The work of wildlife conservation — whether in the field, the laboratory, the classroom, or the halls of Congress — occurs only because dedicated professionals apply their hands, hearts, and minds to the task. Since its inception, The Wildlife Society (TWS) has attracted and served an army of such dedicated men and women with a lifelong devotion to wildlife resources and conservation. Here we highlight a small sampling of the great pioneers of TWS who helped establish our profession.
The Founding Fathers
Two individuals provided the catalyst for the fledgling wildlife profession during the 1930s in response to “an idea whose time had come” (Swanson 1987). At the movement’s epicenter was Aldo Leopold, generally considered the “Father of Wildlife Management” in the United States because of his pioneering work in the scientific approach to game and habitat management (Errington 1948; McAtee et al. 1962; Swanson 1987). Still revered for his lyrical essays in A Sand County Almanac, and for his seminal text Game Management, Leopold expressed early doubts about the viability of a professional society devoted to wildlife management because of the relatively small number of individuals who might be interested (McAtee et al. 1962). Nevertheless, he was an active participant in founding discussions and committees, and served as TWS’s third president in 1939-1940. He was named an honorary lifetime member in 1946 and posthumously received the Society’s highest honor, the Aldo Leopold Memorial Award, in 1951.
Equally notable on a national scale was Leopold’s contemporary Jay Norwood (“Ding”) Darling. Through his nationally syndicated political cartoons — which often showed the devastating effects of human neglect and the ecological benefits of careful management — Darling advocated for science-based conservation (Lendt 1979). His interest motivated him to lobby Congress to establish the Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit program at land-grant universities across the nation. Darling was named the first honorary member of TWS in 1938, and received the first Leopold Award in 1950.
Internationally renowned mammalogist Olaus Murie — sometimes called the “Father of Elk Management” — was a charter member of TWS (McAtee et al. 1962; TWS 1938). Noted for his work in Alaska for the U.S. Biological Survey, Murie was instrumental in creating The Wilderness Society and establishing a number of national monuments and parks, including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. He served as TWS’s president in 1944-1945, was the fourth recipient of the Leopold Award, and became an honorary member in 1952.
One of the intellectual and scientific giants of the wildlife profession, Paul Errington was deeply involved in almost every aspect of the founding of The Wildlife Society (McAtee 1962). Although not a graduate student under Aldo Leopold, Errington established a rewarding mentor relationship with Leopold at the University of Wisconsin, where Errington earned a Ph.D. doing research on northern bobwhite quail. He went on to join the faculty at Iowa State University, where he continued to collaborate with Leopold.
Though he never held an elective TWS office, Errington was a leader in establishing professional standards for education and publication that served to guide the wildlife profession from its inception. A prolific scientific and literary writer, Errington received two TWS awards for outstanding publications — on great horned owl ecology in 1940 (with co-authors Fran and Fred Hamerstrom) and on predation and vertebrate population ecology in 1947. I (David Trauger) was a student in Errington’s Principles of Wildlife Conservation course in 1961, and appreciated the scope of his knowledge and passion for wildlife and wild places. Errington was named an honorary member of TWS in 1955 and received the Leopold Award in 1962.
Other foundational pioneers and charter members include Ralph King and Ernest Holt, who served as first president and vice president, respectively, of the Society of Wildlife Specialists, the 1936 precursor to TWS. Missouri zoology professor Rudolf Bennitt — who helped form the Missouri Conservation Department in the 1930s — was the first TWS president in 1937-1938 (Campbell 1950). Noted ornithologist Waldo McAtee was a technical adviser and research specialist for the Biological Survey and became the founding editor of The Journal of Wildlife Management, serving from 1937-1942 (Kalmback 1963; Terres 1963). Quail expert Herbert Stoddard and biologist Victor Cahalane also held major leadership positions in founding TWS.
Another charter member worth noting is Daniel Leedy, who became the biologist in charge of FWS’s Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit program after WWII. Under his leadership, the program emerged as a dominant force in educating graduate students, conducting research, and applying findings to wildlife management. In 1957, Leedy became FWS’s Chief of Wildlife Research, where he strengthened the role of wildlife science at the national level. After retiring from government service in 1974, he embarked on pioneering work related to urban wildlife, serving with the National Institute for Urban Wildlife from 1974 to 1994. Leedy also contributed greatly to the technical literature, most notably in the emerging field of planning and management of fish and wildlife in urban areas. He served as TWS president in 1952-1953, was named an honorary member in 1969, and received the Leopold Award in 1983.
