Telling the State Story and Agency Relevancy
By Dan Dennison, Hawaii Dept. of Land & Natural Resources
Last year the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (AFWA) was successful in securing a Multi-State Conservation Grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to advance the case for state fish and wildlife agencies conservation relevancy, thus implementing the second recommendation of the Blue Ribbon Panel on Sustaining America’s Fish and Wildlife Resources. The panel is made up of 26 leaders representing the outdoor recreation retail and manufacturing sector, the energy and automotive industries, private landowners, educational institutions, legislatures, conservation organizations, sportsmen’s groups and state fish and wildlife agencies.
In 2015, the panel developed two recommendations after input and close collaboration from several working groups including legislative, communications & marketing, business relationships, and agency relevancy & transformation working groups. The first recommendation is to provide additional funding for state agencies. The second, and the one that pertains to the membership of ACI, is the charge to “examine the impact of societal changes on the relevancy of fish and wildlife conservation and make recommendations on how programs and agencies can transform to engage and serve broader constituencies.”
A group of communications professionals from state agencies are creating a National Conservation Outreach Strategy aimed at raising awareness of how state-based conservation is funded and highlighting state conservation success stories. State agencies have a treasure trove of compelling stories that demonstrate their vital role as leaders in fish and wildlife conservation, thus the reason ACI has been engaged in this initiative.
At the ACI 2017 conference, Patricia Allen, Communications Director for AFWA, presented an overview of AFWA’s work on both recommendations. She indicated the overall goal of the National Conservation Outreach Strategy initiative is to consistently and more broadly communicate the unique authority of state fish and wildlife agencies and why they matter. Hunting and angling, she explained, are the cornerstones of the North American Model, in which sportsmen and woman serve as the foremost funders of conservation through license fees and excise taxes on purchases. While many people don’t fish or hunt, they don’t know the conservation benefits provided by sportsmen or the role of our state fish and wildlife agencies.
Prior to the conference, a team of ACI representatives from a variety of states (Colorado, Hawaii, Georgia, Michigan, Missouri, Montana and Oklahoma) led by Wyoming Game and Fish’s Renny MacKay held monthly planning conference calls. The team is charged with helping implement the outreach strategy and spreading its findings and tool kits to fish and wildlife agencies in all 50 states. During an afternoon breakout session at the Brown County event, the team developed a problem statement and outcomes; chief among them is giving state agencies the tools and best practices in which to promote themselves.
One of the issues the team grappled with is how to get buy-in for unified messaging about the benefits of fishing and hunting, even to non-anglers and hunters? In this regard they are using an “ambassador” approach to create awareness with communications and public information teams at state game and fish organizations. Employing a multi-prong approach, team members are using personal phone calls, follow-up emails and possible contact with agency heads to raise awareness about the strategy, to get buy-in and ultimately to provide access to tools, followed by positive action. Some members of the team met again at the annual AFWA convention in Utah to continue discussions and further refine the strategy.
MacKay commented, “Using the framework established by the Blue Ribbon Panel and provided for in the grant from U.S. Fish and Wildlife, our objective is to use tested messaging for telling the state story with an eye toward shifting the paradigm from ‘The Greatest Conservation Story Never Told’ to the ‘Greatest Conservation Story Ever Heard.'”
Additional objectives include development and implementation of the national conservation outreach strategy and associated tools, hosting forums for state fish and wildlife agency personnel and stakeholders, and conduct a website inventory to help determine how the AFWA website can be used to help deliver on “telling the state story.” ACI and its participating members are playing a vital role in the development of a strategy, that when fully implemented, is expected to move the needle on effectively communicating our messages to broad audiences.