a course for engaging and serving broader constituencies.

Over the following 10 months, more than 60 individuals from state, provincial, and federal agencies, tribes, non-governmental organizations, and resource and outdoor industries worked in five category-specific teams to develop this Roadmap. The teams used an adaptation of the Open Standards for the Practice of Conservation as a logic framework to refine the list of barriers and to develop strategies and tactics to overcome each barrier. Each strategy involves a series of steps that produce intermediate results leading to the ultimate goal of enhanced conservation through broader engagement. Figure 1 illustrates the relationship between a barrier, strategy, steps, and tactics.

Across the five categories mentioned above, the teams settled on 19 barriers to engaging and serving broader constituencies as the focus for their work (Figure 2). The teams developed a rationale for each of the strategies to overcome the barrier and suggested tactics that might be used to implement the strategy. Whenever possible, the teams identified examples of current efforts by agencies to engage and serve broader constituencies to illustrate how various tactics are already being implemented.

Barriers to Engaging and Serving Broader Constituencies

Relevancy Roadmap Goal: Enhanced Conservation Through Broader Engagement

As the five teams worked independently to develop strategies and tactics, team leaders discovered that many of the strategies included very similar actions. These overarching actions proved consistent enough to warrant special recognition as recommendations that, if followed, would simultaneously impact numerous barriers and increase an agency’s capacity to implement a host of strategies. The recommendations with broad impact are as follows:

Agency leadership and governing bodies must recognize the need for conservation agencies to adapt to changing societal conditions and demonstrate support for adaptation efforts. Without guidance and support from leadership, an agency is unlikely to undertake the type of adaptive changes needed in response to societal trends.

Agency leadership and governing bodies need to demonstrate commitment to being more inclusive of diverse perspectives and interests in fish, wildlife, their habitats, and outdoor recreation activities. An agency’s public trust responsibility extends to all members of current and future generations. Leaders must set the example and expectation that the agency will engage and serve broader constituencies.

Agencies need to increase acquisition and application of social science information (stakeholder engagement, stakeholder inquiry, marketing, education, outreach, communications, economics, and evaluation) to identify, better understand, engage, and serve broader constituencies. The human dimensions of fish and wildlife conservation must be informed by science that is as robust and comprehensive as the ecological information relied upon in the past. Social science needs to have equal consideration with biological science in funding priority and decision-making.

Agencies need to commit to assessing, evaluating and improving agency structures, processes, practices, and programs and to share lessons learned about their experiences in engaging and serving broader constituencies. Albert Einstein said, “We cannot solve today’s problems with the same kind of thinking that created them.” To address the challenges of the coming decades, agencies need to be strategic and adaptive.

Agencies need to commit to increased and improved partnering and collaboration to increase engagement with and service to broader constituencies. The demands on fish and wildlife agencies today exceed their individual capacity. There are numerous current and potential partners eager and willing to assist agencies fulfill their missions. Agencies need to leverage their experience and relationships with current partners to broaden the collective conservation impact.

Like any roadmap, this one provides numerous pathways. Each agency will need to determine its own starting point, pace, and direction based on its unique social and ecological context and capacity. It is not likely any agency will need to address all the barriers identified in the Roadmap and the Roadmap should not be viewed as a “To Do” list that must be completed from top to bottom. To use the Roadmap most effectively, an agency should begin by setting priorities to address the most significant barrier(s) impacting their ability to engage and serve broader constituencies.

The changes agencies will need to make to engage and serve broader constituencies are most likely to come about through an adaptive management approach. Accordingly, monitoring and evaluating the outcomes of implementing strategies and tactics is an essential part of the process. The Roadmap includes recommendations for measuring outcomes as part of the implementation process.

The Roadmap is intended to be a living document. At this time, it represents the current state of knowledge and experience presented as a series of proposed solutions that must be implemented to discover how effective these strategies and tactics are. It is not lost upon the editors and contributors that while much has been written and postulated about the topic of conservation relevancy, very little practical experience has been gained to guide an agency committed to improving its policies, practices, services, and programs to serve and engage more of its constituents. To be successful, the recommendations, strategies, and tactics included in this document must be applied in real-world conditions and refined according to the results they produce.

The Roadmap will eventually be housed on a dynamic website with related information and tools. Implementation of the Roadmap will benefit from national coordination and leadership. We recommend a team be assembled to serve in that capacity, principally to provide implementation support, serve as a convener, provide training, and lead revision. The team can also update the Roadmap going forward.

Finally, increasing the relevancy of fish and wildlife must be built on the strong foundation laid during the past millennium by dedicated public servants, the engaged public (including hunters and anglers) and indispensable contributions of non-government conservation organizations and private landowners. The fate of our treasured fish and wildlife, more than ever before, rests on our ability to collaborate as one community to garner the support and participation of a much larger swath of the public.

September 16, 2019