As part of our 75th Anniversary celebration, each issue of The Wildlifer features articles on the history of the Society.
Terry King was the president of the Society of Wildlife Specialists, the group that formed in 1936 that was to become The Wildlife Society in 1937. King began his career at the University of Minnesota in 1925, and became part of the Game Surveys led by Aldo Leopold that were funded by the Sporting Arms and Manufacturers Institute in 1929. He ended his career as the head of the Roosevelt Field Station at SUNY Syracuse in New York.
Back in the year 2000 when both Dan Svedarsky and I were on TWS Council, Max Partch sent Dan a copy of a talk King gave to TWS’s Minnesota Chapter in 1965. Max transcribed the talk from a tape recording he made. King’s talk describes his perspectives on the wildlife profession and its formation, as well as information on many of the pioneers of the field. In this column I will share some of his observations on the history and development of wildlife management in America.
King acknowledged the difficulty in finding a starting point, and observed that the wildlife profession arose as a result of a recognized need, taking knowledge and techniques from other disciplines, and developing new ones as appropriate. He identified 12 mileposts (0-11) representing major developments in wildlife management:
0. Theodore Roosevelt. He was the first to recognize wildlife as a manageable resource.
1. Aldo Leopold. His early writings gained the attention of the Sporting Arms industry and they enlisted him, but he agreed only if they would fund at least four research fellowships, which became the Game Surveys.
2. Herbert Stoddard. He was likely the first to combine game research with game management in his studies on quail. His work was a precursor to adaptive management.
3. Wildlife research in universities. Research had been ongoing, but it was privately funded and conducted for the most part, or being done by, the Biological Survey. Funding from the Game Surveys was the impetus for the first major wildlife research programs at universities.
4. Wildlife management coursework in universities. King talked about how he came to teach wildlife management. He was conducting research on grouse in Minnesota, and some of the junior foresters expressed an interest in what he was doing and offered to help him in the field. Finally, some said to him “Why can’t we have a class in this kind of stuff? Why can’t we learn something about it?” King said he couldn’t remember what he taught in those first few classes, but later on he obtained the second carbon copy of Leopold’s Game Management before it was ever published and used that as a text for the course.
5. Employment of trained university graduates in the field. King attributes a watershed in this to the Soil Conservation Service and mentions Dr. Hugh Bennett. I suspect Ernest Holt, one of the great conservation pioneers, had a major hand in this.
6. Organization of The Wildlife Society. King describes the origins of TWS as beginning with Ted Frison, Director of the Illinois Natural History Survey, who wrote to colleagues in the Midwest in the summer of 1935 and invited them down to Urbana to discuss common problems. The Society of Wildlife Specialists was formed nationally the following year, and a year later it officially became The Wildlife Society.
7. Improved training and graduate work in the field. King attributes the passage of the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Act in 1937 as pivotal in improving graduate training in wildlife.
8. Continued improvement in research, with increasing recognition of the importance of basic research as opposed to applied research or trouble-shooting. King cites basic research into population dynamics, nutrition, and behavior as examples of the kind of basic research that has advanced wildlife management.
9. Dawning awareness of ecological wholeness. King mentions Rachel Carson, Archie Carr, Peter Farb, and George Stewart as writers who have inspired an ecological awareness. Interestingly, he doesn’t mention Leopold, but although his Sand County Almanac was published in 1949, it did not gain great popularity until the late 1960s.
10. The beginning of an ecological conscience and a conservation philosophy and ethics. King expresses sorrow that there was no one like Leopold around to express the philosophy that was needed, but remained assured that the person would come forward. This was just prior to the emergence of the late Paul Shepard (1925–1996) as one of the great environmental writers. From the 1950s to his death, Shepard wrote some of the most powerful philosophical works on humans and nature. A concise representation can be found in his book Coming Home to the Pleistocene or at online.
11. The faint awareness that ecologists and conservationists have a responsibility for the future of humanity, which they are not meeting. King rues the fact that a bulldozer operator has more influence on the landscape of this country than an organized body of ecologists and conservationists.
King’s final words on our responsibility to humanity as wildlife conservationists hark back to Olaus Murie’s classic paper in The Journal of Wildlife Management (1954) titled “Ethics in Wildlife Management.” Murie stated then that we could choose to expertly tinker or we could give our profession the dignity it deserves and help humankind understand their role in nature. Some things remain eternal.