Implementing our 25-Year Strategic Plan: A Path to an Improved Era for Fish, Wildlife, and People

Methow Wildlife Area in the winter. Photo by Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

This winter, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s (WDFW) 25-Year Strategic Plan turned three, launching us a few years into a long forward-thinking vision for the future of fish and wildlife conservation here in Washington through 2045. As we look back on our progress in 2023, it’s also an opportunity to pause and reflect on all that we’ve accomplished together in these first few years on the goals outlined in our strategic plan.

About the strategic plan

Members of the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission and Director Kelly Susewind first identified a renewed need for revising our strategic plan in 2019, in light of Washington’s growing human population, a changing climate, and shifting public expectations. Following robust public review, the Commission adopted the plan in November 2020.

The plan is built around four key strategies:

  • Proactively address conservation challenges
  • Deliver science that informs Washington’s most pressing fish and wildlife questions
  • Engage communities through recreation and stewardship
  • Model operational and environmental excellence

Within these four strategies, the plan calls for 34 near-term actions. Of these, the Department has already started 21 near-term actions in these first three years.

Let’s dive into some of our major milestones from our work so far.

Strategy one: Proactively address conservation challenges

Statewide Conservation Road Map

WDFW continues to pursue a Statewide Conservation Road Map, which reflects a combination of efforts amongst WDFW and with our partners to increase the pace and scale of conservation in the state.

This effort started with the Legislature approving our Biodiversity, Climate Resilience, and Carbon Neutral budget requests in 2023. These three efforts fundamentally advance the protection and restoration of habitats in the face of shifting climate and growing human populations.

State Wildlife Action Plan

We’re simultaneously starting a process to better engage our partners for the next State Wildlife Action Plan (SWAP) update, due October 2025, to reflect Washington’s strategic conservation priorities. We hired a new coordinator to help lead this effort and place the responsibility for this overarching plan within the Director’s Office.

Washington’s SWAP is a comprehensive plan for conserving the state’s fish and wildlife and the natural habitats on which they depend. It is part of a nationwide effort by all 50 states and five U.S. territories to communicate with and engage others in the most important conservation actions.

The SWAP helps WDFW maintain eligibility for federally provided State Wildlife Grants (SWG), guide new biodiversity funding from the Washington State Legislature (~$30 million every two years), and be ready for Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (RAWA) funding (annually, nearly $23 million to Washington) if it passes Congress. These funds support state and conservation partners’ actions to benefit wildlife and habitats, particularly species and habitats of greatest conservation need identified in the SWAP.

Washington’s first SWAP was completed in 2005 and was called the Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy. New elements in this third version will include rare plants, at-risk plant communities, and sensitive groups of species such as pollinators, bat colonies, and forage fish. The plan will emphasize habitat and ecosystem conservation actions at all scales — sites to landscapes; be more specific about climate change actions for fish, wildlife, and their habitats; tie elements together in regions for easier use of the plan; and include more education and outreach actions.

The current version from 2015 can be found on WDFW’s State Wildlife Action Plan webpage. We’ll be updating this page with additional information, including public feedback opportunities, as more details become available.

Strategy two: Engage communities through recreation and stewardship

The Beebe Springs Wildlife Area Unit covers 1 mile of Columbia River shoreline. Photo by Anita Elder.

Create educational opportunities in WDFW-managed wildlife areas, urban centers, and schools

The Department is committed to expanding conservation education here in Washington. WDFW has a suite of Wild Washington lesson plans, which are aimed to advance scientific literacy for K-12 students with focus on Washington ecosystems, fish, and wildlife. The Wild Washington program equips learners with problem solving skills to address complex natural resource management challenges now and in the future.

The Department is working with the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) to develop Next Generation Science Standard (NGSS)-aligned, interdisciplinary lesson plans for K-5 teachers. In coordination with the Pacific Education Institute (PEI), the Department is hosting professional development workshops for teachers to learn how to best implement the new Wild Washington lessons in their classrooms and in the field.

In 2023, several school districts officially adopted WDFW’s 3rd grade lesson plan series, State of Salmon. The Department’s most recently released lesson is for first grade students focused on baby wildlife in which students are presented a scenario where a community member found baby wildlife and wants to know what to do. The goal of the lesson is to help inform communities about how and when people should engage with baby wildlife, and when wildlife babies are better left alone. The unit also features a WDFW-designed story book called The Robin’s Nest (a retelling of an English Fable).

This year, the Department will launch a small grants program to help cover transportation costs for schools to visit WDFW wildlife areas. The Department also secured a No Child Left Inside grant from the state Recreation and Conservation Office to pilot Wild Washington Outdoor Classrooms to serve students in Chelan and Douglas counties in 2024–25. Students will have hands-on experiences and rotate through investigation sites focused on biodiversity and cultural diversity.

