President’s Podium, April 2015

By Rick Baydack

Rick Baydack

The Rites of Spring, and Why Do Wildlife Matter?

Spring has definitely sprung in Prairie Canada, seemingly much earlier than in the past few years. We generally wintered well in Manitoba, with less snow, less cold, less wind, and less complaining! But our friends in northeastern North America may have a different perspective.

I always enjoy the coming of spring, and feel I have likely subconsciously reflected for many years on the question framing my Presidency of TWS at this time of year – ‘Why Do Wildlife Matter?’

I think back to late February when I noticed the first Canada geese returning to our province to commence their breeding rituals. The snowshoe hares became more active in early March. And by mid-March I had witnessed my first robin of the year, and soon after my first meadowlark. By late March while playing street hockey with my seven-year old Grandson, I noticed my first mallards flying overhead, and was pleased to hear him remark to me that the ducks are back – ‘I could tell by their quacking!’ And a few days later he noticed that ‘the skunks are awake’ as we passed a road kill. Wildlife clearly matter to him, at least in terms of the context in which we found ourselves.

And in early April, my Manitoba wild turkey hunting partners and I ventured out to southwestern Manitoba on our annual ‘Circuit’ – meaning we spend a day in advance of the hunting season visiting several landowners and getting permission to hunt on their land. But more importantly, the camaraderie and friendships that have developed over the years are rekindled, and sitting around the kitchen table over a cup of coffee is heartening indeed. We learned that Henry had lost the sight in one of his eyes, and that at 80 years old, was ready to get out of the cattle business. But wait, he had told us that about 10 years ago, and is still going strong! We found out that Margaret, widowed about 5 years ago, continued to run her farm, and that she was the sister of Jim, a few miles down the road. And that Peter and his sons continue to live the good life, and would like us to take as many turkeys as we could from their property. The marvels of the rural landscape were once again revealed, and the driver behind the day was our collective interest in wildlife. Yes, they clearly mattered to all involved in this activity.

But reality must eventually take precedence from a day visiting friends in the field, and for me that means the end of the semester, and evaluation of final assignments from my students in various classes. I always end the term with oral presentations so that the ability to communicate ideas, perspectives, and recommendations is enhanced for all of my students. The Wildlife Management project course had 20 students this year, broken into six teams that investigated management issues dealing with woodland caribou, moose, urban coyotes, wolves, and black bears. The class was ‘co-instructed’ by another Departmental colleague, but also involved two retired wildlife biologists, one Federal government biologist, one Provincial government biologist, and one private consultant. The students were required to contact additional ‘real-world’ biologists that work in all organizational sectors, and regularly report on their successes in this endeavor. In my mind, more learning is done by these students outside of the classroom than on the University campus. And it is always heartening to listen to their enthusiastic reports of discussions with ‘real-world’ biologists, and equally gratifying to observe the connection of the students with the ‘instructors’ from the various agencies. Other than a parking permit and a few beers after the final class, these experienced biologists received no compensation, and spent countless hours reviewing materials and providing feedback to students. Commitment to the future of our profession is so evident, and to me represents another example of ‘Why Do Wildlife Matter.’

And finally, I am about to depart for Nebraska for my annual ‘Turkey Pilgrimage’, a 10-day event that serves as one of the highlights of my year. Not unlike the Manitoba ‘Circuit’, this extended trip is much more than just turkey hunting. We spend a great deal of time with fellow biologists Bill, Greg, and Teresa. We look forward to hunting with friends Tyler and Ty. And landowner Randy regales us with stories of the past year, and we always discuss the political landscape and where it will lead all of us into the future. Turkeys are again the driver for this activity, but are far from the important component. The friendships and camaraderie that have developed over the years is priceless. It really doesn’t get any better than this.

So what about you? Why do wildlife matter to you in the spring season? What are your perspectives? Whether it be a regular or temporary part of your lifestyle, I am sure that wildlife do matter to you. I presume that is why you are a member of The Wildlife Society, and I hope you consider encouraging at least one of your colleagues who is not a member of this great organization to join the excitement. Keep in touch, and enjoy your spring season.