Earlier this year, The Wildlife Society (TWS) launched its new online Action Center — the latest in a long line of initiatives geared to- ward promoting science-based wildlife policy. This tool enables TWS members in the United States to learn about pending legislation and contact their congressional representatives and local media to share their expertise and express their views. The Government Affairs and Partnerships department also uses the center to send out “action alerts” flagging key issues. As a tool that empowers members to act, the new center reflects one more step in the evolution of TWS’s wildlife policy program, which in many ways is as old as the Society itself.
The Wildlife Society has a long and growing record of action and accomplishments in promoting conservation policy, an effort long-endorsed by the membership. The earliest major policy action occurred in 1947, when TWS passed a resolution opposing overgrazing of public lands and called for management in the public interest. Since then, the Society’s annual reports document its response to myriad laws, regulations, and policies of federal, state, and international governments (The Wildlifer #238, 1990). Among the highlights from our first 50 years (Eder 1987):
• In 1953, TWS supported legislation requiring observance of state hunting and fishing regulations on federally controlled lands.
• In 1968, Council approved position statements on wildlife introductions, importations, and exotics; conservation education; regulations and enforce- ment; animal control; and wildlife and human populations.
• In 1970, Council affirmed that TWS sections and chapters could develop their own positions on local issues.
• In 1971, the Society published a booklet with 13 statements titled Position Statements of The Wildlife Society on Environmental Issues.
• In 1972, TWS created the position of field director to serve in part as an environmental affairs liaison. That year, TWS published Guidelines for Affecting Legislation, with pointers for sections and chapters on how to become involved in legislative actions.
The Push for a New Position
The goal to influence policy was gaining momentum. In his address at TWS’s annual business meeting in March 1980, President Ted Bookhout emphasized the importance of TWS influencing decision makers and the public on matters affecting wildlife. At that time, such influence was primarily attempted through TWS’s Conservation Affairs Committee under the leadership of the vice president and field director, who would identify members with specific expertise, assist in drafting legislation and testifying, and coordinate with legislators and their staffs.
In 1983, TWS Council recommended that both the executive director and field director devote 30 percent of their time to conservation policy. This placed strains on limited staff resources and spawned discussions about creating a full-time policy position. In March 1988, TWS Council established a committee to investigate funding sources for establishing a policy director position. When President Jim Teer addressed the membership in 1989, he said that getting TWS more involved in policy affecting wildlife was his “first priority,” and noted that organizations such as the Society of American Foresters, National Wildlife Federation, and Wildlife Management Institute all had full-time staff policy directors. “We have chewed on the bone of a new position for the Society for many months,” he said. “Our members want us to put science to work in the halls of government … We need to act” (The Wildlifer #233, 1989).
This clarion call reflected the will of Council to become more engaged in wildlife policy. Council proposed a $12 dues increase to support a new position of wildlife policy director, and the issue went to a vote of the membership in August 1990. The membership approved the increase, and thus the new position was created to serve as the Society’s principal liaison with the U.S. Congress, feder al, state, and provincial natural resource agencies, and private conservation organizations on scientific wildlife management and statutory, regulatory, and wildlife policy matters.
In April 1991, TWS appointed Tom Franklin as the first wildlife policy director, with full-time responsibilities to address legislative and administrative actions that affect wildlife professionals and natural resources. Over the next 15 years the policy program provided scientific expertise and input on crucial issues including conservation of old growth habitat in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest, wolf restoration, oil development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, brown bear conservation, livestock grazing on public lands, and appropriations for federal natural resource management and conservation agencies.
The Program Expands
As policy work has continued to expand, so has the policy staff. Renamed Government Affairs and Partnerships in 2006, the policy department now has a director, deputy director, and associate. In addition to those three full-time staff members, the group runs a vibrant policy intern program — launched in the mid-1980s — that gives students and recent graduates a chance to come to D.C. for six months and gain real-world experience in conservation policy.
Today, the mission of the Government Affairs program is to ensure that wildlife professionals and the knowledge they provide play an active role in the formation of wildlife management and conservation policies, laws, and regulations, thereby ensuring that these are scientifically based and practical.
The program achieves this mission by (1) providing timely, usable, science-based input to policymakers, (2) ensuring that all members of the wildlife profession are aware of the impact of policy on their work and are knowledgeable of current issues in wildlife policy, and (3) serving as an unbiased reviewer of wildlife management and conservation policy and strategies. The Society uses several tools to pursue these goals. Among them:
Member Communication. Beyond the new Action Center noted earlier, TWS informs its members about significant policy developments by issuing Wildlife Policy News, a monthly electronic newsletter that includes updates on current legislation and recent TWS policy actions, and flags opportunities to comment on public documents.
Technical Reviews. Produced since the 1980s, technical reviews are scientific analyses of promi- nent issues in wildlife science, management, and conservation, written by panels of experts. TWS will often use these scientific reviews to develop formal position statements — as was the case when TWS’s 2008 technical review on lead ammunition and fishing tackle launched a subsequent position statement calling for the phasing out of lead where it affected fish and wildlife. Other reviews cover issues such as carnivore management, the Public Trust Doctrine, wind energy, Farm Bill conservation programs and practices, and baiting and feeding of wildlife. When appropriate, TWS distributes technical reviews to key decision makers and managers to facilitate a stronger integration of science into the decision making process. For example, TWS distributed its 2012 review on carnivore management to all 50 state wildlife agencies, as well as to relevant federal agencies and members of Congress.