Vastly expand, promote, and offer incentives for backyard wildlife programs

Formerly known as the Backyard Wildlife Sanctuary Program, Habitat at Home is WDFW’s effort to encourage Washingtonians to connect with nature where they live, work, and play. Program resources help discover fun and effective ways to help support wildlife in any space, including school yards and shared spaces. By learning ways to increase biodiversity through planting native plants, coexisting with wildlife, and making decisions that positively impact the health of our communities, we can all make a difference.

For more information, visit our website.

Habitat at Home sign certifying wildlife habitat.

Complete a Recruit, Retain, and Reactivate (R3) plan

In June 2022, the Department completed its Washington Hunting and Angling Recruitment, Retention, and Reactivation (R3) Plan. The plan is designed to increase statewide hunting and fishing participation, support the hunting and fishing heritage in Washington, and increase broader public support for these activities and awareness of their economic contribution to fish and wildlife conservation.

The Department is developing a tracking tool for R3 plan implementation, but the work is already well underway! In 2023, the Department hired a staff person focused on hunting recruitment, retention, and reactivation. This Hunting R3 position is charged with growing the Department’s mentorship opportunities, developing how-to content, and making connections with diverse groups to introduce people to hunting and provide support for new and seasoned hunters.

Last year, the Department also had a record-breaking year with 19 family fishing events that introduced nearly 5,000 youth to fishing. Plans are already in the works for the 2024 season, and volunteers are always welcome to support these events in person or by donating to the Youth Outdoors Initiative. The Department also seeks to secure funding to hire a Fishing R3 coordinator to further support the plan’s implementation.

More information is available on our website.

Improve public access opportunities

In August 2022, the Department published its 10-year strategy for managing outdoor recreation on more than 1 million acres of WDFW-managed lands. The document is guiding the Department’s efforts to respond to increasing demand for access, make public lands more welcoming to diverse visitors, and protect critical resources. Visit our website for more information.

A volunteer handles a western pond turtle before release at a WDFW managed wildlife area. Photo by WDFW.

Expand WDFW’s volunteer program

WDFW has expanded its available volunteer opportunities to help engage a wider audience of Washingtonians in fish and wildlife conservation. Diverse volunteer opportunities are available, including projects on state wildlife areas and water access areas, habitat restoration projects, hunter education instruction, wildlife surveys, and assisting at outreach events.

For more information about upcoming volunteer opportunities, and ways to get involved, visit our website.

Invest in and implement social science to understand how effectively serve our public and tailor our services and outreach appropriately

The Department created a new inter-disciplinary team to integrate the social sciences in fish, wildlife, and natural resource management. This included hiring a conservation social scientist, natural resource economist, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) data analysist, and environmental justice coordinator.

Develop and broaden partnerships

In the last few years, the Department has greatly enhanced the availability of materials in multiple languages, including printed materials and digital content. This year, the Department is prioritizing the translation of the most-used documents into the state’s 11 most common languages. In 2022, the Department hired a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion data analyst to support staff in better understanding their communities and language needs.

In 2023, the Department ramped up efforts to build more broad partnerships with outdoor organizations and communities. From how-to fishing clinics on the coast to mentored hunts in Eastern Washington, the Department is committed to building meaningful relationships and support people of all walks of life, abilities, and backgrounds in their outdoor interests and conservation stewardship. We are proud to work with organizations such as Outdoor Asian, SeaPotential, Tacoma Urban League, Golden Bricks events, and others to connect with and support diverse communities.

Offer wildlife viewing programs

The Departments wildlife viewing resources have greatly expanded over the last two years. From backyard chickadees to the orcas of the Salish Sea, there is a spectacular array of wildlife to witness in Washington. The Department developed new online resources to help people plan their wildlife viewing adventure and connect with wildlife in their own community. New resources include wildlife photography ethics, wildlife viewing tips and tricks, and a guide on how to share WDFW-managed lands during hunting seasons.

In addition, the Department created has a watchable wildlife grant program in 2021 to support wildlife viewing opportunities and foster appreciation and stewardship of wildlife. Applications open every two years to individuals, nonprofits, schools, local and county governments, and federally-recognized tribes in Washington. Funds to support the grant come from the Wild on Washington Eagle license plate, one of WDFW’s specialist license plates. This summer, the Department awarded four recipients for the 2023–25 watchable wildlife grant: the Cowiche Canyon Conservancy in Yakima, the Cascadia Conservation District in Wenatchee, the Mid-Columbia Fisheries Enhancement Group in White Salmon, and the Puget Sound Estuarium in Olympia. WDFW grant evaluators prioritized initiatives that were brought forward by or co-developed with underserved and marginalized communities. To learn more about the awarded projects, visit WDFW’s blog.

