Plenary Session and Keynote Address

2020 Keynote Address 

Check back soon for more information!  Topic in development:  Wolves & Ranching

Plenary Session Theme:

Navigating the Intersections of Science and Policy

During my two years serving as your Conservation Affairs Committee Chair, I have been witness to the spectrum where we, as wildlife professionals, position ourselves along the continuum of policy engagement. Some of us stand firmly in the place of pure objectivity and believe that scientists have no business dabbling in policy since it appears to cloud objectivity, while some of us are eager to march in the streets and shout “Facts are facts!” Many of us may find ourselves somewhere in between: wanting to do more but either feel bound by perceived conflicts of interests, or at a loss of where to begin and doubting whether an individual could even make a difference. Through my wildlife career, I have journeyed through this entire spectrum – from a young biologist who only wanted to focus on studying wildlife, to a fired-up activist who read and reread The Monkey Wrench Gang, and now to a scientist who understands that everything I do in my career is, in some shape or form, related to policy.

Environmental progress is not something to be assumed or taken for granted. The text of an environmental law can be rewritten when our eyes are tuned into a set of binoculars focused on a nesting bird. Environmental protections for habitats can be removed while we are synthesizing our field observations. Scientific facts can be deemed suspect and touted as fake while we are busily writing our dissertations or grant applications or biological assessments. Wherever we may find ourselves along the policy spectrum, it seems that our scientific community has stumbled upon a collective renaissance of realizing the importance of responding to policies that influence environmental protection, funding, priorities, and focus.

As scientists, we are taught to be objective. But objectivity does not equate to standing on the sidelines. There is a difference between activism, advocacy, objective opinion, and advice. As wildlife professionals, our objective opinion and evidence-based advice have a very important place within the realm of environmental policy. It is absolutely critical that we, as wildlife professionals, become more confident in participating in, informing, influencing, creating, shaping, and responding to policy, and learn how to successfully navigate the intersection of policies that affect the wildlife and habitats that we hold dear. And to achieve that requires that we understand the various areas where environmental policy is crafted, negotiated, implemented, interpreted, and studied.

I think of our community of wildlife professionals as an ecosystem. We may occupy different niches, wear different hats, or sometimes speak a different professional language. Maybe we work for a consulting firm or a regulatory agency; or we lead an NGO or are involved land management; maybe we conduct research for a university or for our own business; or we apply our wildlife skills to environmental law or advising legislative representatives. Yet, similar to an ecosystem, we may not always be aware of the ways that we, as a community, are connected, until one of the strings of the web gets pulled on and we notice the tug in our own sphere. So, when we are called to respond to environmental policies that are shifting the landscape in which we work or affecting the species or habitats which we study, how can you more effectively engage and participate – from wherever you may reside in the policy spectrum – and feel confident and effective?

Our plenary panelists aim to illuminate the pathways that you, as a wildlife professional and a member of The Wildlife Society, can pursue to influence environmental policy and perhaps shape public interest into an outcome that benefits the wildlife and habitats that are the focus of your career.

2020 Plenary Speakers

Diane Colborn served as chief consultant to the California State Assembly Committee on Water, Parks & Wildlife (WPW) from 2005 through 2016. Her duties with the Legislature included drafting, analyzing, and advising members of the Legislature on legislative proposals related to water, parks and wildlife. Prior to her staff service with the Legislature, she worked as an attorney in the private sector for 17 years, representing a diversity of clients. During her tenure with the WPW Committee, she had the privilege of serving with five committee chairs and five Assembly Speakers. Ms. Colborn has a BA degree in Environmental Studies and Planning from Sonoma State University, and a law degree from the University of California at Davis. Ms. Colborn was appointed to the California State Wildlife Conservation Board by Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon in 2017. She has been a member of the California State Bar since 1988. Diane is retired and lives in Davis, CA where she enjoys hiking with her golden retriever, and is an avid wildlife enthusiast and birder.



John Organ is a Scientist Emeritus with the U.S. Geological Survey and former Chief of the Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Units. He is a past president, Fellow, and honorary member of The Wildlife Society, professional member of the Boone and Crockett Club, Associate Editor of Human Dimensions of Wildlife Journal, and Science and Education Editor for Fair Chase. He holds appointments as Adjunct Associate Professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Michigan State University, and Universidad Andres Bello in Santiago, Chile, where he teaches and advises Ph.D. and M.S. students. He is currently involved in research on Andean bears, Canada lynx, hunter attitudes towards non-lead ammunition, wild game meat as a coupler of human and natural systems, and hunter values and expectations regarding controlled white-tailed deer hunts.



Kim Delfino oversees the work of Defenders’ California program team in protecting and restoring California’s imperiled wildlife and the places in which they live. Since joining Defenders in 2000, Kim has developed an expertise in land use planning, endangered species conservation, and water law, including serving on the California Water Commission from 2010-2015. Kim currently serves on the boards of the Water Education Foundation; Sustainable Conservation; and the American Bar Association Section of Environment, Energy and Resources Trends. Kim began her career as an associate attorney in Washington, D.C. with the public interest law firm of Meyer & Glitzenstein, where she specialized in cases involving the Endangered Species Act, Clean Water Act and other environmental laws. She holds a B.A. from UC Davis and a J.D. from McGeorge School of Law at the University of the Pacific.





Dr. Michael Peterson’s background in wildlife ecology and management includes conducting scientific research and working on state-level policy. He is currently the inaugural Deputy Commissioner of the newly created Climate and Sustainability Branch for Commissioner Ricardo Lara at the California Department of Insurance. Previously, Peterson was a legislative consultant for then-Senator Lara’s California Senate office, focusing on climate change, natural resources, and energy policy, as well as being the consultant for the Select Committee on Ports and Goods Movement and staff liaison with the California Air Resources Board. He previously worked for the California State Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Water, a committee that considers legislation related to wildlife conservation, state parks, natural resources, including the state’s rivers, lakes, and oceans. As a researcher, Peterson’s work included studies that focused on northern elephant seal toxic chemical accumulation, conservation genetics, and the biology of streams, including anadromous fish and macroinvertebrates. Michael has earned a PhD in Environmental Science, Policy and Management from the University of California, Berkeley, and a Masters degree at Western Washington University.


David Willms is the Senior Director Western Wildlife and Conservation for the National Wildlife Federation, where he works collaboratively with diverse stakeholders to find solutions to complex wildlife and land use issues. He is also an adjunct faculty member at the University of Wyoming’s Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources. Earlier in his career he served as a Natural Resource and Wildlife Policy Advisor for Governor Matthew H. Mead of Wyoming, and as a natural resource attorney in private practice and for the Wyoming Attorney General’s Office. Mr. Willms has a Juris Doctorate degree, and bachelor’s degrees in Wildlife & Fisheries Biology and Management as well as Environment and Natural Resources. He lives in Cheyenne, WY with his wife and three children and is an unaccomplished amateur jazz/blues saxophonist.