Position Statements. The Society’s position statements are carefully prepared, concise statements about a specific wildlife issue of concern. They contain background data, describe probable biological, social, and economic results of various actions, and offer a recommended course of action. These statements are adopted by Council following a period of review and comment by the membership. In deciding whether to prepare a position statement, Council considers whether the issue is of major importance to wildlife resources, whether it is within the expertise of TWS members, and whether there is adequate time available to acquire data and thoughtfully develop a position. Existing position statements address issues such as energy development, climate change, invasive species, hunting, wildlife health, conservation, law enforcement, and conservation education. Like technical reviews, these statements may be distributed to Congressional committees that deal with natural resource issues, or submitted for the record of hearings.
Congressional Testimony. Over the years, TWS has had many opportunities to address Congress directly at hearings on issues ranging from appro- priations and old growth habitat conservation to national wildlife refuge management and Canada lynx research and monitoring. Such input has often made a significant difference. In 1975, for example, wildlife ecologist Mike Zagata (who was then TWS’s field director) testified before the House Agricul- ture Committee about two pending bills regarding clear-cutting practices in the Monongahela and Bitterroot National Forests. Zagata asked if he could pick a team of forest-wildlife experts (from states represented by the Committee members) to testify, rather than testify alone — an effective strategy.
Behind the scenes, Zagata worked with Jack Ward Thomas (then a TWS Council member and biologist for the USFS) to add language to the legislation specifying that 10 percent of the monies allocated to build roads associated with timber sales could be used for wildlife — a move that quadrupled the Forest Service’s wildlife budget. Thus TWS played a significant role in crafting what became the National Forest Management Act of 1976.
In April 2011, then-TWS Executive Director/CEO Michael Hutchins testified before the House Natural Resource Committee’s Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans, and Insular Affairs, opposing the Corolla Wild Horse Protection Act. His testimony presented scientific findings about the destructive impacts that non-native feral horses can have on fragile coastal ecosystems and native wildlife, and he argued that allowing feral horses in a national wildlife refuge prevented the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) from adequately protecting refuge habitat. The bill passed the House, but as of the Au- gust recess had not passed the Senate.
Outreach to Partners
In the interest of advancing sound wildlife policy, TWS has moved far beyond its own membership and policy initiatives by participating in partnerships with like-minded conservation organizations such as the Wildlife Management Institute, the National Wildlife Federation, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, and the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (AFWA). Such partnerships are integral to TWS’s government affairs work.
The Society currently has official MOUs with more than a dozen organizations, including the FWS, the Bureau of Land Management, and the National As- sociation of University Fish and Wildlife Programs. TWS has been a steering committee member of the Teaming with Wildlife coalition since its inception in the early 1990s, and supports its annual “Fly In” of wildlife advocates who come to D.C. to educate Congress about the need for funding for wildlife management and conservation. And in 2009, TWS joined with the American Fisheries Society (AFS), the Society for Range Management, and the Society of American Foresters to form the Coalition of Natural Resource Societies, a force of more than 30,000 natural resource professionals who can share infor- mation and apply their collective voice to relevant policy issues.
To understand the power of such partnerships, consider the case in 1992, when a bipartisan group from the House of Representatives approached TWS and several other scientific societies asking for a review and report on the 10 eastside forests of Washington and Oregon. TWS took the lead and formed the East- side Forests Scientific Society Panel, chaired by Mark Henjum, which included members from TWS, AFS, the American Ornithologists Union, the Ecological Society of America, the Society for Conservation Biology, and the Sierra Biodiversity Institute. In addition, TWS administered grants and facilitated communications among the societies and government officials. This effort resulted in publication of a 1994 report that included a synthesis of current conditions across the eastside forests (Henjum et al. 1994). Most important, it recommended interim measures to prevent further degradation of remaining old growth resources until a long-term protection and restoration plan could be implemented. Today, 18 years following publication of the report, some of those recommended protections — such as prohibiting harvest of trees more than 21 inches diameter — are still in place in 10 national forests in Eastern Oregon and Washington, a proud early accomplishment of TWS policy work in action.
As TWS moves forward into its next 75 years, the Government Affairs program will continue to work to represent TWS members and to ensure that wildlife policy is science based. Our voice is more important than ever in the current budget climate, when many natural resource programs find themselves on the chopping block in the name of balancing the budget. It will be incumbent on The Wildlife Society to ensure that the best available wildlife science and conservation policy options are communicated to decision makers as they craft legislation — and to hold elected officials accountable for their actions.
Author Bios: Laura Bies is Director of Government Affairs and Partnerships for The Wildlife Society.
Thomas M. Franklin, CWB, is Senior Director of Science and Policy of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and is a Past President of The Wildlife Society.