From Students to Leaders
Many of Aldo Leopold’s students went on to become leaders of our profession. H. Albert Hochbaum, for example, studied under Leopold in the late 1930s and became instrumental in the development of a conservation ethic in North America, serving as the director of the prestigious Delta Waterfowl Research Station for 32 years. In addition to his pioneering waterfowl research, Hochbaum distinguished himself through his writing and original illustrations. His first book, Canvasback on a Prairie Marsh, received TWS’s book award in 1945, and his 1955 book, Travels and Traditions of Waterfowl, also won the award. These and his other classic waterfowl books skillfully blend scientific information and conservation philosophy with poetic writing and magnificent paintings and sketches.
Another of Leopold’s notable students was Joseph Hickey, an avid birdwatcher from New York City. Hickey wrote his classic book A Guide to Bird Watching (Hickey 1943) as his master’s thesis under Leopold’s supervision. He earned a Ph.D. at the University of Michigan, then returned to the University of Wisconsin in 1947 (at Leopold’s invitation) to become its second professor of wildlife management. An acclaimed teacher, Hickey also conducted landmark scientific research that identified the connection between declines in bird populations and chlorinated hydrocarbon pesticides such as DDT (Temple and Emlen 1994). Shocked by declines he discovered in peregrine falcon populations from the 1940s to the 1960s, Hickey began the pivotal process of identifying DDT and its metabolites as the cause of the decline (Hickey 1969; Temple and Emlen 1994). The delisting of the peregrine falcon in 1999 due to recovery of its populations can be partially attributed to Hickey, who won the Leopold Award in 1972.
Society notable Robert McCabe experienced what he called “a master stroke of fate” when he met his future mentor, Aldo Leopold, on a preregistration trip to the University of Wisconsin in 1939 (Emlen and McCabe 1996). Thus began an association that would profoundly influence McCabe’s life. He completed a master’s degree under Leopold in 1943, then became Leopold’s assistant and an instructor in the Department of Wildlife Management in 1945, when he began his Ph.D. work on ring-necked pheasants. After Leopold’s death in 1948, McCabe joined the faculty as assistant professor in the department, and became chairman in 1952. In that capacity, he expanded upon Leopold’s philosophy of the land ethic. McCabe served as TWS president in 1976-1977, and received honorary membership and the Leopold Award in 1986.
Another TWS president (1956-1957), Durward Allen was a research scientist with FWS and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, as well as an inspiring teacher on the faculty at Purdue University. While at Purdue, Allen began world-famous studies on wolves and moose on Michigan’s Isle Royale, which became the longest study ever conducted of predator-prey relationships. He also trained many of the nation’s top wildlife ecologists. Allen’s landmark 1954 book, Our Wildlife Legacy, was the first comprehensive text dealing with modern concepts and approaches to wildlife conservation. Today Allen is remembered for stressing the importance of both protecting ecosystems and controlling human populations in wildlife management. He became an honorary member of TWS in 1966 and received the Leopold Award in 1969.Beyond U.S. Borders
From its beginning, TWS envisioned an international membership. Geographic regions were aligned to accommodate members from Canada, Mexico, and the “West Indies” (The Wildlife Society 1938, McAtee et al. 1962). One of the pioneering academic leaders in Canada was Ian McTaggart-Cowan, a scholar and activist in the cause of wildlife conservation in British Columbia (The Globe and Mail 2010). As a distinguished professor at the University of British Columbia, he advocated for application of scientific methods in wildlife management through his teaching and publications. Host of a television show called “Fur and Feathers” in 1955, he was a pioneer in the use of TV to foster appreciation of the natural world among a broad public audience. Cowan was TWS president in 1950-1951, and received the Leopold Award in 1970.
