TWS members toast Kessler as new Aldo Leopold awardee

By Julia John

Conference attendees and past recipients celebrated Wini Kessler on Monday as this year’s recipient of the Aldo Leopold Memorial Award.

A certified wildlife biologist from British Columbia and a TWS fellow and past president, Kessler is the second woman to receive the award in its 67-year history.

Named after the father of American wildlife conservation and a TWS founder, the award is the Society’s highest honor. Kessler said she was honored by the recognition for her breadth of achievements and her promotion of diversity in the field.

“I’ve seen this profession improve so much through the inclusion of diversity as more women and other people have come in,” Kessler said. “If I’ve had some role in that, I’m proud.”

Kessler was the honored guest at the Aldo Leopold Reception at the 24th TWS Annual Conference in Albuquerque, where she was surrounded by supporters and past recipients of the award.

A TWS member for over four decades, Kessler said she “was astounded” when she heard she received the award.

“My first reaction was disbelief,” she said. “Once it settled in, it was a wonderful feeling because this award is from my peers. It says you’ve had a worthwhile career, and the things you’ve done have been worth this level of recognition. It can’t get better than that. It’s telling me I have lived my career in accordance with Leopold’s values. It’s such an affirmation.”

Several mentors, including Starker Leopold, Aldo Leopold’s son, helped Kessler break boundaries in the male-dominated profession.

“The men that took me on in the early days were renegades,” she said. “It was crazy to take women on. I was fortunate to be taken on by people that were groundbreakers, questioning the status quo and pushing new paradigms.”

Although she considers her new honor a lifetime achievement award, Kessler isn’t finished. She’s serving on several boards and councils, completing a book on wildlife law and policy and teaching fitness classes.

Garry White, 2000 Aldo Leopold Award Recipient

“It’s time the Society recognized the contribution of women, particularly the role she’s played, how instrumental she was as president, saving the society from bankruptcy,” White said. “She’s served as a role model for a long time.”

Nova Silvy, 2003 Aldo Leopold Award Recipient

“She’s been a strong advocate of The Wildlife Society,” said Silvy, who’s known her since she was a doctoral student at Texas A&M University, where he taught. “You can’t find a better person. She started a new program at the University of Northern British Columbia and was dean there. She’s taught at various universities, published, done everything you think of. Her whole life is The Wildlife Society.”

Paul Krausman, 2006 Aldo Leopold Award Recipient

“She’s a true wildlifer — I don’t know what more you need,” said Krausman, who met Kessler through TWS more than 30 years ago and thinks her accomplishments reflect what Leopold would want in an honoree. “I hope this breaks a barrier, and we start getting more women. I don’t like it being a good ol’ boys’ club.”

Dale McCullough, 2016 Aldo Leopold Award Recipient

“She’s done good work and advanced the field effectively,” said McCullough, who’s known her since her graduate years at the University of California, Berkeley

John McDonald, TWS Vice President

“She’s done so much for U.S. agencies working for the Forest Service and mentoring not just women in wildlife, but everyone who’s asked her for help,” said McDonald, who met her 25 years ago. “It’s long overdue. If you’d asked 100 members, they would have assumed she would already have been an award winner. It’s a fantastic selection. I couldn’t be happier.”

Julia John is a science writer at The Wildlife Society. Contact her at jjohn@wildlife.org with any questions or comments about her article.

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