Photographer at Samish Unit fields, post hunting season. Photo by Lily Huth.

Strategy three: Deliver science that informs Washington’s most pressing fish and wildlife questions

Develop, prioritize and deliver a science/policy framework

The Department is focused on improving decision making with greater clarity on how science informs decisions along with inputs from social, cultural, economic, legal and other forms of information. The intention is greater transparency in decision making internally and externally on what information was included to make a decision. To achieve this, the Department is working with internal science and policy leaders to develop a science-policy framework.

Develop an agency-level data management system to provide better science for agency decision-making and constituent outreach

The Department is working toward improved integration and accessibility of the wide variety of science across WDFW. Part of this includes establishing data management governance and project team to build a common data management system. We have identified funding needs for submission to the fiscal year 2025–2027 legislative session in January 2024.

Strategy four: Model operational and environmental excellence

Support the recommendations of employee resource groups and the Department’s internal Diversity Advisory Committee

WDFW continues to champion diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) through its Diversity Advisory Committee, which serves as a resource to the Department on DEI-related topics. Among the recommendations implemented over the last two years includes the development of an internship program to recruit more diverse talent to WDFW with our first intern in the Habitat Program, highlighting women of color outdoors with a panel and showing of the movie, Reclamation Expedition, improved tracking of workforce diversity, and a reboot of the Red Flag Reporting portal to ensure that every employee has an anonymous option for sharing concerns. The Department has launched their first two Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), which employees can use to workshop challenges and opportunities that arise. Our inaugural groups are a Women’s ERG and Neurodiversity ERG.

Develop and implement a WDFW Sustainability plan

In 2022, the Department also published its WDFW Sustainability plan, which lays out a robust roadmap for how WDFW intends to reduce the environmental impact of its operations by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and increasing sustainability. It lays out a path to reduce the agency’s carbon footprint by 63% while saving the agency $5-$7 million in operating expenses through 2050.

More information about the plan is available on WDFW’s website.

Develop a culture that supports physical and emotional safety

Staff safety and well-being is a strong core of WDFW and integral to how we live our values of accountability, service, professionalism, integrity, respect, and empathy. The Department finalized new policies on respect in the workplace and anti-discrimination policies. The training program has launched an e-learning approach to reach field staff more effectively. In addition, we launched a new supervisor training course grounded in Agency values, a New Employee Orientation to welcome new staff with the information they need to hit the ground running and a training to create the culture of feedback that WDFW needs to be an inclusive and accountable organization.

Razor clammers dig under a rainbow. Photo by Alissa Allen.

What comes next

With three years under our belt, we recognize that the work is just beginning — and we’re committed to continuing to champion fish, wildlife, and habitat conservation here in Washington state. Below are more details about some of our upcoming work in support of the 25-year strategic plan.

Biodiversity

In the 2023 legislative session, WDFW received $24 million for 2023–2025 and $31 million ongoing beginning in 2025–2027 to fund the implementation of the State Wildlife Action Plan (SWAP) and other efforts to achieve 10% net gain of most important habitat, develop and implement action plans for 80% of at-risk species, and increase public participation in conservation by 25%.

Next steps for the 2025 State Wildlife Action Plan

In 2024, the WDFW will be working to update various elements of the SWAP — species, habitats, threats, conservation actions — alongside our conservation partners, Tribes, and public stakeholders who are interested in Washington’s natural heritage and our conservation future.

We will host public briefings and engagement opportunities, providing online periodic progress updates about content development, and asking for reviews on the first draft of the SWAP framework. We will network with people in existing conservation projects and landscape conservation collaboratives to learn what’s working, reach out to many to learn what we should be striving for on the horizon to improve delivery of durable conservation through the SWAP, and help others make connections for future conservation project development and doing good work on the ground.

Enhancing safety

The Department remains committed to staff safety. WDFW is pursuing a request to the Legislature during the 2024 session for $4 million to support training and equipment throughout the agency and hire safety officers in each of the Department’s six regions.

How to stay engaged

Public engagement continues to be a critical part of fish and wildlife conservation. Want to get involved in our progress together? Check out several avenues for participation.

Have a comment or question about our progress on the strategic plan? Send the strategic planning team a note at strategic@dfw.wa.gov.

Thank you for your continued interest in the work WDFW is doing to plan for the future of fish and wildlife conservation in Washington.

For more information about the 25-year strategic plan, check out our website.

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The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is dedicated to preserving, protecting and perpetuating the state’s fish and wildlife resources.