Nebraska's new game and parks chief is no stranger to the state's fields and streams.
Jim Douglas, who took over as Nebraska Game and Parks Commission director three weeks ago, is a 38-year veteran of the agency.
He knows the difference between Ashfall Fossil Beds and Ash Hollow state historical parks, turkey and turkey vultures, and brook and brown trout.
Still, Douglas is traveling the state to reintroduce himself to conservation and community leaders, asking them one question: “What can we do together?”
The question is Douglas' way of signaling his intent to listen to what Nebraskans want from the stewards of the state's fish, wildlife, parks and outdoor recreation resources.
“We need to listen to and pay attention to the public and offer the right kinds of opportunities for people,'' he said.
Last week Douglas was in Scottsbluff, North Platte, Ogallala and McCook. Next week he's off to Kearney, Grand Island and then north-central Nebraska, as he works his way west to east. His first commission meeting as director is May 25 in Blair.
Game and Parks already works with dozens of conservation-minded organizations of all sizes. Recent projects include archery in schools, family fishing camps, opening eight premier sites to hunting along the Platte River in central Nebraska, working with landowners to provide pheasant habitat and alerting boaters about zebra mussels and other aquatic nuisance species.
Hunters and anglers last year gained access, with commission help, to more than 272,000 privately held acres. The commission released pen-raised ringnecks to enhance youth pheasant-hunting opportunities. Its five hatcheries produced and stocked about 35.5 million fish — representing 21 species — into 274 public water bodies.
“We touch so many people in so many ways,'' he said Monday.
Sometimes communities just need to be aware of opportunities to apply for federal funds available through Game and Parks for recreational developments, he said.
Game and Parks hopes to expand and broaden partnerships with other government agencies and with private donors and organizations, Douglas said. The commission's keystone partner will continue to be the Nebraska Game and Parks Foundation.
“Sometimes we have the difference-making money. Sometimes they have the difference-making money,'' he said.
Partnerships are vital because Game and Parks has a $20 million backlog on deferred maintenance in the parks system, Douglas said. Hunters and anglers self-finance most hunting and fishing programs through the equipment and permits they purchase. Fees paid by parks users plus some taxpayer money finances the parks system.
Douglas said the commission will be working closely with the new Nebraska Tourism Commission to market the state's outdoor resources.
His recent travels have spurred talks about new efforts to jointly market southwest Nebraska's widely diverse hunting, fishing and boating opportunities.
In North Platte, shooting programs at Buffalo Bill State Historical Park are in the dream stage.
Game and Parks is expanding its social media outreach. Wildlife and parks blogs will eventually join fishing blogs on the website.
Smartphone apps are coming for parks, fish and wildlife information and permits. Douglas said the apps will allow users to find detailed information about local, state and federal outdoor activities anywhere in Nebraska.
The outdoors is big business in Nebraska and across the country, Douglas said. Fishing supports about 3,400 jobs in the state. The commission sold nearly 1.2 million hunting, fishing and park permits last year.
The activity in Nebraska's parks supports more than 5,900 jobs and generates retail sales of $324 million. And the social values of outdoor Nebraska are immeasurable, Douglas said.
“What value can you put on taking your kid fishing and enjoy being outdoors with them?'' he said. “What's the value of a family reunion at a state park?”
Douglas, 61, succeeded Rex Amack, who retired last month after 24 years as director.
Douglas had been deputy director since 2010, after serving as wildlife division administrator since 1994. He joined the agency in 1974 as a staffer in the fisheries division.
A native of Illinois, he has a bachelor of science degree in wildlife biology from the University of Montana and a master's degree in management from Bellevue University.
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