Francine Madden was used to walking into lions’ dens, almost literally. She had mediated conflicts over wildlife conservation efforts across Africa and elsewhere, helping groups whose members held vastly divergent opinions on wildlife conservation to find middle ground.
To do that, she worked with them to build trust in her and one another so they could come off their extreme points of view.
When the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife first hired Madden to mediate the state Wolf Advisory Group, the parties impacted by the return of wolves to the state were at loggerheads. Discussions seemed to quickly degenerate, with most of the parties retreating to their corners.
Enter Madden, of the Human-Wildlife Conflict Collaboration — now called the Center for Conservation Peacebuilding. With experience around the world tackling issues such as the trafficking of wild elephants in Africa, Madden set about changing the debates into a dialogue, with each side allowed to have its say. Slowly at first, she helped build trust among the parties, who then set about coming up with a means of effectively managing wolves without putting ranchers out of business.
The concept of bringing in an outside consultant was sound. The folks at the state Department of Fish and Wildlife weren’t making any headway. The state’s wolf plan was unrealistic, agency leaders seemed caught in the crossfire between pro- and anti-wolf groups, and legislators and the governor were feeling the heat from all sides.
But her efforts would be accompanied by a hefty price tag — about $1.2 million for three years. The department has now signed a two-year, $425,000 contract extension. She is paid $400 an hour to consult by phone and $8,000 a day to lead meetings in person. The contract also includes travel expenses. She will continue to work with the Wolf Advisory Group and train department staffers to help resolve conflicts as they arise in the future.
We have to admit we had two major concerns. The primary concern was the cost of the contract, which seemed out of line for a state that struggles each year to make ends meet. The other was Madden’s initial penchant for closed meetings. The importance of the public knowing about everything said in such meetings cannot be overstated.
But we also need to recognize that Madden brought civility to the advisory group. Though we may not agree with the outcomes — we still see no reason to protect an apex predator whose population is increasing about 30 percent a year — progress has been made.
The one thing Madden couldn’t do is prevent outliers such as the Center for Biological Diversity and Cascadia Wildlands from suing the state over wolf management. Their goal is to have a judge dictate how wolves are managed in Washington.
That would be a worst-case scenario for everyone.