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Rich Landers: Wildlife spokeswoman answered the call

As a journalist, wildlife enthusiast, hunter and angler, I have reverence for Madonna Luers.

During several decades as the Outdoors editor for The Spokesman-Review, I called her from my office phone more often than my wife.

Luers has been the go-to person for contacts, tips, quotes or the skinny on nearly anything related to the mission of the Washington Fish and Wildlife Department.

As the agency’s public information officer in Eastern Washington since 1984, she’s been like a songbird parent feeding a brood of communicators information and insight related to critters.

The public has benefited from her voice of reason in a world of myths and ignorance about wildlife. While admonition must occasionally be tempting, she’s routinely chosen education as her job.

You could see this, say, in her way of giving reporters a succinct sound bite on why feeding deer in a backyard is unnecessary and potentially lethal. A lot of people don’t want to hear that doting on wintering deer with hay or pellets actually subjects the animals to traffic, predation and disease.

She’s brought a wealth of background to her job. Schooled in journalism, Luers then earned a master’s degree in Environmental Communications from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where her professor was a graduate student of Aldo Leopold, who’s considered the father of modern wildlife ecology.

From those roots, Eastern Washington has been served by a fish and wildlife flack who’s encouraged bureaucrats to be honest to the biology. Department experts should be the first source on story, she maintained, whether it’s the science behind lead shot restrictions for waterfowlers or the research indicating loose dogs kill more whitetail deer than wolves in northeastern Washington.

Wildlife officials consider various levels of response to a moose that strays into a suburban area. They can leave it be or try to haze it away. Maybe they can tranquilize and relocate the massive animal, but sometimes lethal action must be taken.

Luers has had the harder job of explaining the decision to the public.

She’s a pro in the tedious art of clarifying confusing fish or hunting rule changes or at least goading wildlife managers into assembling a good explanation.

Luers is a hiker, cross-country skier, fly-fisher and birdwatcher who loves to follow her bird hunting dogs through the fields during fall season before spiffing up for a night at the symphony and calling it a day with another chapter from a good book.

I’ve admired her journalist’s nose for getting facts. Her newspapering background emerges with the adrenaline rush she displays when things are hopping, as they do when reports start coming in of deer falling like flies to disease or when a cougar roams into Manito Park.

Anyone who appreciates critters can join me in applauding Luers’ career as she bows out to retirement. Few people in Eastern Washington have followed through with such integrity on a daily commitment to help the public understand the responsibilities and challenges of living with wildlife.


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