TWS works to bridge gap between science and management

Many different perspectives on the divide between natural resources science and management were examined at a recent workshop titled Barriers and Bridges in Reconnecting Natural Resources Science and Management. This workshop, part of the 81st North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference, brought in a crowd of more than 120 wildlife and fisheries professionals. Hosted by TWS, American Fisheries Society (AFS), Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, USGS Cooperative Research Units, and the Wildlife Management Institute, the workshop engaged this large audience in discussions on how to connect two sides of the same coin.

The workshop began with three questions posed by John Organ, CWB®, chief of the USGS Cooperative Research Units to frame the discussions: What factors drive land grant universities away from agency-focused actionable science, why is science funding so difficult for management agencies to prioritize and secure, and what role can professional scientific societies have in strengthening institutional ties?

The first question was examined in part by Professor Steve McMullin from Virginia Tech, who discussed the flatlining of research funds available from state agencies. This has resulted in universities seeking grants from outfits like National Science Foundation and National Institutes of Health, creating research that may be of less immediate value to state agencies. According to McMullin, increased financial support for university research from states is needed in order to see desired, targeted research outcomes.

Chad Bishop, CWB®, Director of the Wildlife Biology Program at the University of Montana and former Assistant Director at Colorado Parks and Wildlife, agrees with this sentiment. He added that professors should also be encouraged to follow through on the management implications of their research after publication. This process could be helped along by valuing agency experience when filling faculty positions.

Virgil Moore, Director of the Idaho Fish and Game Department, suggested university and state agency connections could be fostered by administrators allowing agency staff to do things like travel to TWS and AFS meetings in order to form relationships with professors and other researchers. Moore also suggested mingling agency and university staff by facilitating sabbatical projects for professors at agencies, as well as supporting agency staff in pursuit of advanced degrees.

Moore’s department currently has 33 positions dedicated to fish and wildlife research. The number of dedicated research staff varies widely, though, across state agencies. The Wyoming Game and Fish Department has no direct scientific capacity within their agency, while the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute has over 600 scientists on staff. According to Dave Chanda, President of the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies and the Director of the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife, for states lacking scientific capacity, external partners such as land grant institutions and Cooperative Research Units are extremely important to ensure integration of and access to scientific research. Paul Souza, Assistant Director for Science Applications at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), stressed the importance of these external partners at the federal level for important initiatives such as pre-listing conservation.

These pre-listing conservation efforts through multiple partners are important for species such as the lesser prairie chicken, where collaborative efforts were necessary to gain enough information for a viable range-wide conservation plan. This range-wide plan was developed by the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies by creating a science team of researchers, managers, and regulators to come up with the information necessary for a framework. When the range-wide plan was implemented, researchers as well as managers served on the front lines by implementing the plan on the ground, being in direct contact with landowners, and reaching out to professional conferences to discuss their work. Such success of science-based management was discussed by Dave Haukos, CWB®, leader of the Kansas Cooperative Fish & Wildlife Research Unit. Other examples of successful integration of wildlife science and management presented and discussed during the workshop included adaptive harvest management of waterfowl and marine fisheries harvest management.

TWS and AFS are making strides in addressing this important natural resource management issue, and TWS Executive Director Ken Williams, CWB®, and AFS Executive Director Doug Austen expressed the Societies’ commitments to helping bridge the divide between science and management during the workshop. A recent memorandum of understanding signed by TWS, AFS, USFWS, and USGS will also assist in moving this discussion forward, as well as providing TWS with further engagement on matters pertaining to federal wildlife management.

TWS’ conference this year will be examining these partnership themes, exploring how to better link wildlife science and management decisions. According to Williams, the 2016 TWS conference “will be bringing science directly to management.”

Header Image: From left: Kiley Dancy (Mid-Atlantic Fisheries Management Council), Paul Souza (USFWS), Fred Johnson (USGS), Dave Haukos (USGS Cooperative Research Units)