Without qualification, Gene G. Stout was the primary genesis behind, and “Founding Father” of, the National Military Fish and Wildlife Association (NMFWA). He served as its first President from 1983-1986.
Earning BS and MS Degrees respectively from Penn State and Arizona State University, Gene was soon to be a fledgling Certified Wildlife Biologist® (The Wildlife Society); he started his professional Wildlife Biologist career while on active duty with the United States Marine Corps in 1969. After his discharge, he spent some “quality time” with both the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation and as a wildlife consultant for a private Wildlife Management firm in Texas. In 1976, he became the Fish and Wildlife Administrator at Fort Sill, OK where he remained until 1994. Since 1994, he has been the Principal of Gene Stout & Associates whose definitive tag line remains, “Defense Conservation-Our Only Business”.
While at Fort Sill, Gene’s program was twice named the best in Defense. He implemented the first full Integrated Training Area Management (ITAM) program, held the first ITAM conference, served on the ITAM Installation Advisory Board, and even designed the prototype ITAM logo. He planned and held the first Defense law enforcement training session at Sill and was responsible for one of the first natural resource-based enforcement programs within Defense. His natural resources staff was three when he arrived at Sill and 26 when he departed.
He published eight scientific papers; presented at least 25 talks at professional organizations, wrote over 500 newspaper columns and feature articles for Fort Sill newspaper, presented about 20 banquet speeches for environmental organizations, and published five articles in national popular magazines. His proudest writing accomplishment was preparing five winning nominations for the DOD Conservationist of the Year Award.
NMFWA arguably can be said to have started its roots back in the Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (SEAFWA) in the late 1950’s. For over 25 years, a subcommittee at the SEAFWA annual meeting dealt with various military and Indian fish and wildlife managers. This subcommittee was primarily the responsibility of fisheries personnel at the Atlanta office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and normally met for less than a day. The USFWS primarily used this subcommittee to provide training to these two groups and to promote services in the form of fisheries assistance and fish to stock.
Gene’s fingerprints on the NMFWA genesis was first to be demonstrated in 1977 when as a member of the group of Military Fish and Wildlife managers attending this subcommittee meeting in San Antonio, TX discussed “expanding the agenda”. Ideas informally discussed involved Military Fish and Wildlife managers having input into program formats for the meeting. With USFWS personnel support of that idea, the platform of tangible professional resource management recognition on military lands was beginning to take definitive form.
To continue the development, after this meeting Gene independently surveyed military installations with regards to fish and wildlife program status. This 1978 survey was sent to approximately 100 Army, Navy, and Marine Corps installations. The 44 responses were presented at the subcommittee meeting at the 1978 Southeastern meeting in Hot Springs, VA. This paper clearly identified that all-Military Fish and Wildlife managers, nationwide, had similar problems. Many of these were not biological and were unique to military installations. This irrefutable data spurred efforts to increase military managers' input into this subcommittee's future programs.
An offshoot of this 1978 survey was that a few military managers attended from outside the Southeast. Folks felt that this was the best chance for interchange of ideas, and the seeds were sown for a greater attendance at the 1979 Southeastern in Hot Springs, AR.
In addition to continuing work with installation personnel, Gene branched out to command levels and put together the first directory of Military Fish and Wildlife managers in order to facilitate communication. While the directory was considered incomplete, it did get people talking to one another. In addition to fighting fires (both literally and figuratively), accomplishing his Fish and Wildlife Administrator duties, in his spare time he also published a couple of "newsletters" as means to continue individual dialogue and engagement while also striving to increase military attendance at the meetings.
At the 1979 meeting, it was decided that Military Fish and Wildlife managers would leave the Southeastern subcommittee, and put together a national military training session in conjunction with SEAFWA in 1980, in Nashville, TN. While he would humbly say otherwise, Gene Stout was an integral part and prime motivator of the Army, Air Force, Marines and Navy quad-service committee which put this initiative together.
The first national training session of our as of yet unnamed group of military fish and wildlife managers took place in Nashville, TN in November 1980. The best recollection is that about 60 persons attended. Similar training sessions took place at SEAFWA 1981 in Tulsa, OK and SEAFWA 1982 in Jacksonville, FL. During this time, Air Force and Navy representatives to the initial quad-service program committee had several changes. Gene remained as one of the two primary constants and served as the 1980 Committee Chair. Informal newsletters were used to disseminate information on these training sessions and programs continued to professionally mature with various techniques used to improve paper quality.
About this time, Gene chaired yet another special committee to find a place for the group within an existing organization. The North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference (NAWNRC) was ruled out on the basis of perceived travel difficulties given that it sometimes meets “outside the country in foreign places” like Hawaii and Alaska. Some serious effort was made to form a military chapter of The Wildlife Society (TWS). Fisheries people were opposed, and TWS had no desire to start a precedent of forming special interest chapters as opposed to their existing geographic chapters.
Of special note, the Southeastern was also ruled out because of “strong sectional allegiances”. Back in those days, there were very strong and at time outspoken views expressed by primarily western "members" regarding too many meetings being held in the East. At one point, this issue became so seriously contentious, that Western military fish and wildlife managers discussed forming their own organization. To stem this movement, Gene “artfully maneuvered within the fray” and facilitated an agreement to hold the 1983 meeting in Jackson, WY in conjunction with the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA). Additionally and most historically relevant for the birth of the NMFWA, it was decided to attempt to form an independent organization at that meeting.
