This post contributed by Terence Houston, ESA Science Policy Analyst
There is often a great deal of discussion over the need to enage policymakers on the importance of scientific research. However, scheduling meetings with their elected representatives is not the sole recourse scientists have in informing the public. As recent Ecological Society of America Graduate Student Policy Award winner Matthew Schuler points out in the latest The Ecologist Goes to Washington podcast, engaging with one’s own local community can be of equal (if not more) importance in influencing public policy. After all, policymakers are ultimately subject to the will of their constituents, so networking with these constituents directly and forming a continued dialogue on the important role research has in their own community can have the long-term domino effect of influencing how federal, state and local lawmakers prioritize research investment in the communities they represent.
Schuler notes that a consensus approach to wolf management includes balancing conservation efforts and the various needs of both human communities and wolf packs. To the ire of some, this can include the forced removal of wolf populations from city areas through either transplanting wolves or “humanely put them down,” as Schuler describes it.
In the podcast, Schuler uses his experiences with the Timber Wolf Information Network (TWIN) in Wisconsin as an example of how positive community engagement has altered the perception local rod and gun clubs have of wolves. Schuler notes that research has demonstrated that the presence of wolves corresponds with a larger number of sturdier, healthier bucks with larger antlers. Predation by wolves tends to pick off the weakest, less desirable animals such as deer prized by hunters. Hence, the members of these clubs were much more supportive of the work of TWIN when they came to understand how they benefitted from wolf conservation efforts.
In the wake of a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decision late last year to delist Great Lakes wolves from the Endangered Species Act, TWIN continues to work with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and other interested parties on wolf management efforts in the region. The network is currently following the government’s plans for Wisconsin’s first wolf hunt since 1957. The hunt is slated to occur in October. In the meantime, TWIN continues to post links keeping its membership abreast of related news and updates.