Director Message

Grateful

By Gil McRae, FWRI Director

I had to double check to confirm this, but May 2022 will mark my 20th year as director of FMRI/FWRI.  Many would say that is too long for one person to head up an organization, especially one focused on science. If I am counting correctly (and in this I am only moderately confident), this is also my 78th Director’s article for this newsletter.  I ask your indulgence as I reflect on how far we have come these last two decades.

I invite each of you to take some time to contemplate how unique our Institute is as an organization.  The Constitution of the State of Florida states that FWC will be made up of three main units:  management, research, and enforcement.  The inclusion of research as a component of fundamental law defining FWC is underappreciated in my opinion.  The word “science” does not appear in our state constitution and “research” occurs substantively only one other time, in defining the purpose of the state university system.  There is an appealing parallel here:  our success in implementing our mission at FWRI has been greatly strengthened by a positive, collaborative working relationship with academic institutions.  This is not always the case for state fish and wildlife agencies.  The specific mission of FWRI is further defined in state statute, which defines the purpose of the Institute as generating objective scientific information to support natural resource management.  This law, in which research and monitoring activities are independent from rulemaking and policymaking, gives FWC/FWRI a rock-solid foundation and purpose for conducting science in the public interest.

During the 2 years that I spent as director of the former FMRI (2002-2004), much of my time was spent preparing for the ultimate reorganization of the FWC, which was created by constitutional amendment in 1998 with over 72% of the vote.  To assist with the details, I was tasked with pulling together a Research Advance Team who would determine the structural and functional attributes of the new research entity.  Of the 12 members of that team, only five (myself, Luiz Barbieri, John Hunt, Alan Woodward, and Karl Miller) are still active with FWC.  This team spent the better part of two years traveling the state meeting with every group that might ultimately move into the yet-to-be-named research entity.  It was no small feat to identify personnel, budget, equipment, and facilities that would go into this new entity especially when you consider that we would be breaking up organizational groups that had been together for many decades.  I will forever be grateful to this team for helping to work through these difficult, and often contentious discussions. 

One of the last decisions to be made was the form the new research entity would take.  For some time, it was thought that having separate Institutes, each focusing on specific ecosystem types, would be preferred since it would recognize the significant history and body of work accumulated by freshwater, terrestrial and marine researchers.  Ultimately, a perspective was reached based on the premise that the individual groups shared similar histories and a future commitment to generating high quality science that could ultimately build a cohesive single research capability for the nascent FWC. 

But what would this now single entity be called?  In thinking of this, I did what I often do when faced with a complex problem – simplify it as much as possible.  What was the best way to honor the legacy of the former research groups while promoting the expanded role of the new entity?  Simply flip the “M” upside down and create the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute (FWRI).  In doing this I counted on the fact that these similar acronyms would create a halo of confusion that would persist for a few years allowing us to build a profile for FWRI that honored our expanded mission while building on the legacy established by FMRI.  In retrospect I would argue that is exactly what happened. 

We have come a long way since that letter-flipping leap of faith.  Due to your hard work and commitment (and those that came before you) we have built something special in the FWC Fish and Wildlife Research Institute and I continue to count myself extremely lucky to be associated with such a talented group of people.  Success often breeds success, and I am happy to say that has been our experience as an organization.  When FWRI was first formed in 2004, we had an annual budget of $43 million.  For this coming fiscal year (22/23) it is likely that our budget will exceed $117 million. Collectively, we have weathered many ups and downs and responded to innumerable unpredictable events to build a uniquely valuable scientific institution within state government.

For that, and for all of you, I remain extremely grateful.