Follow-up notes from Conservation leadership discussion forum

Conservation leadership discussion
March 15, 2013
DNR Director Keith Creagh welcomed everyone and thanked them for coming.  Attendees went around the room and a spokesperson from each table introduced the members and the number of years they’ve worked for natural resources. There were representatives from hunting organizations, fishing organizations, forest products groups, DNR and the NRC. At the end of the introductions, we marveled at the fact that we had over 1,000 years combined experience in the room! There were also comments about “the amount of gray hair” and lack of diversity among the attendees. This led to a brief discussion about how we engage the next generation of conservationists.
The meeting started with a presentation by Director Creagh and DNR Deputy Director Bill Moritz. Director Creagh started off by explaining why we were all there: “We are leaders of organizations that are part of a larger community, Michigan’s conservation community.”
The director said that traditionally, the DNR would solve stakeholder issues one at a time. They would get lots of requests or issues from various groups, who might go directly to them, the NRC, the Legislature. This resulted in large numbers of (sometimes conflicting) priorities. The DNR would like to incorporate the priorities of stakeholders by working together as they build out strategic plans and goals. Director Creagh said that in order to be successful, “this cannot be a DNR plan. It has to be OUR plan,” motioning to everyone in the room.
Director Creagh said the DNR is going through processes to become more strategic, efficient and transparent to stakeholders. The department has some high level “evergreen” goals that are based on the department’s mission:
•       Protect natural and cultural resources
•       Ensure sustainable recreation use and enjoyment
•       Enable strong natural resource-based economies
•       Improve and build strong relationships and partnerships
•       Foster effective business practices and good governance
Right now we have an opportunity for Michigan’s natural resources, and all of the conservation leaders to work together for the reinvention of our state. We have a governor who believes that natural resources are the linchpin to this reinvention and will drive tourism and business to local communities. He’s proven that with his proposed budget, which includes a mix of funding solutions to support natural resources.
Deputy Director Moritz spent some time going over the proposed new funds for natural resources, which include a mix of General Fund tax dollars, a license fee increase and restructuring and dollars from the transportation package. He discussed the long list of proposed outcomes from these additional funds, which included more “boots on the ground and waders in the water.” There would be grants to partners to help with habitat work. The proposal would simplify the license structure from 227 licenses to 41 and improve the license sales system.
Deputy Moritz explained the challenge we all face is balancing the protection of the resource with recreational opportunities and benefits to local economies. He illustrated this concept by describing three concentric circles representing “resource protection,” “recreation” and “economic benefits,” saying it’s our job to find the place in the middle where they all overlap.
Deputy Moritz said to be successful we need to be a united conservation community. We have to focus on what we have in common, and present a unified voice. At the end of the day, we are all in this for Michigan’s natural resources.
The meeting continued with attendees breaking up into eight mixed groups and discussing these questions:
1.       What are the three main concerns facing the conservation community?
2.       How could the proposed increase in funding benefit the conservation community?
The top concerns or priorities were:
·         Providing better public education and broadening engagement (7 occurrences)
·         Securing sustainable funding for conservation (4)
·         Supporting habitat maintenance and improvement (4)

Other concerns included simpler regulations, DNR website improvement, the relationship between conservation and economic prosperity and enhancing collaboration among diverse organizations.
The most common themes for how increased funding might benefit the conservation community were that it would:
·         Support improved DNR staffing and enhanced habitat management
·         Support collaboration and improved stakeholder relationships
·         Support marketing and education
·         Create opportunities for building non-consumptive support
·         Simplify the license process
The meeting wrapped up with discussion and suggestions from attendees on what can be done to move forward, both individually and as an organization.
Overall, attendees felt the most important step toward moving forward was building partnerships and taking collaborative action.
Individuals made suggestions on what THEY would personally do to move forward, which could be generalized into:
·         Broaden outreach and engage others
·         Inform memberships and build partnerships to support needed actions
·         Collaborate with the DNR
·         Pursue funding
The DNR asked for an evaluation of the meeting so the department could make changes/improvements for the future. Overall, attendees gave high marks and appreciated the opportunity to be part of the discussion. Suggestions for improvement included: more time for discussion, and another meeting with a larger number of stakeholders (including parks, trails and other recreation).
The DNR will take this feedback into consideration as the department decides on future meetings.
Thanks to Dennis Eade for capturing pictures of our productive day!
Kristin Phillips
Acting Chief
Marketing & Outreach Division
Department of Natural Resources
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