TWS2022: TWS continues to ‘invest in wildlife professionals’

At the first in-person conference in three years, The Wildlife Society leadership reflected on the changes that have taken place since the Society had last met together—a period that brought a pandemic and a focus on racial injustice.

At the annual members meeting at the conference in Spokane, Washington, TWS CEO Ed Arnett looked back on his year in the position, which included a lot of outreach to other TWS organization units and facilitating new relationships with partners and sponsors.

“One of the things I really wanted to point out, and I’ve said this to council a few times, was I am one of your wildlife biologists for over 32 years now professionally, and it’s very important for me as CEO to get out there,” Arnett said. Part of this has involved attending chapter meetings in Oregon, Colorado and Wyoming, and conducting virtual town halls with chapters, sections, student chapters and working groups.

Arnett said he and other TWS representatives has met with representatives from the Interior Department, Agriculture Department, the U.S. Geological Survey and other federal agencies. “This is all really important for maintaining the partnerships that we have and the sponsorship that we have, but also garnering the support in the future,” he said.

But the Society, like many other organizations, has faced challenges as well. The COVID-19 pandemic demanded TWS Council, organization units, staff and members to move conferences, meetings, networking and other work to a virtual setting.

“My entire role as president of The Wildlife Society was conducted virtually,” said TWS Past President Carol Chambers. “So it’s nice to see everybody in three dimensions today.”

Past President Carol Chambers told TWS members of her experience as president at a time when all meetings were held virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Credit: David Frey

Previous TWS President Gary White, who served in 2019-2020, faced the challenges of the pandemic, as well as with how TWS should respond to racial injustice in the wake of the killing of George Floyd. The Society changed the name of the Ethnic and Gender Diversity Working Group to the Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Awareness Working Group in 2020 and focused on DEI issues within the organization.

“Like all things that happen when we have this sort of great, major challenge, some good things come out of it,” White said.

Former TWS President Gary White reflects on the role the police killing of George Floyd played in causing The Wildlife Society to focus more attention on issues of diversity, equity and inclusion. Credit: David Frey

The pandemic also provided opportunities to TWS, including incorporating webinars and other virtual platforms. And while, like other nonprofits, TWS has taken a hit financially, it remains “stable and on track,” Arnett said. “You might imagine post-COVID lots of organizations suffered. We’re in a pretty stable and good place at the moment.”

The past year saw old partners, like Ducks Unlimited and the Boone and Crockett Club, return, while new partners have joined. Thanks to an endowment from longtime TWS member Ronald F. Labisky, TWS launched a graduate fellowship program in wildlife policy.

The past year included the addition of airport wildlife biologist certification through TWS and policy efforts that have furthered the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act in Congress.

Looking to the future, the Society will be working on an auto-donate campaign, working on a website redesign, and contributing to diversity, equity and inclusion. “We have a good strategic vision at present.” Arnett said. But, he added, we need a “deeper dive into the longer-term vision. We want to hear from chapter and section leads. We want to hear broadly from the membership. We want to hear from any number of entities and outside sources as well,” he said.

At the end of the meeting, TWS leadership fielded questions from the audience, from drafting a policy on restoring Northwest salmon fisheries to questioning plans to host the next TWS conference in Louisville, Kentucky amid state anti-abortion laws.