“As members of our profession, we have a responsibility to contribute to the highest thinking in this field.” Olaus Murie, 1954, Ethics in Wildlife Management, The Journal of Wildlife Management 18:289
Wildlife conservation emerged as a social and political movement in the United States and Canada during the 19th Century. The movement was led by “sport hunters,” who decried the devastating losses of wildlife caused by “market hunters” – those who hunted for profit.
One of the major causes of market hunting was the Industrial Revolution, since it shifted human populations from farms to the cities, and created a demand for meat. As sport hunters organized to protect lands from market hunting, they developed codes of conduct and ethics and promoted the concept of “Fair Chase,” where some central purposes of hunting became things such as the development of pioneer skills and self restraint.
Most importantly, the advocacy of organized sport hunters through the New York Sportsmen’s Club, the Boone and Crockett Club, the Campfire Club and others resulted in government at the state, provincial and federal levels taking legal responsibility for wildlife conservation and management.
The early years saw much progress, with the establishment of state and provincial game agencies in both the United States and Canada, and the Federal Division of Economic Ornithology and Mammalogy (later the Bureau of Biological Survey and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) in the U.S.
Through the early 1900’s, wildlife conservation was mostly a program of refuge establishment, game breeding, law enforcement, predator control, establishment of seasons and bag limits, and surveys. As time went on, however, many leading conservationists began to realize that more actions were needed in order to stem continuing losses and conserve wildlife.
Wildlife conservation and management became recognized as a formal discipline in the 1930’s. Wildlifers had been meeting annually for many years, but until Aldo Leopold, Arthur Allen, and Herbert Stoddard began to give presentations on wildlife ecology and management in the late 1920’s, the topics discussed focused largely on game breeding.
Leopold and a distinguished group of wildlife conservationists were asked by the American Game Institute (now Wildlife Management Institute) to draft a policy to guide wildlife conservation.
The 1930 American Game Policy laid out a broad vision, acknowledging that existing conservation programs were inadequate to stem the declines in wildlife. The policy called for a program of restoration implemented by scientifically trained professionals with a stable funding source. The policy also declared it was time for wildlife management to “be recognized as a distinct profession and developed accordingly.”
The subsequent establishment of university programs (beginning with Wisconsin in 1933) and the Cooperative Wildlife Research Units gave life to the policy. The Pittman-Robertson Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act provided stable funding as called for in the policy (Robertson was one of the policy’s authors).
Wildlife conservation and management still lacked a nucleus – the organization to establish professional and ethical standards and promote communication. In the summer of 1935, Ted Frison, Director of the Illinois Natural History Survey, wrote to several colleagues encouraging them to meet in Urbana to discuss the problems they shared in achieving conservation. Wildlifers from many Midwest states met in Urbana that December to discuss forming a national professional society.
Two months later in February 1936, the First North American Wildlife Conference was held in Washington, D.C. The Midwesterners brought their idea to a larger audience, and the Society of Wildlife Specialists was formed, with Ralph (Terry) King as its first president. One year later, at the Second North American Wildlife Conference in St. Louis, the first formal meeting was held and the name was changed to The Wildlife Society.
Organization, Governance, and Staff
In 1968 the title changed to Executive Director to more accurately reflect the responsibilities. In 1964 the position of President-Elect was created to allow an indoctrination period for the incoming President. In 1989, Society bylaws were changed and beginning in 1991 the individual elected Vice-President served successive one-year terms as Vice-President, President-Elect, President, and Past-President.
Council currently consists of an Executive Committee comprised of President, President-Elect, Vice-President, and Past-President, and the remainder of the board comprised of eight section Representatives.
The Society has a subunit structure comprised of geographic sections, state and provincial chapters, and working groups. The first subunit established was the Northeast Section in 1938. The first chapter was established in Minnesota in 1948.
Council established the staff position of Field Director in 1972 to work more closely with sections and chapters, and to follow natural resources legislation affecting wildlife resources. In 1990 membership approved establishment of a Policy Director position, and the first Policy Director (now Government Affairs) was hired in April of 1991.
In 1994, the Field Director position was renamed Program Director to reflect a shift in responsibilities to organization of the Society’s Annual Conference. In 2006 the position was renamed Conferences and Membership Director.
Council created the staff position of Managing Editor in February 1999 in order to establish a permanent editorial office at society headquarters, and oversee production and business aspects of all Society publications. The position was renamed Publications and Information Management Director in 2006 to encompass sweeping changes in Society information management.
Annual meetings of the Society were held in conjunction with the North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference from 1937 to 2004.
Beginning in September 1994, the Society has held its own Annual Conference sponsored each year by a State Chapter. Council continues to meet annually in conjunction with the North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference.
The Society has also sponsored three International Wildlife Congresses since the early 1990’s.
The Society publishes scientific journals, technical reviews, position statements on policy issues, and books. A description of some of these products is below.
The Journal of Wildlife Management
One of the most important reasons for establishing the Wildlife Society was the collective desire for a journal of wildlife management so that professionals could communicate with each other. Volume 1 of The Journal of Wildlife Management was published in 1937 as the premier outlet for applied science in wildlife conservation, and The Wildlife Society was off to a start with 600 members.
In 1958, The Wildlife Society published the first Wildlife Monograph. President A. Starker Leopold, in introducing this new publication, stated that WM is for manuscripts considered too long for JWM. Nearly 200 have been published in subsequent years.
Wildlife Society Bulletin
From the inception of The Journal of Wildlife Management, concern has been raised – particularly by its editors – that it did not contain enough content useful to wildlife managers, and that its target audience was primarily wildlife scientists. In May 1972 the Wildlife Society Bulletin was established as an outlet for management-related articles. The content of WSB included opinion pieces as well, and also offered news and information on Society issues. In 2007 the Bulletin was discontinued, and its content integrated into a new JWM. However, in 2011, the Bulletin was restarted.
The Wildlife Professional
In 2007, The Wildlife Professional emerged as a magazine designed to provide current information, news, and analysis in a popular format to practicing wildlife professionals.
In 1960 the Society published the Manual of Game Investigational Techniques. This book has become popularly known as the Techniques Manual and this and its subsequent editions have been the primary textbook for wildlife management techniques courses for the last five decades.
Government Affairs Program
The Society maintains an active and vigorous policy program. Society staff and volunteers monitor legislation affecting wildlife and natural resources and provide science-based input to policy makers. The Government Affairs Program oversees the development of Technical Reviews of current issues pertaining to wildlife conservation, and Council develops Position Statements that reflect the views of wildlife professionals.
The role of the Society relative to public policy gas evolved over the years. The Society, as a professional scientific and educational organization, refrains from advocacy where it cannot ground its views on science. The Society’s role in this arena has been hotly debated since its inception. Formal approval for Council to issue resolutions first appeared in bylaw revisions in 1957. A landmark change was member approval of the Policy Director position in 1990.
The Society initiated a Certification Program in 1977, providing certification that individuals met educational and experience criteria to be recognized as Certified Wildlife Biologists. An Associate Wildlife Biologist Certification was established to recognize individuals who achieved educational requirements, but lacked requisite experience.
The Wildlife Society's unique emblem features Egyptian hieroglyphics and depict our broad interest. The literal translation of the hieroglyphics, from top to bottom, is: beasts (mammals), birds, fishes, and flowering plants (vegetation).
Further information on the early history of The Wildlife Society can be found in the Wildlife Society Bulletin, Volume 15 Issue 1, published in spring 1987 to commemorate the Society’s 50th anniversary.