As The Wildlife Society prepares to hold its 24th Annual Conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico, three organizers recall planning the Society’s first independent conference, in the same city, in 1994. This is part one of a two-part series remembering that first conference.
A quiet settled in the room as Jack Ward Thomas took the stage. A past president of The Wildlife Society, Thomas had been named chief of the Forest Service the previous year, and his concluding remarks at TWS’ first Annual Conference in 1994 stirred the crowd gathered in the Hilton in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Since 1936, TWS had always met as part of the North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference. In 1992, Harry Hodgdon, TWS’ executive director at the time, felt it was time for the organization to have its own conference. He met with two of us – Leon Fisher and Dale Jones – for lunch in Albuquerque and asked if we would be willing to chair it.
Harry had faced pushback from some Council and staff members who worried the event might be poorly attended and leave the Society in debt. We accepted the challenge. With a good program, we felt, it would be well attended.
Dates of the conference were of some concern. Many committee members wanted to hold the convention in the spring because of better opportunities for field trips. Others felt because the North American Conference met in the spring, that the two conventions would diminish attendance. We agreed to September 1994, with a committee of talented and willing professionals dedicated to making it a success and excellent support from the Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish.
Bruce Thompson, TWS’ current national president, was New Mexico Chapter president at the time and became involved in later stages of planning and preparation. TWS staffer Sandra Staples-Bortner, who served as the national liaison, was extremely involved. TWS presidents Hal Salwasser and Alan Wentz were also involved.
After some 16 months of effort, things began to come together. Originally we were told to plan for 350 attendees. As the months went on, we advanced our predictions to 1,000. A few weeks prior to the conference, we were advised to expect attendance to be about 1,200.
Ultimately, 1,487 participants arrived. We were fortunate to have excellent speakers. In addition to Thomas, we had L. David Mech, a highly respected wolf researcher, and Dr. Winifred B. Kessler, a noted wildlife educator at the University of Northern British Columbia and pioneer as a woman in the field of biology. (Wini went on to become president of TWS). With national interest in the spotted owl, wolf and other controversial species, these speakers were perfect picks.
Many of us who were there still remember Thomas’ stirring words.
Public lands were not set aside for past generations or even present generations, he told us. Those lands, and our work with wildlife, were for vast generations yet to be born.
As conference attendees return to Albuquerque for this year’s conference, many of them may be among those who were not yet born when Thomas spoke those words. Their work with wildlife continues for future generations.
Dedicated to the memory of the late Laurel Kagan-Wiley, Jack Ward Thomas and Hal Salwasser, who contributed greatly to the success of this groundbreaking national conference. They are missed.