Organization, Authority, and Programs of State Fish and Wildlife Agencies

The shape of North American agencies and how they shape the conservation landscape

About the Organization, Authority, and Programs (OAP) Project

The Wildlife Management Institute first compiled information on state fish and wildlife agencies' organization, authority, and programs (OAP) in 1948 and followed up with similar reports about once every decade. The information collected serves as a historical record of North American conservation’s trajectory and a current, actionable source of information to track, shape, and evolve fish and wildlife conservation in North America.

Tracking changes

Much has changed in the US, the fish and wildlife management profession, and conservation agencies over the past 75 and even in the last 25 years: 

  • Vastly increased diversity of responsibilities of state conservation agencies (e.g., nuisance wildlife, legal and illegal wild animal trade, natural disaster response);
  • Increased variety of outdoor recreational activities and their impact on fish, wildlife, and habitats;
  • Increased complexities of fish and wildlife conservation issues (e.g., wildlife disease, invasive species, human-wildlife conflict;

These rapid and vast changes can create barriers to successfully coordinated regional/national conservation projects.

The outdoor recreation industry is $788 billion strong, and state conservation agencies play a key role in this growing business sector. However, state agencies do this with stagnant budgets, caps on staffing, increased public expectations of agency services, and declining awareness and support of the public for their contributions to the quality of life for all people. The operating business model of state conservation agencies needs to be modernized, but it is difficult, if not impossible, to do so on a state-by-state basis.

National and regional analysis

Timely information about agency organizational structures, their authorities, and their priority program areas that can be examined on a regional and national scale is needed to provide credible information to justify attention to improvements for state conservation agencies that can be applied in each state’s unique socio-economic context.

Wildlife management is becoming increasingly influenced by elected and appointed officials, perspectives representing extremist perspectives (i.e., the very vocal for or against vs. the moderate and often silent stakeholders), and less influenced by traditional agency constituents (e.g., hunters, anglers, trappers). Participation in traditional outdoor wildlife-related recreational activities and who is participating is shifting, and there is an increasing diversity of needs, concerns, and interests in fish and wildlife and how state conservation agencies manage them. Expectations of increased public participation in decision-making processes have created the demand for modern, accessible information-sharing platforms and more timely and transparent information. 

Organizational structures, authorities, and priority programs change over time. State conservation agencies seek to increase the awareness of the benefits of conservation they provide to all people, increase support for conservation from the individual, corporate, and institutional levels, and engage and serve all people (as a public trust institution). Providing timely and transparent information on each agency’s organizational structure, formal authorities and responsibilities, and priority programs will better position elected and appointed officials, sister agencies, AFWA and its national and regional committees, NGOs, the private sector, and the public to collaboratively improve conservation agency business models to support increased positive conservation outcomes; and work to secure stable, long-term funding.


*ONLY Available to North American state fish and wildlife agency staff

How to build (and update) your state agency profile

Each state fish and wildlife agency has exclusive access to build and update its own Fish and Wildlife Agency Profile. While the profile can be completed and maintained by one person, the wide range of topics and questions in the profile may require a few areas of expertise to complete. For most agencies, completing the profile is a small team effort. 

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