The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's mission is, working with others, to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife, and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people.

Since before recorded history, fish and wildlife resources in the United States have been an integral part of human life. We know that the earliest Americans depended on fish and wildlife for both life sustenance and spiritual nourishment. The kinship of aboriginal Americans to these resources is seen today in their religious and cultural activities -- the sea turtle is viewed as the symbol of eternal life and salmon and other anadromous fishes are symbols of the renewal of life. Wildlife served as the spiritual connection with ones ancestors and the creator of all life.

When settlers came to America, they found a land teeming with wildlife. Like Native Americans, they depended on the land's rich wildlife heritage for food and clothing. Colonies were located near rivers for commerce and travel and for a rich source of fish and wildlife for food. The new settlers fully intended that freedom to hunt for food and to secure water for life would be the right of all, regardless of heritage or status. The framers of our Constitution recognized this and placed great emphasis on natural rights and natural laws. Because of the American ideal to respect fish and wildlife as a resource available for the use and enjoyment of all, it is revered as a public trust resource -- a resource deserving the public's attention and participatory guidance. The United States continues to refine the body of case law and statutes governing the stewardship of fish and wildlife resources.

Communities and people throughout the United States have a strong commitment to fish and wildlife resources. Many communities realize tremendous economic benefits from tourism and visitors that come specifically to enjoy watching and pursuing fish and wildlife. Hunting and fishing remain strong components of community culture all along the great river systems of the nation. Americans value and respect their natural resource heritage.

Central to the mission of the Fish and Wildlife Service, along with state natural resource agencies, our private lands partners, and other stakeholders, are providing and protecting a healthy environment for fish and wildlife and people. Fish and wildlife in America represent tremendous environmental, recreational, cultural and social, historical, and economic assets for the American people. The National Wildlife Refuge System (NWRS), the National Fish Hatchery System (NFHS), along with the fish, wildlife, and plants that these systems protect and conserve, enrich people in a great variety of ways. In today's increasingly complex society, the Service is finding that it is important to identify and express the contributions that fish and wildlife make to the economic well-being of the nation. The Service initiated a multi-phase study to determine the impact of refuges on their local economies. Recreational visits to refuges---31 million annually---generated $401.1 million in sales to regional economies. The economic benefits of fish and wildlife conservation are but one way to measure the importance of fish and wildlife to people. Some people gain value simply from knowing that wild places and unique species still exist. Although such existence values are hard to measure, these values are confirmed by millions of visitors to the conservation systems under the jurisdiction of the Service.

Partnerships are the Building Blocks of Success

The Service, other federal, state, tribal agencies, and the American public have undergone a significant education process over the past several years on the importance of working together. The fish and wildlife resources know no boundaries nor land ownership patterns. In the past, there were many efforts to protect and restore fish and wildlife and their habitats, but these were generally done through autonomous actions of individual entities. Often these well-meaning actions worked in opposition to efforts by others due to a lack of communication. The Service has made significant shifts in its priorities and approaches. It now advocate partnership efforts that pool resources and allow each dollar to do more for the resource and the public's use of those resources.

The Service recognizes the importance of tribal agencies and continues to foster informal partnerships and formal cooperative agreements with Native Americans. Both the Service and our tribal partners benefit from reaching common understandings through cooperative management of tribal trust resources and through cooperative education programs. Also, the Service will continue to carry out its responsibilities under the Endangered Species Act in a manner that conforms with the federal trust responsibilities to tribes, tribal sovereignty, and statutory missions of the Department of the Interior. We will work together to share a common commitment toward a future that continues to include healthy populations of fish, wildlife, and the habitats that support them.

Private land owners are another valuable participant in fish and wildlife conservation. Nearly 70% of the available fish and wildlife habitat in the United States is privately owned. The Service has been a strong proponent of land owner education regarding habitat protection, management and restoration. In the past, implementation of regulatory programs under the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act and other statutorily required permit programs were often the only interaction the public had with the Service. Such interactions, because of the very nature of the work, were sometimes negatively perceived by the regulated community. Today, employees throughout the Service are excited about the changing attitudes of the regulated community and private land owners, and about the opportunities that are now available to work towards resource conservation without the need for regulatory actions. The Service is well aware that most private entities want to do positive things for natural resources; we are committed to do our part to support their efforts. This strategic plan identifies those opportunities in ways that will better explain our actions and proposals, quantifies expected outcomes, and characterizes benefits to the American people.

State agencies also are integral to the successful conservation of American fish and wildlife resources. The Service administers state and federal assistance programs. The Service maintains a federal fiduciary responsibility to ensure that Federal Aid grant funds are correctly used and that the purposes of projects are accomplished. After the Service awards funds to states, each state has full responsibility and authority to implement funded actions. The Service recognizes that these assistance programs offer unique opportunities to build commonly held understandings about how to reach commonly shared goals for protecting and restoring fish and wildlife habitat throughout the United States.

Further, to assist in creating new cooperative opportunities to protect fish and wildlife, the Service has expanded its outreach strategy. Good communication builds understanding and helps all of us make informed decisions about the future of fish and wildlife resources. The aims of the new strategy are to ensure that the Service builds relationships with partners and decision makers; to provide timely, accurate information about our decisions to concerned citizens; and, to provide clear messages about how fish and wildlife conservation affects the quality of life for all Americans. As part of this strategy, the Service embraces the purposes and goals of the Government Performance and Results Act of 1993 so that we may better explain the priority strategic goals and work of the Service that is essential to achieving our mission goals.

