When Wanda Clifford first started coming around the Inland Northwest Wildlife Council three decades ago it was “definitely an old boys club.”
Now, as she retires after 13 years as INWC’s executive director, it’s a club for everybody and anybody.
But 31 years ago the council’s focus was on hunting and fishing, a gun-and-rod club if there ever was one. Like many groups – and the field in general – women and children were rare, as were discussions straying from the nuts and bolts of hooking fish and shooting game.
That focus has broadened over the decades. Now the INWC is a perennial advocate for conservation of all types and welcomes women and children, billing itself as a family-oriented organization.
Clifford has been instrumental in many of those changes.
Born in Polson, Montana, she was the tomboy of her family.
“I grew up in a family of hunters and fishermen,” she said. “My dad would take me with my brother when we went out pheasant hunting.”
She moved to Spokane at a young age and got involved with INWC when she took her son to hunters education with the group. Slowly, she got more involved, helping out at the club’s annual Big Horn Show, joining the board and then, 13 years ago, becoming the executive director.
At the time, she was encouraged to do the job by her husband and by other club members.
“I put the hat in the ring and came out on top,” she said.
At the time, she said, some wondered if a woman could do the job.
Clifford quickly put those concerns to bed.
Under her leadership, the club’s annual Big Horn Show expanded, bringing in more varied vendors and more money. For the club, which makes between 80% and 90% of its money from the show, that was invaluable work.
“She has our fundraising Big Horn Show booked months in advance, over any other past executive director,” Landree Porta, an INWC board member, said in an email.
Matt Mimnaugh, another board member and the club’s treasurer, said Clifford “by the numbers has got to be the best at what she does.” For instance, the 2019 Big Horn Show’s expenses dropped, despite increases in minimum wage.
“I don’t know how she did it, but expenses were at a 10-year low,” Mimnaugh said.
For her part, Clifford said she was proud of bringing in different kinds of vendors.
“We’ve worked really hard at making it a family show,” she said. “It’s not just hunting and fishing. It’s stretching out at the boundaries, helping people understand that everyone should be outdoors doing something.”
That acceptance and openness has translated into other areas. It was all women on a recent visit to the INWC office and Clifford’s replacement as executive director is also a woman.
“We now have five women (of 18) on our board,” Clifford said. “Five women on the board. That’s amazing.”
INWC’s new executive director, Marie Neumiller, is appreciative of the work Clifford has done and is ready to continue it. Born and raised in Spokane, Neumiller, 36, owns a taxidermy business, which she will close so she can focus on INWC full time.
“For me, the wildlife council is the only place I would be willing to close my business for,” she said.
“Marie is a sharp gal,” Clifford said. “She has energy. She has much better computer skills than me.”
Neumiller said she hopes to advertise what INWC does and help the public better understand the breadth and depth of its mission. She’s also planning on boosting the club’s social media presence and revamping its website.
“I was surprised with how many people in the general public didn’t realize how the Wildlife Council was the Big Horn Show,” she said. “It would be nice to find new ways to reach out to the public.”
The fact that Neumiller will be the newest executive director is a testament to the culture Clifford helped build, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman Staci Lehman said.
“Spokane has been pretty proactive in getting women into a field that was traditionally male-oriented and dominated,” she said in an email. “Not only is one woman retiring from a position she held before a lot of women were involved in the field, but another woman is taking over.”
Or, as Clifford said, “Girls rule.”
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