Remarks by Incoming WMI President Tony Wasley During the Conservation Administrators Luncheon

Remarks by Incoming WMI President Tony Wasley During the Conservation Administrators Luncheon

It’s good to be here with you all. I look out among the attendees here and see so many incredibly dedicated, passionate, and purposeful wildlife professionals. It is energizing and invigorating for me just to share this week with all of you.

It is truly an honor to have the opportunity to follow in your footsteps Steve. You and the entire WMI staff and board do incredible work and accomplish so much for conservation in North America and beyond. I had a brief discussion a couple nights ago in the hotel lobby with Lowell Baier who shared that while conducting research for a new book, he was astonished at the level of involvement and engagement of WMI throughout the history of conservation and dating back to the organization’s formation in 1911.

When Steve told me I would have this opportunity to speak here today, I was immediately a little intimidated and anxious and began contemplating what messages I would want to share. I came up with four things.

First, I want to spend a little time acknowledging Steve. Twenty years ago the name “Steve Williams” as the director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was initially nothing more than just a name to me. As a young field biologist out west, if someone talked about the director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, I could only say, “I know that name.” Then, Steve Williams became a recognized signature on a proposed rule, perhaps. I eventually had a face to add to the recognized name and signature. More recently I worked with Steve as a colleague as we co-chaired the effort on the Relevancy Roadmap. And most recently, I have had the opportunity for one-on-one conversations about his thoughts, ideas, and philosophies relating to conservation and WMI in particular.

Steve, the past few days, I’ve watched your level of energy, thought, and engagement with the team of incredible staff you’ve built at WMI. You are every bit as engaged and thoughtful in your last week as president of WMI as I’m sure you were when you took the helm 18 years ago. I’m super grateful that you have agreed to remain on the board and continue to share your years of knowledge and experience. Besides, I can tell you, that based on my 3-month experiment in retirement, you can only clean out the garage and closets so many times.

There are few people who have your tenure in the conservation arena, Steve. Few have held as many key positions as you have, have built as many productive partnerships as you have, or have made as big an impact in conservation as you. Thank you Steve and congratulations!

The second thing I wanted to do is acknowledge the board and staff at WMI. Steve introduced the board earlier, and I also wanted to note the incredible team of innovative thinkers and doers that make up WMI staff. Those of you who work with them know exactly what I’m talking about and those who haven’t had the opportunity to work with them yet… stay tuned. I’ve quickly learned that WMI has not only a culture of competence but also a culture of humility – perhaps to a fault. I just want to say that the staff is exceptional and it’s a huge comfort to me personally knowing how capable the WMI team is.

Third, I wanted to share what I feel is the big vision of the future of conservation and in many ways being presently pursued by those in this room. It’s a vision of a unified and relevant conservation community working at landscape scales as informed by the best available science, biological and social (human dimensions). Key words warranting emphasis include: unified, relevant, landscape scales, human dimensions.

Before I turn you all loose to get to your next committee meetings, I would like us all to remember how lucky we are. My daughter recently reminded me of something I used to say whenever we were rudely confronted or had a rude encounter out in the world. My kids would often be surprised or confused when treated rudely by a store employee or service worker somewhere. They would often seek an explanation as to why some people were so mean or why someone might treat us rudely. As my daughter reminded me, I would ask my kids why THEY thought someone might treat us that way? I would ask them if they thought the person being mean or rude was a happy person. Of course they often responded, “No, that person is not happy.” I’d further probe, asking them to guess maybe as to why that person wasn’t happy and often our conversations would get back to what that individual had to do as their job. As years went by, this conversation and speculation was boiled down to the simple question of whether the rude, mean, and unhappy individuals were in jobs or careers of circumstance or careers of choice. I can’t recall a time where the unhappiness was exhibited by someone in a career of choice. Those of us in this room are extremely lucky. We had the opportunity to follow our hearts, listen to our passions, and pursue a career of choice.

Of all the jobs in my career, there is no one job I’d choose over the one I’m about to begin. Be grateful, for your opportunities in pursuing a career of your choosing. I know I am!

April 14, 2023