Effective wildlife management requires understanding conservation challenges as defined by stakeholders and developing strategic responses to them. Outlining these challenges is the first step in wildlife management decision making. Research has documented how wildlife conservation practitioners and the public prioritize conservation issues, but little is known about the perspectives of people making conservation decisions, exposing a critical blind spot in efforts to effectively manage wildlife. In this case study, we interviewed 19 directors and 29 board members of state wildlife agencies (hereinafter, decision makers) in the southeastern United States to gauge their perspectives on past and current wildlife conservation challenges, and how to respond to them. We used a naturalistic qualitative approach. Results suggest that insufficient funding was viewed as the primary conservation challenge across the southeast, historically and currently. Declining agency relevancy and wildlife disease were also mentioned as important challenges that are more important now than they were in the last 30 years. Decision makers described their responses to these challenges as improving agency relevancy, acquiring land, and creating new partnerships. These results may reflect the unique responsibilities of directors and supervisory board members. However, perspectives of decision makers and stakeholders were aligned on topics such as imperiled and invasive species.