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State wildlife agencies need reform for effective stewardship of public trust

By Gary Bogue
Thursday, February 25th, 2010 at 6:18 am in Wildlife, Wildlife Management.

Bobcat by Brian Murphy, Walnut Creek, CA

I just received this from the Journal of Wildlife Management. I couldn’t agree more. /Gary

State wildlife agencies need reform for effective stewardship of public trust

The Journal of Wildlife Management: Many state wildlife agencies are dependent, financially and politically, on a single user group — hunters. Although this group should continue to be an integral part of wildlife conservation, agencies should adhere to the foundation upon which they were built — stewardship of the public trust. The Public Trust Doctrine postulates that wildlife is owned by no one and held in trust for the benefit of all.

California condor by USFWS
condor flying

The commentary, “A Conservation Institution for the 21st Century: Implications for State Wildlife Agencies” in the February issue of The Journal of Wildlife Management suggests considerations for reform of the wildlife conservation institution. State-level wildlife conservation and management dates back to the 19th century. To meet the changing ecological and social environment, institutional transformation is needed in the 21st century.

To avoid piecemeal reactions to external forces, basic principles of transformation should be established to carry wildlife conservation into the future. This commentary suggests four components the ideal institution should incorporate:

Black-tailed deer by Brian Murphy, Walnut Creek, CA

Broad-based funding
Reliable, consistent, broad-based funding has not been achieved for most state wildlife agencies. The predominant funding source has been license sales and federal excise taxes paid by hunters, trappers, and gun owners. This leads to a pattern of institutional actions tending to meet the needs of a narrow base rather than broader public interest.

Trustee-based governance
Trustee-based governance should function outside the narrow focus of various constituents and avoid subservience to political authorities. Currently, political interests dominate within many state wildlife conservation agencies. The average incumbency of state fish and wildlife directors is less than three years, with many being replaced for political reasons.

Multidisciplinary science as the basis of recommendations from the professional staff
To make the best decisions regarding wildlife conservation, the best information must be available — and communicated without interference. Science should be the common ground for the institution when stakeholders become polarized over an issue.

Involvement of diverse stakeholders and partners
It has been suggested that an “iron triangle” exists among resource management agencies, traditional user groups, and policy makers. Diverse groups such as environmentalists, outdoor recreation enthusiasts, homeowners, industry, and agriculture can help build a stronger stakeholder base and bring more resources to wildlife conservation. As partners, their complementary strengths and capabilities could bring increased public support as well.

Howling coyote by Brian Murphy, Walnut Creek, CA
coy howl2

** Read the full commentary, “A Conservation Institution for the 21st Century: Implications for State Wildlife Agencies” at

About The Journal of Wildlife Management
The Journal of Wildlife Management, published since 1937, is one of the world’s leading scientific journals covering wildlife science, management, and conservation. It is published eight times per year by The Wildlife Society. To learn more about the society see

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