Charles Henry Douglas (“Doug”) Clarke was called the “Canadian Aldo Leopold” when he was awarded the Leopold medal in 1977. Clarke not only worked to understand the ecology and management of wildlife, but also integrated social and economic factors affecting wildlife and its management — a human dimension avoided by many wildlifers of the day. Clarke conducted faunal surveys in Canada’s Northwest Territories (Clarke 1940) that earned him the designation as being “ahead of his time” (Norment 1988). As a writer of more than 300 papers and articles, Clarke was articulate, scientific, humorous, and philosophical. His professional career included service in various national and provincial agencies, and leadership in several international conservation organizations, including as president of TWS (1953-1954). Clarke received TWS’s honorary membership in 1966.
South of the U.S. border, TWS member Enrique Beltran from Mexico fought an uphill battle against enormous odds to create a sound conservation policy to guide the management of natural resources for his native country. A research protozoologist and biology professor at the University of Mexico, Beltran organized and became the director of the first Mexican Institute of Natural Resources, and also served as a member of the executive board of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. He received the Leopold Award in 1960.
Legacy of Women Wildlifers
Although women faced palpable social and vocational barriers during TWS’s formative era, the Society benefitted from the contributions of five female charter members: Margaret Morse Nice, Claudia Lea Phelps, Phoebe Malura Knappen, Eloise Blane Cram, and Rosalie Barrow Edge (The Wildlife Society 1938). Like their male counterparts, most of these women were active in biological sciences and interested enough in wildlife issues to join the fledging TWS. Many of the early female members were ornithologists, a discipline with a strong tradition of including unpaid amateurs (Nicholson et al. 2008). The measure of scientific activity and excellence in ornithology therefore was not confined to those with paid employment, which was limited for most women in the profession until the 1970s (Ainley 1987).
Margaret Morse Nice was one of the most renowned ornithologists of the 20th century. She graduated from Mount Holyoke College with a B.A. in 1906 and conducted graduate work on the food habits of bobwhite quail to earn an M.A. in biology at Clark University in 1915. After graduate school, Nice’s work location was largely dictated by her husband’s professional moves, but she conducted and published independent research on song sparrows and other birds throughout her life (e.g., Nice 1937). Nice received the American Ornithologists’ Union’s prestigious Brewster Award in 1942 (Ainley 1987).
Avian parasitologist Eloise Blane Cram graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Chicago in 1919 and upon graduating entered government service as a zoologist for the USDA’s Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI), where she investigated parasites at the Chicago stockyards (Cram 1956). She completed her Ph.D. from George Washington University in 1925 and then returned to the BAI, where she served as Head of the Parasites of Poultry and Game Birds. In 1936, she left the BAI for a position at the Zoology Lab of the National Institutes of Health, and retired from NIH in 1956 (USDA 2012). Cram was a world authority on avian parasites (e.g., Cram 1931) and the year before she retired, she served as the only woman president of the American Society of Parasitologists (Cram 1956).
Although not formally educated in the natural sciences, Rosalie Edge was an early TWS member known as a militant conservationist. To draw attention to the ineffectiveness of the conservation establishment in species preservation, Edge established the Emergency Conservation Committee in 1929. Putting her convictions into action, in 1934 she founded Hawk Mountain Sanctuary in Pennsylvania’s Appalachian Mountains, the world’s first preserve for protection of birds of prey. “Ding” Darling, Aldo Leopold, and other conservation leaders admired her for her national grassroots campaigns and effective conservation activism.
Some of TWS’s most notable women members entered the profession through field collaboration with their husbands or mentors. Frances Hamerstrom, for example, worked at Iowa State University with her husband, Fred Hamerstrom. Their work on great horned owls earned them (with Paul Errington) the first Wildlife Publication Award from TWS in 1940. She later earned her M.S. in wildlife biology at the University of Wisconsin, where she was the only female graduate student to work with Aldo Leopold. With co-authors Fred Hamerstrom and Oswald Mattson, she received a second Wildlife Publication Award in 1957 for their guide to prairie chicken management. In 1961 she received an honorary Doctorate of Science from Carroll College in Waukesha, Wisconsin, and in 1995 she was awarded an honorary membership in TWS.
