Thoughts from the Executive Director

By Ken Williams

Ken Williams

As we approach the end of the Society’s 2014-2015 fiscal year, the financial recovery from our earlier difficulties appears to be accelerating, and with the recovery come new opportunities. We now have a 2-year record of sustained performance in both revenue generation and cost containment, and our operations are in the black on an ongoing basis. There is positive financial momentum pretty much across the board – in publications, conferences, development, and membership. The improvement in our financial situation is clearly reflected in our net assets, which are 26 percent higher now than they were at the end of 2013 and 49 percent higher than at the end of 2012. In addition, there is momentum in our staffing and operations, including innovations and improvements in our basic business processes and tracking procedures. Getting our financial and operations house in order has been a personal goal, and is a pre-requisite for extending and improving TWS programs and member benefits into the future.

As the same time that our financial situation has improved, we also have operationalized our new strategic plan, which by now is driving many of the changes in the Society. The plan identifies five thematic issues for the future:

  • The conservation legacy of TWS to future generations
  • The positioning and connectivity of TWS in the conservation community
  • An emphasis on the value of the services and benefits to TWS members
  • More effective integration and connections among the chapters and sections and working groups and TWS international
  • A mandate for good business practice and management throughout TWS

An important focus of growth over the next 5 years – the development of partnerships with governmental and nongovernmental organizations – is reflected in several of the Plan’s strategic themes, most notably in the positioning and connectivity of TWS in the conservation community. Partnerships also are also key to building our our membership and including more voices in TWS from state, federal, and non-governmental organizations. Through partnerships we can ensure that these organizations have a continuing and active role in the Society as we extend the Society’s influence in wildlife science and conservation.

From 2011 through 2013, it was necessary to curtail many of the Society’s partnership activities as we focused on revitalizing our financial affairs. The good news is that over the last year we have made some important strides in re-invigorating many of our partnership efforts. New initiatives and activities have been started on several fronts, which I want to share with you.

Government affairs and Partnerships. For the last few years staff in Government Affairs and Partnerships have been successful in securing a place at the table before the House Appropriations Committee where TWS can testify on funding federal natural resource programs – something we hope and expect to continue in the future. In addition, Government Affairs staff are increasingly active in coordinating with other organizations in advocating to Congress and the Administration on issues that are important to the Society. Recent examples include reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, rulemaking on Waters of the United States, trapping practices on national wildlife refuges, Lacey Act regulations, and the Farm Bill program funding and compliance provisions, just to name a few. Government Affairs is now in a leadership position in the Horse and Burro Coalition that supports and advises the Bureau of Land Management and other federal agencies in their efforts to manage growing and destructive feral ungulate populations in the west. Keith Norris, Assistant Director of GAP, currently serves as the chair of this group.

Government Affairs staff continue to play a lead role in promoting and supporting the Conservation Affairs Network, an activity that is highlighted in our strategic plan with its focus on integration of the Society’s organizational units. CAN holds great promise in achieving a long-sought goal for the Society of enabling its units to better communicate and coordinate on policy and conservation actions.

Government agencies. The work with BLM on wild ungulates is an example of the kind of pro-active relationship the Society is pursuing with governmental agencies. Others include formal, year-round partnership arrangements with USDA Wildlife Services and the US Forest Service, and ongoing negotiations with USGS for a similar partnership. In addition, we are finalizing an agreement with the USFS to support and facilitate native student training on National Forests, and we have begun discussions with the US Fish and Wildlife Service on a similar agreement with them. Efforts also are being made to secure sponsorship arrangements with BLM among others, which involve mutual support by the agency and the Society through The Wildlife Professional, the e-Wildlifer, our annual conference, diversity efforts, and other Society functions. In the future we expect to launch similar efforts with other agencies, notably in the Department of the Interior.

I also should mention the efforts we are making with state agencies, notably through the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies. As a member of AFWA the Society has increased the level of our interactions, including more proactive engagement in many of the AWFA committees. AFWA’s Executive Director and President attended and spoke at our TWS Council meeting last October, as did their Science Coordinator at the Omaha Council meeting in March. I was invited to talk with the AFWA Executive Committee at their winter meeting in Washington, and hope to again at the AFWA annual meeting this fall. We are represented with AFWA on the Board of Directors of the National Conservation Leadership Institute, where we are working with AFWA, the American Fisheries Society, Society of American Foresters, and USGS to provide resources for that important program. We are developing a special session with AFS and AFWA for the next North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference in spring 2016.

Incoming President Gary Potts has indicated that he wants the Society to seek out opportunities for working more closely with state and federal government agencies. So look for additional efforts that focus on our interactions with them.

Education/professional development. The Society has also stepped up its engagement with partners in education and professional development. In addition to the collaboration with the National Conservation Leadership Institute and its Board members, we also are collaborating with the Conservation Leaders for Tomorrow, and we play an active role in the AFWA Leadership and Professional Development Committee. We are developing a formal year-round partnership arrangement with the American Public University, which will provide access and support for education and training for our members through APU’s curriculum. We are actively engaged with the National Association of University Fish and Wildlife Programs, participating in their annual meetings and collaborating with them on messaging to Congress. I am an officer on the Steering Committee of the National Cooperators’ Coalition for the Cooperative Research Units, where I work closely with the state and university members in developing strategies for CRU that benefit the Coalition members, including TWS.

Other non-governmental organizations. Outreach efforts to the NGOs are frequent and many. In addition to our collaboration with CLfT, NCLI, and some other non-governmental organizations, TWS staff have reached out to Ducks Unlimited, in an effort to establish greater engagement between the two organizations. We participate along with AFS in the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership Policy Council, where we expect to play a lead role on some of the science concerns that overlap with TRCP policy issues. The Dallas Safari Club continues to be a strong sponsor of our Leadership Institute. We have begun initial efforts to work more closely with the Society of American Foresters and the Society of Range Management, where interest is growing in re-initiating some form of a coalition of natural resource societies to facilitate the exchange of ideas, brainstorm on shared issues, and coordinate actions on common concerns.

Of special importance is the American Fisheries Society. AFS and TWS share many organizational and structural functions – we both are professional member-based organizations, we both support peer-reviewed journals and magazines, both have annual conferences, etc. There is considerable overlap between the two societies in our focus on fish and wildlife populations and the habitats they occupy and depend upon. We are collaborating on an ongoing basis on a number of issues, most importantly the planning and design for a jointly hosted annual conference in the next few years.

The examples I mention here are just a sample of some of the partnership efforts TWS is undertaking. Suffice it to say that there is a lot of action in the partnership arena in the Society. One advantage of having headquarters near Washington, DC is accessibility of Society staff to the many organizations in the area and the opportunity to engage with them. In particular, we can join forces with like-minded organizations to carry shared messages to Congressional representatives and their staffs. We expect to be more engaged in such activities in the future.

Of course, partnerships are not the only strategic thrust in TWS, and I will be writing about others in future messages. For now, let me finish by saying that I believe the potential for growth in our partnerships is quite large. And I remain convinced that they will increase member benefits into the future, while making TWS a stronger and more effective voice for the science and conservation issues that are central to the Society. It’s exciting to be a part of it.