Gene led a select team which included western managers and drafted a Constitution and Bylaws for the 1983 meeting. This meeting was seriously and highly charged with political undertones as compromises and revisions to the document were made in numerous meetings which continued through the night and operating hours of several local refreshment establishments in Jackson.
Those primary issues of discussion and compromise included…. the independent nature of the Association versus being an offshoot of the Department of Defense, voting member criteria, military service branch representation on the Board of Directors, East-West conflicts with regard to meetings and Board seats, command representation on the Board, affiliation with other meetings, voting by proxy, etc, etc, etc…… None of these issues would be consider as anything “new” to the Association membership of today but they certainly were indeed, “new” to those involved back in 1983.
On July 13, 1983, the National Military Fish and Wildlife Association came into existence when the Constitution and Bylaws were accepted. With that ratification and the subsequent election of Association Officers, Gene G. Stout rightfully earned and appropriately became our first President.
Despite his often colorfully loquacious manner, self-depreciating sense of humor and at times considered obstinate defense of opinion (particularly in regards to what he considers as righteous for the resource), Gene Stout remains a very humble individual and has religiously handed off compliments related to creation of NMFWA to others. Rightfully, there were others directly involved in the creation of this Association. But it was directly because of Gene’s tenacious hands on leadership that the National Military Fish and Wildlife Association became a recognized professional reality.
Gene also does not talk much about what was organizationally accomplished during his terms as President. That list is indeed long, but by way of just a few examples:
The first official and also self-supported newsletter “Fish and Wildlife News (FAWN)” was published in February 1984. Publication of this first edition brought to a head the idea that NMFWA was indeed an independent organization. Cost of publishing the newsletter also forced the Association to come to grips with finances.
Membership was originally limited to those who had attended at least one meeting. In 1984, the first membership application was designed, printed and disseminated.
The NMFWA letterhead was developed.
Dissemination of job announcements within DOD via the FAWN was initiated.
An Awards Committee was first developed.
Several amendments of the Constitution and Bylaws were accomplished.
NMFWA sponsored basic and advanced wildlife law enforcement training courses.
Non-Governmental organization recognition continued to increase and the Association has been listed in the Conservation Directory (published by the National Wildlife Federation) since 1984.
Resolutions became the focal point of the second meeting in 1984. After long and serious debate, the Association passed 3 resolutions regarding wildlife law enforcement, staffing at command levels, and the Sikes Act. President Stout sent these resolutions to then Secretary of Defense, Caspar Weinberger. This action created a “controversy” over where and to whom NMFWA resolutions (and correspondence in general) should be sent. Some (primarily command members) felt they should be sent to the Defense Natural Resources Group, while others felt NMFWA should send its major actions to the highest levels as do other private organizations. Since then, both avenues have been used.
Of particular note, the Reauthorization of the Sikes Act in 1986 remains considered perhaps the Association's most controversial action to date. While some eventual members went “on the record” and expressed opinions as early as 1984 on matters included in the Sikes Act, as an organization, NMFWA decided against supporting this reauthorization when it was first introduced since DOD opposed the bill.
Unofficially, the Sikes Act, with strong amendments, was passed primarily due to the efforts of Gene and others within NMFWA. Eventually, NMFWA came on line to support passage of the bill despite DOD opposition. During the final stages of this political battle in 1986, there were animosities created between persons who worked at command levels and persons within the Association's leadership who were openly working to pass the bill. Not surprisingly, some felt the Association was being used improperly, and others felt the Association should be more active in working for bill passage. The bill passed in late 1986 even though it had to go through both the House and Senate Armed Services Committees. The bill has proven itself, and despite the “sucking chest wounds at the time” the actions taken by NMFWA and its membership proved that the Association had developed considerable political muscle. Of note, Gene’s original letter to Secretary Weinberger remains within the files at DOD to this day.
Some might say that the historical ramblings offered above in this nomination are just that, history. Well, true is true. But while I have elected to focus primarily on the sacrifices, efforts involved and leadership tenaciously demonstrated by Gene Stout in the creation of the NMFWA, I do so primarily for the edification and enlightenment of those younger members of this proudly professional Association which will yet be our future leadership. For in many organizations, if you don’t know where you came from, you might not have any idea where you are heading. If you find yourself in that latter category, take the time to get mentored by the grand master, as Gene has had more than just one hand in training many of us and remains actively involved in the Association to this day.
Gene Stout has, for the first 20 odd years as a Uniformed Service Member, then Civil Servant followed by another 21 years as a contracted consultant to DOD land resource managers, remained an un-faltering advocate of the military training mission, for the resources upon which sustainable accomplishment of that mission inherently depends. As evidence of his continued engagement, as an unabashedly competent resource manager and enviable skilled writer, he has developed/updated related Natural and Cultural Resource Management Plans on over 18 million acres of DOD currently administered lands.
While the above accomplishments are within themselves beyond the extraordinary and worthy of some serious additional appreciation by DOD leadership, it is the vision of that young Marine serving at Camps Lejeune and Pendleton and what he did it with an understanding of the significance and importance of wildlife management on military lands. We are honored to induct Gene G. Stout into the NMFWA Hall of Fame.