Losing Wildlife Professors

Sponsored by: HECS STEALTHSCREEN & ATSKO

By: Dr. Dave Samuel

There is a growing trend taking place at universities where wildlife curricula are offered. Those programs are losing applied wildlife professors. Applied wildlife professors are the professors of old. The ones who hunted and understood the values of hunting. The Aldo Leopolds of the teaching world. Applied research is management related as opposed to basic science research.

Applied wildlife professors get grants from state wildlife agencies and others doing wildlife management work much more so that basic science professors. Applied professors use that money to train graduate students; master’s degree and doctoral degree students. And when those graduate students leave the university, many get jobs working as applied biologists for the state wildlife agencies.

Deer hunters buy hunting equipment and pay the excise taxes that drive our wildlife programs.

The benefits I gained from taking classes from applied professors was that I learned applied wildlife management. We literally learned how to manage deer, turkeys, waterfowl, etc. All wildlife students did, up until about twenty years ago. Then things started to change.

I was one of those applied professors. I taught students to age deer jaws, age grouse via the wings, age turkeys, sex waterfowl, identify wetland plants, identify birds, write management plans for selected areas, etc., etc. In more recent years, students coming into wildlife want different course content. It isn’t that they are trying to subvert the system. They just have no exposure to wild nature and applied wildlife management. Their exposure to wildlife is in part, what they see on television. Researchers photographing lions in Africa, tagging seals in the Arctic, sitting on mountain ridges watching wolves. They don’t come to Universities to learn applied wildlife management. Of course they get some applied things, but they tend to have more courses on the environment, water, conservation biology, etc. Don’t get me wrong. Those are good things to know, but there is a growing need for applied wildlife management graduate students. The best applied graduate students would come from undergraduate programs teaching applied courses.

When I retired from the wildlife program at West Virginia University in 1998, I was replaced by an applied professor, but such replacements are becoming more and more rare. There is today a growing void and it threatens our ability to manage the species that pay the bills.

A healthy deer herd is critical to that wildlife management model.

For all the states east of the Colorado-Nebraska/Kansas border, the cash cow for the state wildlife agencies is the white-tailed deer. Thus, a trained deer biologist is essential for that state to develop strategic plans for the whitetail, to insure the viability and sustainability of whitetails. However, as older state wildlife deer biologists retire, states are finding it more and more difficult to find doctoral student graduates with hunting backgrounds and applied training in deer management. Same is true for states looking for turkey biologists, or any applied wildlife biologists.

This is not a good situation. The deer is the cash cow for the state agency. Deer drive the income for the state wildlife programs, all wildlife. Having a deer biologist that knows his/her stuff, and understands the economic system that drives our wildlife programs, that understands the North American wildlife model that works better than any system in the world, is critical to our future. So, how do we solve this growing problem?

The Boone and Crockett Club has found a way. Through their members they secure a large chunk of money (about $2 million) and they go to a University that has a wildlife program, and they offer to pay for an applied wildlife professor. Such professorships live off the interest of the endowed funding given the University. And via some type of cooperative agreement, the donors can dictate, to a degree, what type of professor they want. No University will turn down a “free” professor. Of course, nothing is free in this world. The University has to find office space for that professor and for his/her graduate students, and there are some other costs. You also need the state wildlife agency to become a working partner is this deal. The end result though, is a training program for applied students, who then fill the niche that is available in the job market.

So far the Boone and Crockett Club has created endowed wildlife professor chairs at four Universities. But more are needed. Where will the money come from to accomplish a goal to put applied faculty in University wildlife schools? I predict that in the future, you might see endowed wildlife professor chairs funded by the hunting industry. Mathews, Easton, Remington, Savage, Realtree, etc.

If a University wants to build a solid program that attracts the best graduate students, it needs money, talented faculty and partners. The big missing link today is money. Who benefits from having a healthy deer herd? Hunters of course, but who else? State wildlife agencies benefit, and since they manage all wildlife for all citizens, then all citizens benefit from a healthy deer population.

Who else? The hunting industry of course. The healthier the deer herd, the more equipment they sell. The more equipment they sell, the more Pittman Robertson excise tax there is that goes back to the state wildlife agency to manage all wildlife. Sweet system. But up until now, the industry input into this system hasn’t been much.

University wildlife students get into the field during their studies.

Interesting because business schools at Universities get huge money from industry that is used for scholarships, special programs, etc. Still further, owners of huge businesses, nationally-known businesses, give money to pay for endowed professorships. There are hundreds of endowed professorships, paid for by business presidents, existing in Business-related curricula in most major Universities. What the business gets is great publicity, and the benefits of being able to hire well-trained students into their company.

We need applied wildlife professors if we are to continue to benefit from our cash cow. Don’t be surprised if we see Endowed Professorships created in applied wildlife being established by corporate business leaders from the hunting industry. It has to happen if hunting is to survive.

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