The work of the Service and its partners becomes increasingly complex and critical. This is because human activities have a negative impact on fish and wildlife resources and because those resources are increasingly dependent on man's intervention for their survival. The Fish and Wildlife Service has the privilege of being the primary federal agency responsible for the protection, conservation, and renewal of fish and wildlife and their habitats for this and future generations. We accept both the responsibility and the challenge with optimism and resolve to pass along to future generations a strong fish and wildlife resource heritage. To accomplish this, the Service adopted a new vision statement.


Unite all Service Programs to lead or support ecosystem level conservation. We will achieve this by becoming a more technically capable and culturally diverse organization; through involving stakeholders; through scientific expertise; through land and water management; and, through appropriate regulation.

The Service will be successful in realizing its vision in direct proportion to the ability of its managers to think and act in a holistic manner; recognizing the interconnectedness of all systems. Plant and animal species are inseparable from their environment and their relationships with each other. Effective implementation of an ecosystem approach means recognizing that the Service is just one member of a very diverse management team. We must work consistently and closely with partners who share responsibility for ecosystem health; other federal agencies, the states, the tribes, communities, corporate and individual landowners, and numerous organizations. The recurrent partnership theme throughout this document is intentional and critically important to our collective success.

Diversity, not only among our partners, but also among members of our workforce is essential to implementing this vision. Cultural diversity brings to every decision a broad perspective on available alternatives and a broad basis of experience upon which we can build a brighter future. The Service sees a diverse America. We value diversity and will fill our ranks with employees from many backgrounds and with many different perspectives. We will recruit and hire to reflect the diversity of the civilian labor force. Also, to be in the best position to attract, retain and motivate employees and maximize their achievements, the Service will plan effectively to meet the needs of a changing workforce, including helping this workforce learn new scientific protocols and technical skills to cooperatively manage trust resources into the next century.

The Service is guided by three principle mission goals and twelve long-term goals to improve the condition of America's fish and wildlife and the public's enjoyment of these resources. The Service believes that these are realistic goals for the conservation and protection of migratory birds, threatened and endangered species, interjurisdictional fish, marine mammals, and species of international concern, as well as the habitats on which they depend. We believe that these goals are achievable within the context of current laws and policies. The Service is proposing these goals for itself, but realizes that the conservation of America's fish and wildlife resources is attainable only with the participation and dedication of others.

In this strategic plan, the Service recognizes that fish and wildlife conservation is based on not only intervention to protect individual species, but also intervention to protect, enhance or restore habitat upon which these species depend for survival. Both forms of intervention rely on concerted efforts with our partners to recognize, quantify, and enhance the value of fish and wildlife for people. There are many benefits that society and individuals derive from having opportunities to enjoy fish, wildlife, and healthy ecosystems.

We reiterate that the involvement of stakeholders is a vital and beneficial component in developing the Service's Strategic Plan. During the past year, the Service benefited from the initial strategic planning experience and its complementary annual performance planning process. During this time, we weighed views gathered informally from many areas within the Service and listened to advice from the Congress, Department of the Interior, Office of Management and Budget, and other stakeholders. Consequently, we determined to simplify our strategic plan, to clarify our stated mission and long-term goals, and to add our vision statement.

The Planning Process

The Service used a carefully designed and highly participatory process to develop its first five year strategic plan. Many Service employees at all levels contributed to the preparation of the original document. The process included conducting an extensive national stakeholder assessment to determine the Service's most important priorities.
Conducting the Stakeholder Assessment

First we decided on the plan framework and the preliminary mission goals. Next we established a dynamic participatory process to determine what our stakeholders had to say. We asked for their input on important issues and their opinion on what we are currently doing, what we could be doing, and how we could become more customer friendly. We asked for input from a variety of groups including representatives of other federal and state agencies, Native Americans, special interest groups, industry and non-profit organizations, and Service employees. The recurrent partnership theme throughout this document is intentional and critically important to the collective success of fish and wildlife conservation efforts.

We welcome continued comments at any time from all interested stakeholders. We hope that this plan helps our stakeholders better understand the work of the Service and our vision, as well as understand the challenges we face and the opportunities we see in ensuring a more secure future for America's fish and wildlife resources.

Analyzing Stakeholder/Employee Input

This clarification of the Strategic Plan remains faithful to the stakeholder assessments. Meeting participants, and those that provided only written comments, agreed that the mission statement properly represents the work of the Service. However, overwhelmingly participants felt that the Service should increase its efforts to work cooperatively with stakeholders at all levels to develop a comprehensive approach to natural resources management. This was their first priority. The second priority focused on developing outreach and education programs to increase the public's awareness of these resources and their vulnerability. This awareness was needed so that the public could help the Service accomplish natural resource goals at every level. We have made all efforts at the Washington and Regional levels to address these concerns.

Long-Term Goals

The Service's long-term goals propose specific quantifiable and measurable targets that can be achieved by the year 2003. Targets are the Service's best measurable and reasonable indications of our progress in the delivery of its mission. These goals and targets for performance will specifically measure the results of all the essential work carried out or significantly influenced by the Fish and Wildlife Service.

The goals cover all significant mission programs and activities of the Service. In particular, they focus on:

Key Assumptions

In developing this strategic plan, the Service made a number of critical assumptions regarding key factors in the external environment in which it operates. While some changes in these factors are inevitable, these assumptions must hold in order for the Service to reach these long-term goals. Critical assumptions include--

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