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State Agency Reform

States have primary regulatory authority over wildlife within state boundaries, acting as the trustee on behalf of all state citizens with an obligation to protect all species. This obligation is becoming increasingly difficult to meet in light of climate effects, decreasing state budgets, and increasing human populations putting pressure on wildlife. What’s more, in many of these agencies, current management frameworks are based on outdated scientific and policy rationales and therefore undervalue biodiversity and many native animals, creating gaps in resource allocation and conservation plans.

Our goal is to change the focus of our states’ approach to wildlife management to prioritize protection of core habitats, connectivity, and all trophic levels of species in their efforts to sustain our natural environments.

Wildlands Network’s policy team, supported by our scientists and advocates and in collaboration with other on-the-ground conservation groups, is proactively engaging lawmakers, elected officials, and agency personnel to change this narrative.  Our goal is to change the focus of our states’ approach to wildlife management to prioritize protection of core habitats, connectivity, and all trophic levels of species in their efforts to sustain our natural environments.

Our tools include drafting and passing new state laws to protect species and habitat; working directly with agencies on a biodiversity focus; working with state leaders to bring more science-based voices to state wildlife commissions; and using the power of the purse to create incentives for protecting all species.

These efforts will require us to raise awareness about biodiversity loss among civic leaders and state legislators and build diverse coalitions and advisory groups of state environmental agencies, organizations, and constituents to collaborate on plans to conserve critical species.

Diversifying State Agency Funding

Two men with nets and backpacks wade in water. Fallen and standing trees in background.
Fishing in Cajon Bonita. Photo: John Davis

A critical constraint on state resource agencies is an inadequate level of funding to properly manage wildlife and natural resources. Outdated funding models for state fish and game agencies rely heavily on hunting and fishing licenses to fund agency programs. However, agencies have experienced a sharp decline in sales of these licenses, leading to inadequate funding for proper management of wildlife.

Additionally, this particular funding model has led to a perception that state agencies favor consumptive users of natural resources, like hunters and fishermen, leaving little input for non-consumptive users. State agencies must reform their management structure, as well as their funding models, to ensure they are able to manage wildlife for all citizens of the state. An unfortunate consequence of this funding model is that it leads to a potentially inappropriate emphasis on game species management, leaving little funding for managing for true biodiversity.

While game species—primarily deer and elk—are certainly an important piece of state management plans, we believe agencies should manage wildlife to support a healthy, balanced ecosystem and reflect the values and interest of all citizens. Thus managing for true biodiversity on the ground would lead to more inclusive and fair policies that support healthy populations for species like wolves, bears, and wild cats, who are vital to regulating healthy ecosystems for both people and wildlife.

Managing for true biodiversity–including for grizzly bears, which are endangered in Washington state–would reflect the values of all state citizens, not just hunters and fishermen. Photo: Jean Pierre Lavoie

We plan to work closely with state natural resource agencies and legislators to find new sources of sustainable funding for wildlife programs. Wildlife is valued by many different types of stakeholders—not just hunters and fishermen—and we are working together to seek a better model for ensuring adequate funding for appropriate management for a true biodiverse state. The social and political landscape is changing, and there is mounting support to ask state leaders to allocate funds that will move sustainable wildlife conservation forward.

Fighting for Wildlife at Every Government Level

We believe state agency reform is timely and an important component of Wildlands Network’s multi-tiered policy efforts. As the effects of climate change transform our planet’s ecosystems, wildlife need representatives fighting for their survival at every level of government. We aim to address environmental and resource challenges by prioritizing the well-being of all native plants and animals as a prerequisite for healthy ecosystems that provide clean air, water, and fertile soil.

A lone Mexican wolf moves through green vegetation, with the photo blurred to show that the wolf is in motion.
The Mexican wolf is rare and highly endangered in Arizona and New Mexico. Photo: Juan Carlos Bravo

We hope our work in this arena will lead to improved conservation decisions at the state government level, including more conservation plans for keystone and endangered/threatened species, new protections for critical habitat, and increased public awareness about how to preserve our shared natural heritage for future generations.

We look forward to launching full state agency reform efforts in 2019 and beyond. Stay in-the-know about our state agency reform efforts, and learn about how you can get involved in advocating your state’s elected officials by signing up for our newsletter.

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Please contact Jessica Walz Schafer at jessica@wildlandsnetwork.org for more information on our state wildlife agency reform efforts.