State Fish and Wildlife Agencies in the Intermountain West: Past, Present, and Future

At the 2015 Winter WAFWA meeting, Virgil Moore, Director of Idaho Department of Fish and Game, Noreen Walsh, Mountain-Prairie Regional Director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and Management Board Members of the IWJV, announced that ConocoPhillips Company is providing $1 million to support implementation of the Sage Grouse Initiative.

For decades, wildlife habitat conservation in the Intermountain West has been steered by the eleven state fish and wildlife agencies that operate within the boundaries of the IWJV. These agencies have stationed wildlife biologists in essentially every county and have long done the heavy lifting of conducting wildlife population surveys and research working with a variety of partners and constituents to protect, restore, and manage wildlife habitat.

The state fish and wildlife agencies have also established and maintained state wildlife management areas, which together with other public lands form an important thread of protected wetland habitat in the Intermountain West benefitting numerous wetland-dependent bird species.

A key organization that assists the IWJV and other conservation partners working with the state fish and wildlife agencies is the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA). WAFWA formed in 1922, when seven game officials met in a prominent office of the State Capitol in Salt Lake City to discuss state sovereignty of game management. The meeting was prompted by the increasing presence of federal land management agencies in the West, like the U.S. Forest Service, and their growing institutional force.

The objectives of the original organization were distinctly designed to unify members and exercise influence in policies related to protecting wildlife and fish. Today, the members of WAFWA have expanded this purpose to address some of the leading challenges in fish and wildlife management. At the heart of many of the decisions and discussions is management of fish and wildlife using the latest research and planning related to population management, healthy habitat, and harvest. This, in addition to the larger political roles of these organizations, makes it challenging to balance federal and state roles in resource management.

Maintaining distinct agency mandates and working with the public to address fish and wildlife challenges will require new conversations and models for working together. The IWJV—through active state fish and wildlife agency membership on our Management Board and participation in WAFWA—looks forward to coordinating and collaborating on bird and other wildlife conservation initiatives across multiple scales, in addition to working hard to bring additional funding streams to our joint efforts.

“Challenges for state fish and wildlife agencies arise every day. Some we see coming, while others blind-side us,” said Tony Wasley, WAFWA President and Director of the Nevada Department of Wildlife. “WAFWA’s membership includes the best minds in wildlife management in the country. Having this go-to ready resource is invaluable in effectively addressing all challenges.”

For example, below the radar for many in the bird conservation community is the harsh reality that the state fish and wildlife agencies in the West remain predominately funded with revenue from hunters and anglers - i.e. license sales, stamps, and excise taxes on arms, ammunition, and fishing equipment.

The Pittman-Robertson (P-R) Act of 1937 was one of the most defining events in the history of bird habitat conservation in the Intermountain West. It brought a steady stream of funding to the state fish and wildlife agencies from an excise tax on arms and ammunition and, perhaps more importantly, included legislation that links provision of P-R funding to a requirement that license revenue be used only by the state fish and wildlife agency. P-R built stability for the state wildlife agencies that has been manifested in millions of acres of habitat conservation.

The bottom line is that revenue from hunters and anglers plays a critical role in bird habitat conservation in the West – from riparian habitat work on blue-ribbon trout streams to wetlands conservation on wildlife management areas to protection of mule deer and elk winter range that keeps intermountain valley bottoms intact. Maintaining the incredible support of hunters and anglers is a foundational element of the future of bird habitat conservation.

“Partnerships don't just happen, they begin with relationships at all levels of government and organizations,” said Larry Kruckenberg, WAFWA Secretary. “These are relationships that all parties nurture and cherish, and ones that are never in doubt. WAFWA and its member agencies have such a relationship with the IWJV.”

Read other articles in the Conservation Roundup, Winter 2015 Newsletter Issue:

State Fish and Wildlife Agencies in the Intermountain West: Past, Present, and Future By Ali Duvall, IWJV Assistant Coordinator, and Dave Smith, IWJV Coordinator

American Avocet: Growing Land Manager and Public Knowledge By John Cavitt, Professor of Zoology, Weber State University

Land Trusts and Bird Conservation: Four Facts You Should Know By Ashley Dayer, PhD & Nancy Cheng, Cornell Lab of Ornithology

It Takes A County: Combating Carp in the Harney Basin By Hannah J. Ryan, IWJV Communications Specialist

Keeping It Together in the Upper Green River Valley - VIDEO!