Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

A group assembling prothonotary warbler nesting structures. © Greg Matthews

Jake Fries, Alan Crossley, Sharon Fandel, and Bruce Folley assembling prothonotary warbler nesting structures.
© Greg Matthews

August 2013

Bringing our science to the people

What's attracting wildlife professionals from around the world to Wisconsin?

Alan Crossley

My professional society, The Wildlife Society (TWS), is coming back to the Badger State to host its 20th Annual Conference, Oct. 5 to 10 in Milwaukee. (The Societyís 12th Annual Conference met in Madison in 2005.)

The meeting ( The Wildlife Society ) is expected to draw 1,500 wildlife professionals from across North America and around the world. Itís the continentís largest wildlife-focused conference to share the latest science and research related to wildlife management and conservation.

It seems only fitting to return to the birthplace of modern wildlife management as personified by the life and work of Aldo Leopold in Wisconsin. This yearís conference theme, "Bringing Our Science to the People," will focus on how wildlife professionals can more effectively engage with the public and communicate the relevance of wildlife science.

Plenary speakers include Dominique Brossard, a professor in the Department of Life Sciences Communication at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who will discuss "the science of communicating science," particularly relating to controversial or emotionally charged issues such as wolf management, climate change and infectious zoonotic diseases.

A general session titled "Wolf Conservation at the Crossroads" will be sponsored by TWSís North Central Section, which comprises eight states including Wisconsin – a timely topic for our state. The conference will also feature more than 25 symposia, six panel discussions and more than a dozen workshops on a wide range of topics including elk ecology, chronic wasting disease, commercial deer harvest, ecotoxicology, white-nose syndrome in bats, landscape genetics, climate impacts, lead risks and more.

Founded in 1937, The Wildlife Society is a nonprofit scientific and educational association of more than 10,000 professional wildlife biologists and managers, dedicated to excellence in wildlife stewardship through science and education. Its mission is to represent and serve the professional community of scientists, managers, educators, technicians, planners and others who work actively to study, manage and conserve wildlife and its habitats worldwide.

I am one of several hundred members of The Wildlife Society in Wisconsin. When I got ready to go to college, I thought, "Hmmm, Iím kind of shy. I love to be outside. I want to work with animals and I donít really want to work with people. I think Iíll go into wildlife management."

My dad, who was a blue collar worker who barely made it out of high school, told me that being a wildlife biologist was the stupidest thing he ever heard of.

But I couldnít think of anything else Iíd rather do more, so I stuck with it through college, worked for the Missouri Department of Conservation for 18 months before going back for my masters at the University of Maine at Orono. While there I joined The Wildlife Society and as a graduate student found myself in the middle of a statewide referendum on whether or not to hunt moose. I became one of the spokespeople for the profession explaining why we could have a moose season and still have moose. I participated in debates, appeared on television and radio, and wrote press releases and magazine articles.

The referendum to repeal the moose season was defeated (and there is still a moose season today). It was that experience that confirmed my interest in wanting to work as a wildlife biologist for a state agency. I met a woman who was moving to Wisconsin and so I followed her in 1984, married her six months later and have been a wildlife biologist for the Department of Natural Resources ever since.

At this point in my career I donít get to spend as much time outside during work hours as I would have liked, the only animals I generally touch are dead, and I spend all of my time working with people. But I love it! My dad passed away in 1982 and never got to see what a great career path I had chosen or what a great state Iíve been able to work in for the last 30 years.

Iím excited to know that 1,500 of my brothers and sisters in conservation are all going to be convening in Milwaukee in October. Iíve served at all levels of governance in my professional society over the last 30 years and have gotten to know quite a few of them. They are (we are) a passionate, dedicated group of people who care deeply about our natural resources.

Aldo Leopold nailed why all of us have dedicated our lives to professional wildlife management in this quote that is found in the foreword to A Sand County Almanac:

"There are some who can live without wild things, and some who cannot. These essays are the delights and dilemmas of one who cannot."

"Like winds and sunsets, wild things were taken for granted until progress began to do away with them. Now we face the question whether a still higher Ďstandard of livingí is worth its cost in things natural, wild and free. For us of the minority, the opportunity to see geese is more important than television, and the chance to find a pasque–flower is a right as inalienable as free speech."

See you in Milwaukee!

Alan Crossley has been a member of The Wildlife Society since 1981, is a Certified Wildlife Biologistģ, past-president of the Wisconsin Chapter and North Central Section of TWS, and served on the national governing Council of TWS from 2007-2010. He has been a Wisconsin DNR wildlife biologist for nearly 30 years and will be retiring at the end of this year.