Today we’re posting a 5 question “conversation” with Brad Parsons. This is your chance to learn more about Brad as a Second Vice President Candidate and potential AFS Officer!
Reminder: Voting opens the week of May 24th – current AFS members will receive voting instructions by email. View Brad’s official candidate statement and register for our live, online Meet the Candidates webinar on May 19.
The 2020 pandemic and resulting travel restrictions brought unexpected changes to the way professional societies interacted with members, namely more online/virtual programming. What lessons from this experience should AFS continue to apply to member engagement?
We all know that change can be hard, and that we all react to it in our own unique way. As with most change that is “forced” upon an organization there are positives and negatives. For example, I was not a “work at home” person prior to the pandemic. I would just take my laptop and work at the kitchen table. After a few months of this I relented, set up a defined workspace with an extra monitor, and now feel highly productive. However, I am very much an interpersonal relationships person. I miss traveling to area offices to visit with staff. So many people I have talked to miss the interpersonal part of our administrative, technical, and AFS meetings. The time spent in breaks, meals, and socials are incredibly valuable. I recall at the Midwest/NCD meeting in 2020, I had the opportunity to sit with a group of over 20 students from a variety of universities at a social for over an hour. It was wonderful, we shared stories, experiences, and laughter. At the virtual Midwest/NCD meeting this year, we had student professional time programmed in. It worked I think, but I really wonder whether the students got the same out of it. I know I didn’t. But, we had high attendance, as we did at the Upper Mississippi River Conservation Committee annual meeting, which is great. We need to provide some sort of hybrid experience, but I am truly worried that a variety of agencies, especially states, will use that opportunity to limit the number of personnel who can physically attend.
Diversity, equity, and inclusion is an important issue for AFS, the fisheries profession and the sciences in general. How do you see AFS becoming more effective in addressing this issue? Are there programs or policies that you would like to see AFS either more strongly support or develop to make more progress?
This is something AFS cannot do alone. We must engage the other professional environmental societies on a joint effort. We are competing with the rest of the STEM professions, and let’s face it, very few go into fisheries careers, some because of the pay grade. Although we may lose some to folks like TWS, or Cons Bio, we must partner. I am a firm believer that reaching students in high school is the best way, and the Hutton Program has done that for many years in a great way and should continue and expand. But it is not enough. The Minnesota Chapter has for many years given awards to students at regional and state science fairs for projects related to water or aquatic sciences. This way a professional can share directly with kids what a career in the aquatic sciences can be. In Minnesota, we have a new program called Increasing Diversity in Environmental Careers (IDEC). This tries to reach students at non-traditional colleges and universities that have an interest in science. Although we in fisheries are “competing” against pollution control, wildlife, or parks, at least we have their interest. Then, we need to learn from the Society as a whole how to engage, recruit, and especially retain their interest in fisheries and aquatic careers. Again, there is experience throughout the Society on what has worked, we need to communicate it better among Chapters, Sections, and Divisions. The recent Fisheries article on being an ally for women in the professional was excellent. Can we expand upon that, being more inclusive by articles helping us learn more about cultural differences?
Climate change has been an issue AFS has been engaged in for decades, and the immediacy of the need for action continues to increase. How can you use experiences from your current/past roles related to climate change to increase the effectiveness of the AFS membership in addressing this critical issue?
As a state agency managing fish populations, we recognize that a great deal of our habitat work comes at the watershed level, not in stream or in lake. This is where the Society as a whole has a huge role to play. The farm bill alone has an enormous effect, not just on lakes, rivers, and reservoirs in the upper Midwest, but down through estuaries and the seas. As a state fisheries agency, we frankly struggle to have an influence on that. I feel strongly the Society can advocate for more in the farm bill that will do things on a local level that will have broader effects on climate change. Sustainable farming and grazing, and the local
food movement (which includes eating some fish you catch in your neighborhood) need to be supported in legislation, and are frankly not that controversial. But they need advocates. I pushed through my agency the MN DNR contributing to the Fisheries Strong effort, with an episode on our Northern Cisco resilience efforts in the face of climate change. The hydrology of the Mississippi River basin has changed dramatically in the last 20+ years. My experience with Mississippi River through UMRCC and MICRA gives me a perspective how not only temperature, but changes in hydrology enables expansion of Silver and Bighead Carp populations.
Each of you has extensive experience at the state or territory agency level. What should AFS be doing to be more relevant to the needs of biologists working at that level to better engage them in the Society?
This is very personal to me. Going back to my time as NCD President, traveling to Chapter meetings was my favorite part. The agency biologists, students, other agencies, and academia all together, and great energy. Many of the presentations were from agency biologists, and not just on research projects. Case histories or a unique situation in a few lakes were often the topic, and questions and break discussions were often lively. Their daily work was valued. Because their daily work seems very local to them, I do believe that many do not see the Parent Society is relevant to their situation. When in college or grad school, AFS membership was seen as important. When you get to the state job level, the seasonal, monthly, weekly, and daily grind take over and priorities both professional and personally change. Typically that is when family life starts for many. How do we address this? Obviously when the young professional membership was instituted, that was a huge step. Perhaps we can extend the term of that. The online access to journals for free has been cited to me by folks as a very good thing. Most biologists don’t have time for the full blown peer review process, if AFS could find a way to highlight quality “grey literature” that could also help. But I think the most important thing is communication. My career would not be where it is without AFS. Interviewing people for countless jobs over the years, AFS involvement looks very good on a resume – it shows a willingness to go beyond your job. We need to communicate that. We also need to better show how AFS can and does advocate for national issues that actually help fund their job (i.e. DJ reauthorization, RAWA, NFHAP). Many times as an agency, our hands are tied there.
AFS just celebrated its 150th Anniversary; obviously the needs of our current membership are very different from when we started! What is one role that AFS does not currently fulfill for our members that you believe could be important in the future, and why?
AFS started with a primarily fish culture focus, because that is what a great deal of fisheries management really was at that point. We cannot forget that fish culture remains an integral part of our science. There are now things that a growing segment of the public will listen too. One of the favorite things I do is explain to groups how native non-game fish species are valuable, and how critters like mussels, and frankly Bluegill reproduction, have this fascinating life history. I would hope that our Society could provide better communication tools for us as biologists to communicate why what we do is relevant to others, rather than just anglers or the commercial sector. For example, how do we communicate ecosystem services (which, by the way, if you use that term many people’s eyes will glaze over)? How does fisheries science and management be more relevant to a broader public? AFS could produce relevant talking points, or short videos that professionals could utilize as they communicate to the general public. Not to the professional level of Fisheries Strong, but the new proposed CRSS Section could be a vehicle for this effort.