Conservation is facing a crisis of relevance. Recent research has revealed that North Americans lack first-hand experience with nature, and current social and political discourse has failed to make the connection between conservation and human health, economic prosperity, and social justice. Although some polls indicate that North Americans “care” about conservation, their actions reflect either ignorance or apathy with respect to the impact of their lifestyle choices on the environment. State and federal governments have not adequately fulfilled their trustee responsibilities on behalf of the public for wildlife and habitat conservation to ensure these important components of our natural heritage are used sustainably and passed on to future generations. The implications of these factors for the conservation institution are clear – if conservation is not relevant to society, the institution will become irrelevant.
Plenary session speakers at the 2016 North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference challenged the conservation institution to address the issue of relevance. The Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies’ Blue Ribbon Panel called for transformative change in how the missions of state fish and wildlife agencies stay socially relevant. The need for action is clear; what remains murky is how to make relevance a reality.
This special session will move the discussion from an agreement that action is needed to an understanding of what action is needed.