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Looking Ahead

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Published on: Feb. 2, 2010

Last revision: Dec. 17, 2010

Robert L. Ziehmer

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Ziehmer And Daughter

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Ziehmer Family

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What is your vision that will help shape the future for Missouri conservation?

I see an exciting and bright future. My vision for the Department is that we shall be a forward-looking agency, ensuring integrity and trust, using adaptive learning and creative thinking, embracing technology and providing superior public service to advance conservation through 1) understanding natural resource and social landscapes, and 2) engaging and involving citizens.

You start your job as director at a time of large staff changes. What does this mean for the agency?

More than half of our top agency leaders, as well as a significant number of staff statewide, will be retiring in 2010. In addition, due to lagging revenues, we’re holding vacant 10 percent of our positions in the near term. This situation represents both challenges and opportunities for the agency.

Many of those about to retire are relatively young— many are in their 50s. Their knowledge of Conservation Department services and people will be an enormous asset as they move on to second careers and involvement in citizen conservation groups.

The staff remaining show the same enthusiasm, focus and accountability that have been hallmarks of this agency for seven decades. We are a group of people who face difficulties not only head-on, but also with an overwhelming abundance of talent and creativity. We are also a group of people who listen to stakeholders and understand their needs, who respect different views and value the contributions made by others, and who genuinely enjoy the work at hand and the people with whom we interact every day. These qualities will keep us strong and ready to adapt and serve.

What do you see as the big areas of agency responsibility in the coming decade?

Missouri’s population, natural resource needs, economic conditions and the needs and desires of its citizens are all changing. The Conservation Department must focus on five overarching areas of responsibility:

  1. Ensure healthy and sustainable forest, fish and wildlife resources throughout the state.
  2. Manage lands held in public trust and associated infrastructure to ensure continued benefit to citizens and to forest, fish and wildlife resources.
  3. Ensure sound financial accountability and transparency in all areas of operation.
  4. Provide opportunities for active citizen involvement in programs and services and conservation education in both rural and urban areas.
  5. Engage partners at the individual, community, county, state and federal levels to enhance natural resources and effective delivery of conservation services.

Our state’s conservation success depends on continued citizen support. The Department must remain relevant by implementing actions that cultivate citizen interest, support and trust of our mission.

Last year people gathered at the “Summit on the Future of Missouri’s Outdoors” identified conservation education as one of their top goals, yet there is concern that today’s children are less connected than ever with nature. Are you trying new ways to address this?

On a personal level, I’ve been taking my daughters hunting, fishing or bird watching, depending on their interests, for years. Mentoring is one of the most effective ways to pass on an interest in the outdoors. The Department will continue to emphasize the importance of mentoring through a variety of services.

At the same time, many parents may not have that knowledge or interest themselves, so schools are one of the best ways to reach Missourians from all backgrounds and parts of the state. The Department plans to pursue this through expanding our schools program.

The Department has developed educational units that meet state testing standards for preschool through high school students. Feedback from teachers and students has been positive. Wouldn’t it be great if all Missouri students could experience this hands-on outdoor learning to better ensure they understand the connections between conserving Missouri’s forests, fish and wildlife and the quality of their own lives?

I fully believe that if you help folks grasp the conservation vision, in the long term you’ll change many more acres than if you did habitat work alone.

You noted embracing technology as part of your vision. How do you expect the Conservation Department to embrace technology?

As the size and diversity of our state’s population continues to grow, we’ll need to use technology to inform and engage all citizens. Things change faster now than ever, and that means we need to communicate with our constituents with unprecedented speed.

We will be doing everything we can to increase our responsiveness. We’re in the process of a major enhancement to our Web site, for instance, so people will be able to access the most up-to-date information as easily as possible. Technology will also allow us to take key information directly to individuals, select stakeholder groups and the general public, versus depending on them to contact the Department. It is tremendously important to ensure that all citizens have an opportunity to learn about and understand the importance of our forest, fish and wildlife resources.

On the resource management side, technology will allow staff such as conservation agents and area managers to have real-time information to assist with tasks ranging from area maintenance, Wildlife Code enforcement, and communications with partners. In many areas of our operations, greater use of technology will allow us to increase efficiency and productivity.

You’ll be the eighth director in the Conservation Department’s 73 years. It’s rare for a state conservation agency, or any state agency, to have such stability of leadership. What has that meant for Missourians?

It reflects Missouri citizens’ wisdom in setting up a constitutionally independent conservation agency guided by a balanced, bipartisan commission. Missourians have labored to establish and protect a management system that provides the Commission authority to make science-based resource decisions, focused on fulfilling citizens’ expectations for sustainable resources. In addition, our state’s conservation efforts have a broad management base, supported with dedicated funding, that gives consideration to forest, fish, and all species of wildlife.

The result has been a conservation system with a proven and successful track record, held up as a model by people around the world. Missouri citizens deserve the credit for establishing this unique and successful system of governance.

Today, efforts to ensure sustainable forest, fish, and wildlife resources add to our quality of life and have an incredible economic benefit. Simply stated, conservation “PAYS ITS WAY” by generating more economic activity outside the agency than it costs to operate.

What does it mean to you personally?

As long as I can recall, the outdoors has been an important part of my life. My parents, Carl and Andree, worked to provide outdoor experiences that sparked my interest in conservation. In addition, growing up—from a kid attending conservation events where movies were shown on the courthouse wall, to having my county conservation agent volunteer as scoutmaster—the diverse and broad world of conservation was shared by passionate Department employees.

I’m a California, Mo. native. I live there still with my wife, Beth, and two daughters. As I said before, I enjoy the outdoors in many ways—whether it’s fishing, wildlife photography or hunting. My career with the Department began with a summer position in 1987. I feel blessed to be part of an agency whose mission continues to make a positive difference for Missourians and forest, fish and wildlife resources.

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