So as I mentioned in my #tws2013 post, and you may have observed through Twitter, I went to this year’s The Wildlife Society (TWS) Annual Conference. It was the first TWS annual conference I attended and it was pretty cool. No actual wildlife, other than a tired little bird I saw napping on the skywalk hall, but lots of pictures and a lot of valuable research information.
My first full day, Saturday, was spent in a trapping techniques workshop. I’ve mentioned some traps in the past, but, there are a few more which I will post about soon. This particular workshop was aimed toward mammals and involved both lethal and nonlethal traps, talking about not just trapping for research but fur as well. Given that it was my third trapping workshop I think I’m ready to try my hand in the field. You always learn more in the field no matter how much you learn outside of it. For example, a tip my instructor gave was to be careful how to grab ahold of body grip traps, otherwise, if they slip you’ll end up trapping a finger or a hand, and depending on the size of the trap, they’re not always easy to remove by yourself.
Sunday involved a panel discussion on options for the undergrad in the field. It was nice to hear some of the not so linear paths others have taken considering my own (check out my blog posts over at Blue Lion Training to hear about that side of things!). Following this was a session called “Making Wildlife Science Matter.” Basically, we biologists need to make sure that you the public get to hear about all our work, research, conservation efforts and policy plans alike. Protecting wildlife and habitat is so critical, yet without your support it will never gain enough traction to make as much of a difference as it otherwise could. And that’s the point of this blog!
We had an opening night and awards dinner on Sunday evening, which was pretty cool. I was able to read and hear about some great wildlife biologists out there that have done truly important and inspiring work. The awards ranged widely, from conservation to efforts to get more minorities educated about and into the field. I was able to meet some interesting people and learn about some important projects.
Monday and Tuesday were definitely my busiest days. At these large conferences you really learn that you just can’t attend everything that interests you, there’s just too much!
I started off Monday by discussing TWS’ certification requirements. Requirements, I say? Yes. TWS has requirements that need to be achieved before a certification of either Associate Wildlife Biologist or Wildlife Biologist can be obtained. It’s a mix of course work and field experience and yes, it’s actually pretty important. Not all employers would care if you’re certified or not but, having TWS’ certification (which must be kept updated, so keep those skills fresh!) holds some real weight. I know what I’m missing and will be keeping this in mind when I continue my studies, so I only stayed for a bit.
Next up, “Women’s increasing role in the wildlife profession: Understanding differences and leveraging strengths” symposium. I found this very interesting and there were some well thought out panels, such as biological/social differences between men and women; various gender barriers such as the well known “glass ceiling; how to retain diversity within the workforce; the importance of mentors; balancing career and family; advocating for your success; and much more!
Women have come a long way in this field. Many of the panels that spoke were some of the first women in the major at their schools, and some of the first in the field. Now, women make up a large portion of these natural resource/wildlife/conservation events. But, there is still more work that needs to be done. We’re not there yet.
Years ago I wrote a post called “Diversity equals stability,” which discussed the lack of diversity, especially ethnic diversity, within this field. If you haven’t already, you should go check it out. This lack of diversity has been noted and is being looked at by symposiums such as the one I attended, and it’s why I joined the Ethnic and Gender Diversity Working Group, a TWS group created to address these very issues.
After a quick lunch I joined the “Finding tolerance for carnivores: Social, ecological policy dimensions” symposium. As I hope you realize, a very important topic as well! Carnivores in all their forms, from wolves and cougars to skunks and hawks, have an important place in the ecosystem and these species have existed in their respective environments, in most cases, long behind humans came along. In most of our human history people lived with these animals, as part of the habitat, but in the past handful or more centuries, people have strived to remove themselves more and more from the world. These other animals, though, will not be denied. Bears get into trash cans, sometimes a wolf pack or a cougar kills a sheep, a hawk may take a chicken. There are ways to handle such things in a more humane way, such as herd guard dogs like the ones I met in South Africa, or fences like the ones being looked at in Kenya, or any of the numerous methods. Still, many people resort to lethal means such as guns and poisoning or make demands of authority to rid these animals from the area. This is why so many species have gone extinct, locally or overall, from the landscape. Yet they each have an important part to play and it is we modern humans that need to look into making some adjustments.
In the middle of all of this I even managed to sit in on my roomie’s contributed paper about qualitative interview data to enhance wildlife mitigation policy. If that’s a bit much for you, she studied bears and pipeline construction, and best practice policies vs actual action plan of various types of organizations.
Finally, to end the day we went to the Student-Professional Mixer for dinner and networking. It was great to see so much interaction and professionals taking time out of their days to talk with and give advice to students. I’ve noticed this about the wildlife/natural resources profession and it’s great! I even got to meet a wildlife blogging colleague, Alyssa from Nature In A Nutshell. If you haven’t already I encourage you to check out her blog as she’s done a lot of hands on activities and even got to present at the Conference this year!
Tuesday was working group and wolf day for me. I’ve joined two working groups, which for TWS are smaller, specialized groups people can join in an effort to get more involved and make a difference within a particular subject. Attending these meetings gave me the opportunity to see what they were about and how I can contribute, and I’m looking forward to getting more involved. In between the working group meetings I attended a session on wolves. I love wolves. And this is the perfect month to talk about them too! Stay tuned for more wolf info later this week! And to top the night off there was a Quizbowl. That was interesting. Teams from various universities compete, answering trivia questions for hours on end! They really know their stuff, let me tell you.
Just because these are the things I attended doesn’t mean that this was all there was. Far from it! There were so many things I wasn’t able to attend. Talks and papers on invasive species, a variety of mammals, birds, herps, global climate change, wildlife diseases, ecology, management, human dimensions and conservation, more conservation, new technologies, and just so much more. Anyone interested in any part of the natural world would have found more than enough to keep them busy.
Unfortunately, early Wednesday I had to say farewell to my new friends and colleagues and rejoin the real world, but I found the conference a worthwhile and valuable experience where I was able to learn new things, meet new people, and see where I may be headed.