Questions, and answers, with Woody Myers Washington’s newest wildlife commissioner
Sun., March 5, 2023
The following is an interview with Woodrow “Woody” Myers, Jr., a new Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife commissioner representing an at-large seat. Myers lives in Spokane County and retired from WDFW as an ungulate research biologist where he worked for 40 years. The interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
What prompted you to apply to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Commission?
To further the use of science in setting policy for managing the state’s fish and wildlife resources. In that, the decisions we make today will affect the state’s fish and wildlife and their habitats for years to come. I wanted to be a part of ensuring those resources for future generations.
What is the role of the commission, in your view, and how should it interface with WDFW staff?
The commission sets policy that guides agency direction of resource management. In general, I believe the commission should focus on landscape and state -level issues including but not limited to policy guiding management of threatened habitats and fish and wildlife populations and other populations of concern including species at the top of tropic levels, and interactions with other governments. The commission is legally bound to ensure the preservation, protection and perpetuation of the state’s fish and wildlife resources and maximize recreation of those resources.
The decision to end the spring bear hunt was a controversial and divisive one. If you had been a commissioner, how would you have approached that decision, and what would your vote have been?
I am aware of the controversy of the commission’s decision to end the spring bear hunt. As a scientist, I do not rely on information from popular publications, social media or rumor to make informed decisions. Thus, I do not have all the pertinent information I need to respond to this question.
What is the biggest threat to Washington’s fish and wildlife? How will you address this issue?
Destruction, loss and degradation of fish and wildlife habitat associated with human population growth and industrialization; climate change; and pollution. As a society, we have been working to address these causes for years with very few successes. WDFW has limited to no authority to address these issues except through land purchases and working with other government entities including major land managers, county planners, cities, and private citizens to encourage them to make choices that preserve or enhance natural landscapes.
What’s been WDFW’s biggest success in the past decade?
It is difficult to identify one major complete success story. But the agency’s path to success includes several successful yet incomplete stories such as building a great staff, working to maintain the diversity of wildlife and habitats across the state, maintaining healthy ungulate populations at a level that support a recovering wolf population and maintaining populations of five salmon species and a variety of marine mammals.
What’s been WDFW’s biggest failure in the past decade?
A continued inability to improve agency credibility and failure to communicate with all interested stakeholders.
What role do hunters and anglers have in fish and wildlife management? How, if at all, has that role changed?
Hunters and anglers need to be celebrated in North America as they have been in Europe because hunters and anglers were among the first conservationists and environmentalists. Without their concern for our natural resources and the actions they took nearly a 100 years ago or so, the wildlife and fish and their habitats that we take for granted may not exist today. Hunters and anglers continue to play a major role in fish and wildlife management by helping fund state fish and wildlife agencies through taxes on the equipment they use in recreation, taxes that they requested. At this point in time, hunting and fishing are primarily forms of recreation although hunting is occasionally used as a management technique to address wildlife damage or disease issues; hunting and fishing harvests provide biologists and managers with meaningful data collection opportunities as well.
Do you hunt and fish yourself?
Absolutely. Hunting has been a major component of my life since I was eight when I cut lawns to purchase my first shotgun so I could hunt doves with my dad. I actually started accompanying my dad on hunting trips when I was as young as five. Hunting played a major role in the career path I chose as a biologist. A young Air Force officer who worked for my dad when we were stationed in south Texas was the first biologist I met. Lt. Dave Narver, an Oregon State grad, hunted waterfowl with Dad and I. Dave and I developed a close relationship, with Dave showing me slides of his work in Alaska as an undergrad fisheries tech and took my dad and I to sports club meetings. I remained in contact with Dave my entire life, with Dave following my career here in Washington. Dave retired as the chief of British Columbia’s Ministry of the Environment fisheries branch. I had the opportunity to thank him for the influence he had on my life, brought about through our hunting connection. I have been fortunate to hunt big game, waterfowl and upland birds all across the United States including Alaska.
I have been fishing since I was four and am very fortunate to have fished all over the country from the Gulf of Mexico to the Gulf of Alaska, Atlantic to Pacific, and in between. I have fished using a variety of techniques on all types of waters and habitats but my favorites fishing for redfish and weakfish on the Laguna Madre, cohos on a remote Alaskan river, or west slope cutts on a small mountain creek. Oh, yeah, I like fishing for bass, crappie, bluegills, northerns and walleye, especially where these species are native (I was born in Wisconsin).
What’s your favorite fish- and wildlife-related book?
I have several that tie for first place: Aldo Leopold’s “A Sand County Almanac”; Durward Allen’s “Our Wildlife Legacy”; Jack O’Connor’s “The Art of Hunting Big Game”; Ted Kerasote’s “Blood Ties”; David Quammen’s “Spillover.”
What’s your favorite outdoor activity?
I enjoy so many activities in the outdoors including hiking, camping, photography, gardening, boating, horseback riding, shooting, fishing, following my bird dogs. But my favorite has to be observing and introducing young people to wildlife, be it glassing mule deer along the Snake River Breaks, watching flights of migrating waterfowl high overhead, a dipper on a rock disappearing into fast moving water, or juncos and finches at a feeder in the yard.
Who do you admire as a leader? Why?
Col. W. L. Myers, USAF (ret), my father, because of his leadership and mentorship that helped shape me into the person I am today and the Tuskegee Airman who flew top cover for him so that I could be here today.
President Theodore Roosevelt, for his conservation ethic and leadership that saved hundreds of thousands of acres of what became our National Forest system and the wildlife for which we care so deeply.
President John F. Kennedy, for saving the world from nuclear disaster during the Cuban missile.
Jack Ward Thomas, the first biologist to lead the U.S. Forest Service and likely the only person who could have pulled off the Starkey Project for elk, mule deer, range and timber research.
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