Society member Lucille Stickel was a pioneer in the field of wildlife toxicology (Coon and Perry 2007). After earning an M.S. at the University of Michigan in 1938, she became a volunteer research collaborator with her husband, William Stickel, at FWS’s Patuxent Wildlife Research Center (PWRC). In 1943, she accepted a junior biologist position there, “beginning a long and illustrious career that paved the way for not only women in science but for the field of environmental pollution research” (Coon and Perry 2007). Publications by Stickel and her colleagues heavily influenced Rachel Carson’s groundbreaking book, Silent Spring. Stickel attained the designation Senior Scientist, the highest position ever reached by a woman in FWS, and in 1973, she became director of PWRC, the first woman to direct a major fish and wildlife laboratory. In 1974 she broke another boundary, becoming the first and only woman to receive the Leopold Award for her work. (Aldo Leopold’s wife, Estella, accepted the award in 1951 in honor of her late husband.)
Society pioneers have emerged throughout our history as the scientific and cultural dimensions of our profession have evolved. John Gottschalk, for example, was an aquatic biologist and limnologist who joined FWS in 1945 and eventually served as FWS director from 1964 to 1970. During those six years he distinguished himself by helping to pass the first Endangered Species Act and initiate the first endangered species research program at PWRC. Gottschalk went on to serve as assistant to the director of the National Marine Fisheries Service until 1973, when he assumed the position of vice president of the International Association of Game, Fish, and Conservation Commissioners. He continued in various roles with the International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies until 1983, and received many awards in recognition of his service to conservation, including the Leopold Award in 1976.
Like Gottschalk, Thomas Baskett supported Lucille Stickel’s work to establish reasonable control over pesticide use in the United States. As FWS’s chief of Wildlife Research from 1968 to 1973, Baskett provided strong leadership in achieving the landmark decision to restrict the use of DDT and the subsequent banning of this pesticide by the Environmental Protection Agency. A teacher, researcher, writer, editor, and administrator, Baskett spent most of his career leading the Missouri Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit for FWS. Under his guidance, the Missouri Unit became one of the strongest and most successful programs in the nation. Baskett served as editor of JWM in 1966-1968 and as TWS president in 1971-1972. He received honorary membership in 1986 and the Leopold Award in 1987.
A renowned conservation leader, Laurence Jahn represented the next generation of wildlife conservationists when he joined TWS in the late 1940s (Nelson et al. 2001). Jahn was a mover and shaker in conservation circles, particularly in the policy arena. His natural resources colleagues referred to him as “our man in Washington” in the tradition of his mentors, Ira Gabrielson (Leopold Award 1953) and C. R. Gutermuth (Leopold Award 1957). Jahn was a recognized leader in advancing integrated management of natural resources throughout North America. Like Leopold, Errington, and several other TWS pioneers, Jahn was a man of extraordinary intellect, vision, and energy. He served on many boards, committees, councils, advisory panels, and as TWS president in 1979-1980. An inspirational role model and mentor for many in the natural resources community (Nelson et al. 2001), Jahn received the Leopold Award and honorary membership in 1989.
The men and women profiled here demonstrated passionate interest in the natural world at young ages. Some were avid hunters and trappers while others were birdwatchers and collectors of butterflies and eggs. Our founders and the pioneers who followed them emerged from a diversity of academic backgrounds attained under differing social and economic circumstances. They were visionaries, energetic workers, and skilled writers, authoring a broad range of scientific articles, reports, monographs, and books. Many were also active in public outreach — transmitting their passions and knowledge to the public to cultivate a wildlife conservation ethic in society.
Because these pioneers lived multidimensional lives, any generalizations would be misleading. Yet it’s safe to say that TWS’s pioneers all demonstrated strong commitment to personal integrity and professionalism, and shared a propensity as mentors and teachers. As the illustrated cover of this 75th edition of the magazine suggests, the influence of our early leaders lingers and inspires the next generation of young professionals to carry on the tradition of wildlife stewardship.
Authors’ note: The task of identifying and selecting worthy members to recognize carries substantial risk of omission and slight. Selection of the pioneers in this article is arbitrarily ours, but we’re fully cognizant that many others are equally worthy and notable.
Author Bios: David L. Trauger, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus in the College of Natural Resources and Environment at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.
Patricia L. Kennedy, Ph.D., CWB, is Professor in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife at Oregon State University.
Click here to see videos of some of TWS’s early pioneers.