Management Effectiveness of State Fish and Wildlife Agencies: A Public Trust Perspective
Terra A. Rentz
SUNY Environmental Science and Forestry
Final Report for Edna Baily Sussman Foundation Internship 2014
SUMMARY OF PROPOSED WORK
My original research objective for this internship with the Department of Environmental
Conservation (DEC) was to develop a case study of the Division of Fish, Wildlife, and Marine
Resources as a focal survey group that assesses the effectiveness of state fish and wildlife
agencies at upholding the tenants of a public trust mandate as described in the Public Trust
Doctrine (PTD). The (PTD) sets the principle that requires government entities to maintain,
manage, and preserve resources for public use. Fundamentally, the PTD authorizes state fish and
wildlife agencies to manage wildlife as a public resource, with legitimate use of those resources
including consumption (hunting, trapping, fishing), nature watching, and preserving biodiversity.
For the PTD to be an effective tool for conservation management policies must include
mechanisms to ensure (1) the public is engaged and informed about resources their current
conditions, (2) the management agency can be held accountable by the public, and (3)
management of the resource is adaptable to contemporary concerns.
The DEC case study was intended to shape a larger survey effort that could be applied to all 50
state fish and wildlife agencies. However, when delving into the DEC’s history with
performance and program evaluation during this internship a previous unpublished survey effort
conducted in 1993 was discovered that also sought to measure agency effectiveness, but across a
broader suite of indicators not just those associated with the public trust. The 1993 survey,
conducted by S. McMullin with Virginia Polytechnic Institute, was designed to be applicable
across all 50 states and targeted a sample of approximately 18 state fish and wildlife agencies
(including New York).
Specific objectives for the internship shifted from conducting a case study analysis and building
an original survey to validating the McMullin 1993 survey tool and determining the receptivity
of agency personnel to engage in a similar, although more focused, survey effort. Based on my
preliminary findings, agency personnel who participated in the initial survey associated positive
feelings with the survey effort. Current and past agency leaders beyond New York who
participated in the 1993 effort also had similar attitudes towards the initiative. The survey
instrument was found to be well vetted by state agency leadership and pilot-tested with the
Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. As such, developing a new or novel survey
instrument would not have been necessary and, in doing so, would also be void of the
opportunity to compare changes in state agencies over time. Thus, my research objectives
changed accordingly.
My goal of this internship remained to evaluate the effectiveness of state fish and wildlife
agencies with respect to upholding public trust principles. A contemporary evaluation of agency
effectiveness remains warranted given broadening agency mandates, changing fiscal resources,
and increased stakeholder diversity. My current objectives for this research are to (1) re-evaluate
McMullin’s data from 18 states to elucidate patterns in the socio-political, spatio-temporal,
fiscal, and institutional barriers to management effectiveness; (2) use a subset of the original
survey instrument to compare contemporary perceptions of agency effectiveness through a
public trust lens to identify how agencies may have changed over time; and (3) identify
opportunities that effective agencies pursue to meet public trust responsibilities. Contemporary
perceptions of agency effectiveness will be measured through the use of mixed-mode survey
research. In addition, opportunities will be evaluated through the use case-study analyses of
those states that that score particularly high in a given area.
WORK COMPLETED
Between May and July 2014, I conducted an in-depth review and evaluation of program
evaluation techniques for organizational management. Few studies have applied modern program
evaluation methods to natural resource agencies. As such, it was critical to develop a clear
structure of analyses that could be integrated into my survey instrument that was in line with
modern corporate and organizational effectiveness theories.
Scoping interviews were conducted in-person and over the phone with current and past state and
federal agency leaders both within and outside New York to assess the receptivity of agency
personnel to previous and future survey efforts. I also used these interviews to identify strengths
and weaknesses from the McMullin survey in an effort to improve delivery and participation by
agency personnel. Initial buy-in and support for future survey efforts was also secured from
agency leadership in 4 of the original 18 states surveyed. The McMullin survey effort reinforced
my hypotheses regarding the role prioritization, stakeholder engagements, budget allocation and
transparency, and management planning play in driving organizational effectiveness.
Discovery of the McMullin survey effort and the aforementioned literature review and scoping
interviews resulted in a completely redesigned research proposal develop between July and
August 2014 that more efficiently and effectively addresses my research objectives. A set of
standardized survey questions and measures has been modified from McMullin’s survey
instrument and can be applied to all 50 state agencies.
FUTURE WORK
This summer provided the fundamental opportunity for scoping, development, and validation of
my survey instrument and refinement of my research objectives. In spring 2015 I plan to secure
approval from the Institutional Review Board and will conduct my survey of state agencies
selected from the original 18 states surveyed by McMullin. On-line surveys will be made
available to respondents in late spring/early summer with follow-up telephone surveys occurring
in Fall 2015. Data from surveys will be evaluated in winter 2015/spring 2016. Original survey
data from 1993 will be secured and evaluated in summer/fall 2015 to identify trends or patterns
that distinguish state agencies historically. These patterns will be compared to contemporary
survey results and used to illuminate barriers or opportunities that agencies have faced over the
past 20 years. Finally, using the survey data an evaluation of performance through the lens the
PTD will be conducted to determine the degree to which agencies are addressing public trust
tenants in their general operations. Case studies will be developed that highlight opportunities
agencies have pursued to maximize effectiveness in meeting public trust obligations.
Results and findings will be presented at a variety of venues including The Wildlife Society’s
annual conference, the North American Wildlife and Natural Resources conference, and the
Northeast Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies annual meeting.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
I am appreciative of my advisor, Dr. Jacqueline Frair and my supervisor, Gordon Batcheller (NY
DEC) for their support and guidance throughout this internship. Conducting any review of state
fish and wildlife agencies is a delicate process as the goal is to be constructive and additive, not
controversial - their advice and enthusiasm has been invaluable. I am also greatly appreciative of
my other committee members, Drs. Daniel Decker and Andrea Parker, who continue to work
with me as I refine my social survey skills and techniques. Finally, I am forever grateful to the
Edna Baily Sussman Foundation and council members for supporting this research and the
council’s willingness to consider a human dimensions research project. The Foundation will be
clearly acknowledged on all publications and presentations resulting from this research.
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Management Effectiveness of State Fish and Wildlife Agencies