The Go To Agencies for Wildlife

One of the frustrations of wildlife conservation is determining who’s in charge. At the state level, state agencies are responsible for managing most wildlife and fish populations. They set seasons and bag limits for species that are hunted and fished (e.g., deer, cottontails, trout, bass, bullfrogs). They’re also responsible for the welfare of nongame species.

In Pennsylvania, for example, the Game Commission and Fish and Boat Commission manage wildlife and fish. Furthermore, the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) manages 117 state parks and 2.1 million acres of state forest.

Every state has similar wildlife conservation agencies, though their names and organizational structure vary. In West Virginia, the Division of Natural Resources manages fish, wildlife, state parks, and forests. In Ohio, the Division of Wildlife manages both fish and wildlife and is under the umbrella of the Department of Natural Resources.

To make matters even more confusing, a wide array of federal agencies is responsible for myriad aspects of wildlife conservation.

The primary federal wildlife agency is the Department of Interior’s Fish & Wildlife Service ( FWS’ responsibilities include migratory birds, endangered species, national wildlife refuges (more than 150 million acres in more than 550 refuges), fish habitat conservation and restoration, among many other things. The FWS sets seasons and bag limits for migratory birds — ducks, geese, doves and rails — which they base on summer population surveys.

Curiously, the federal bird-banding lab is located in Interior’s U.S. Geological Survey, not the FWS. If you find a band on a wild bird, dead or alive (no pigeons), report it at

But wildlife conservation is not limited to Interior agencies. For example, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service ( manages the fish and wildlife on national forests and grasslands (193 million acres). The Forest Service’s mission is to restore and enhance landscapes, protect and enhance water resources, develop climate change resiliency and help create jobs that sustain communities.

USDA also houses the Natural Resources Conservation Service ( and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). The NRCS, formerly known as the Soil Conservation Service (SCS), helps private landowners conserve and improve their natural resources. It emphasizes voluntary, science-based conservation for farmers and other private landowners.

Part of APHIS’ responsibility is Wildlife Services (WS), which deals with wildlife damage complaints. If coyotes are killing sheep, geese are pooping on city ball fields, or thousands of starlings are roosting in a residential neighborhood, WS is the agency to contact ( There’s a WS office in every state.

In the U.S. Department of Commerce (, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA, provides daily weather forecasts, manages federal fisheries, restores damaged coastal areas, and supports marine commerce.

NOAA’s National Weather Service ( provides weather and climate forecasts and warnings for the United States, its territories, adjacent waters and ocean areas for the protection of life and property and the enhancement of the national economy. For an instantaneous seven-day forecast, just enter your ZIP code.

NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service ( conserves, protects, and manages living marine resources to ensure their continuation as functioning components of marine ecosystems, promote economic opportunities, and enhance the quality of life for the American public. Current information on the health of Gulf coast fish is available through Fisheries Service.

NOAA’s National Ocean Service ( is the nation’s premier science agency for oceans and coastlines. NOS manages America’s 95,000 miles of shoreline and 3.5 million square miles of coastal, Great Lakes, and deep-ocean waters. This vast area generates more than 60 percent of the nation’s gross national product each year.

NOAA’s Sea Grant Program (, a nationwide network of 32 university-based programs that work with coastal communities, focuses on environmental stewardship, economic development and responsible use of America’s coastal, ocean and Great Lakes resources.

Finally, the Marine Mammal Commission ( is an independent agency created by the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972. The Commission’s primary focus and duties are the protection and conservation of marine mammals (whales, dolphins, sea otters, seals, sea lions, manatees, walruses).

I’ve only scratched the surface, but you get the idea. Wildlife conservation can be a bureaucratic maze.

Written by Scott Shalaway for the Charleston Gazette

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