Growing challenges need long-term strategy
Oregon’s Department of Fish and Wildlife, like other natural resource agencies across the nation, is facing difficult challenges. Expenses are growing and outpacing revenues. Responsibilities are expanding. Fish and wildlife management has an increased workload to protect species and enhance habitats.
As pointed out in our previous audit (ODFW Financial Condition Review, Report No. 2015-09), ODFW’s temporary funding solutions have not addressed its rising expenses and recurring budget shortfalls. For example, the agency cut positions, including some vacant ones, and has deferred maintenance year after year. Staff are stretched across growing workloads, and millions of dollars in capital projects will be required for fish hatcheries and other facilities to maintain current operations in the future.
Oregon has had difficulty with its efforts to increase resources. Commercial fishing fees have not increased since 1989 to help fund the fish Restoration and Enhancement program. In recent years, measures to increase wildlife conservation funding have only met a small fraction of the need. The steady decline of hunters and anglers puts the future of reliable licensing revenues in jeopardy. In 2015, a taskforce was established by the Oregon Legislature to explore alternative funding options for ODFW.
The widening gap between responsibilities and resources makes effectively addressing ODFW’s seven co-equal state goals unsustainable. We heard numerous concerns that everything was a priority. Field offices are struggling with their workloads due to rising expectations, lack of resources, and little strategic direction.
ODFW owns and operates a large portfolio of capital assets. These assets include hatcheries, field offices, wildlife areas, fishing ponds, and other properties. Over the years properties have been acquired without a comprehensive asset planning and maintenance strategy. As a result, some of ODFW’s properties are neglected.
ODFW has not done long-term, agency–wide strategic planning. Agency leadership needs a comprehensive management strategy to provide clarity of the agency’s vision and expectations, and to guide the agency into the future. This should include a holistic look at all of the agency’s responsibilities, so that it can set priorities given available resources. This will help ODFW leadership be proactive in managing what they do and how they do it, better meet new challenges, and respond to additional federal and state mandates or directives.
In developing the management strategy, ODFW should pay particular attention to its practices related to internal communication, goal setting, alignment of workload to mission critical responsibilities and resources, succession planning, and calculating the full cost of service delivery and maintenance.
To more effectively achieve its mission, we recommend ODFW develop and implement a long-term comprehensive management strategy. This should include a holistic process to identify key priorities and an alignment of workload and resources to the priorities (see Page 22 in the full report for the detailed recommendations).
The agency response is attached at the end of the report. ODFW generally agrees with our recommendations, and currently has efforts underway to address many of them.