Wildlife conference in Spokane receives criticism over inclusion of 'extremist animal' groups

Wildlife conference in Spokane receives criticism over inclusion of ‘extremist animal’ groups

A well-respected wildlife conference is being criticized by some in the hunting community over the inclusion of two advocacy groups focused on reforming state wildlife management.

“All are welcome,” Ed Arnett, CEO of the Wildlife Society, said in a voicemail message shared with The Spokesman-Review.

Conference organizers briefed law enforcement and conference security while reminding attendees to adhere to the organization’s guidelines for professional conduct. Due to the size of the annual conference, it is “standard procedure” to do so. There was no evidence of a specific threat, he said in an email.

He said the Wildlife Society has been in contact with the Spokane Police Department and convention center security to make sure “everyone is safe at our conference.”

“I don’t expect any shenanigans, but I believe we are prepared for it,” he said.

Most of the week-long conference program reads like a program for a master’s course in ecology. For example: “Harnessing data from landscapes to individuals to advance wildlife conservation and ecology”, or “Biometrics and population monitoring III”.

Two events, however, have drawn the ire of hunting advocacy groups. On Monday night, Washington Wildlife First — an organization dedicated to reforming the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife — will host a meet and greet and show an animated film based on a poem written by the late Spokane-based wolf advocate Hanke Seipp.

Then on Thursday, Wildlife For All – a national organization also dedicated to wildlife management reform – is hosting a roundtable entitled “Transforming wildlife management to be more ecological, democratic and compassionate”.

“This session will explore the proposition that the current system of wildlife management in the United States is not aligned with modern ecological understanding, public attitudes, principles of public trust, and standards of democratic governance, and that systemic issues prevent states from meeting the challenge of protecting wildlife today,” reads the description of the sign.

The controversy began when Sportsmen’s Alliance wrote an article in late October titled “Animal Extremists Allowed Seat at Scientific Conference.” The national organization focused on protecting access to hunting and fishing criticized the inclusion of the two groups.

Both groups advocate for state wildlife agencies to focus more on species and habitat conservation and less on hunting and fishing opportunities. They widely argue that climate change and biodiversity loss mean that the North American model of wildlife management – ​​which is widely credited with pulling many species from the brink of extinction in the 1900s and relies on the sale hunting and fishing licenses to finance conservation work – is obsolete. Neither organization says they are anti-hunting, although some members of the hunting community disagree.

“The Wildlife Society, the organization responsible for ensuring that science is used in wildlife management, is allowing an organization bent on destroying a century of science-based management to voice its anti-hunting beliefs at the national conference. to a roomful of biologists,” the Sportsmen’s Alliance said. the article states. “I say belief system because Wildlife For All has no science to back up their positions or beliefs. On the contrary, they have theories…theories that contradict not only the North American model of wildlife management, but the…position statements of the Wildlife Society itself.

The Wildlife Society, which has about 12,000 active members, is dedicated to maintaining “wildlife populations and habitats through science-based management and conservation.” In 2020, the society released a position paper on the animal rights philosophy calling it “inconsistent with science-based wildlife conservation and management”. The society is generally well respected by hunters and anglers.

“Make no mistake about it, the Wildlife Society has very strict policies that strongly support hunting and trapping,” said Gordon Batcheller, a retired New York State biologist and president of the Wildlife Society.

“This conference, for us, is about professional growth and inclusivity and willingness to hear perspectives we may not agree with.”

Samantha Bruegger, executive director of Washington Wildlife First, said the Sportsmen Alliance article, along with a series of other articles criticizing her group, caused the Wildlife Society to alert security at the Convention Center and the Department of Spokane Police. The Wildlife Society also posted its professional behavior guidelines prominently on its webpage and emailed them to attendees.

Bruegger shared a voicemail message from the CEO of the Wildlife Society with The Spokesman-Review Friday. Spokane police spokeswoman Julie Humphreys said it’s ‘pretty normal for us if we get large gatherings to notify’, although she doesn’t know the details of the Wildlife Society conference. , Saturday.

Bruegger called the Sportsmen Alliance article “dangerous rhetoric” and called for inclusivity.

“I think we’re all stronger when we’re civil and able to have these kinds of difficult discussions safely,” she said.

Dan Wilson, Washington co-chair for Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, believes organizations like Washington Wildlife First focus more on social issues and less on science.

“It could be problematic that an organization that downgrades science-based management to a secondary role in wildlife is at a science conference,” he said, adding that the inclusion of these two groups “seems to undermine their values”.

In particular, he pointed to the decision to end the spring bear hunt in Washington — a decision championed by Washington Wildlife First, despite the fact that the state biologist recommended that the hunt continue and said that it was ecologically defensible.

“It’s really taking a lot of social or cultural positions in a scientific management model,” he said.

That being said, Wilson noted that the conference can invite whoever they want and that he “always has a lot of respect” for the Wildlife Society.

Washington Department of Fish Wildlife Commissioner Kim Thorburn of eastern Washington is a frequent and outspoken critic of the views espoused by both Washington Wildlife First and Wildlife for All, calling them “animal rights ideologues.” “. She wrote to organizers at the Wildlife Society to raise her concerns. She said organizers were unaware of the Washington group’s efforts to undermine state management before selling them the booth space.

However, Thorburn defended the presence of the groups.

“My position is that they should not be banned from being there, especially since I have learned that the company does not currently have procedures for vetting conference nominees with political positions harmful to the public. conservation and wildlife management,” she said in a statement. E-mail. “I hope, and this was the request in my letter, that the society make it very clear that as the national professional association of wildlife biologists and managers, these people represent an ideology contrary to their profession.”

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