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A Grand Performance, Durward Allen

He knew the facts, and he wrote them with hope that the dolts and do-gooders of this world would awaken before the human environment is subdivided into standing-room only.

By Lonnie Williamson

There are and have been hundreds of special people in fish and wildlife conservation. Some teach, some conduct research, some write and some administer programs. However, no one has ever performed so grandly in all those segments of the profession as did Durward Allen.

Durward was born Oct. 11, 1910, in Uniondale, Ind. He graduated from the University of Michigan in 1932 and earned a doctorate at Michigan State College (Now Michigan State University) in 1937. He worked for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and then moved to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Eventually he became the Service’s acting director for research in Washington, D.C.

Durward’s landmark book, Our Wildlife Legacy, was published in 1954 while he was working for the Service. To find someone in wildlife conservation today that has not studied this classic would be rare indeed, virtually a sin. I recall many years ago when my major professor, Ernie Provost, assembled his graduate students in wildlife management and presented them a “must read” list of books. Our Wildlife Legacy was No. 1 on that list. I still treasure my autographed copy. The work remains, in my opinion, the most eloquently written book ever on wildlife management. It has enormous power to impress upon a biologist’s mind how wild things function and our responsibility to them.

Durward left the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and joined the faculty of Purdue University in 1958. There he launched the world-famous studies of wolves and moose on Michigan’s Isle Royale. Few realize the continued impact of Durward’s studies of wolf-moose relationships on Isle Royale. They have been lauded in academic circles, recorded in books and scientific journals and publicly presented in films. Yet, no one explains the importance of that research so well as Durward. He wrote: “On this continent and in the world, Isle Royale is an almost unique repository of primitive conditions. Like a priceless antique, it will be even more valuable in time not far ahead. The great carnivore removes the elders, the ailing, the afflicted and also, no doubt the foolish and incompetent. For the moose it is a health, welfare, and eugenic program of inscrutable realism. This is the most important of our findings. In it we have the key to why both moose and wolf are what they are, and indeed to the character of wilderness. This system and these dependencies matured through ages beyond our reckoning. The wolf manages his livestock as any husbandman must manage to survive. He is inspector of the herd, liberator of the weak, and guardian of the range.”

While at Purdue training many of the nation’s top wildlife ecologists, Durward wrote six more books, including Wolves of Minong and The Life of Prairies and Plains. He came to believe that wildlife conservationists must convince the general public that scientific resource management is necessary to maintain and improve our quality of life. Consequently, he produced dozens of articles for that audience; many were published in Audubon. He knew instinctively when a sentence was right and which sentences made the perfect paragraph. Thus, his impact was great.

Durward was pressed to serve on numerous national boards and committees. He was part of the secretary of the interior’s board on national parks. He was honored with memberships in the Boone and Crockett Club and the Explorers Club. He received the highest honors given by The Wildlife Society (Aldo Leopold Memorial Award), National Audubon Society (Audubon Medal) and OWAA (Jade of Chiefs Award). He also was a member of the Cain Committee, which reviewed federal predator control policies. That committee’s report led President Nixon to ban the use of many poisons on public land.

Throughout his career, Durward stood above all others in wildlife conservation, stressing the importance of protecting ecosystems and controlling human populations in order to perpetuate desirable and usable wildlife populations. Late in his career, Durward focused intently on the menace of increasing human numbers. Probably the most insightful speech ever on that subject was Durward’s acceptance of the Audubon Medal in 1990. In that sobering presentation, he noted, “We can be thankful that a few members of Congress understand the relationship of human numbers to living standards and to resource use. But these few are outnumbered by a majority who has little interest in such abstractions. This is exemplified by recent proposals for legislation that would open wider our immigration floodgates to the great population surpluses of Latin America and the Far East — people caught in a bind who understandably would like to share our diminishing resource wealth, our great ideal of two jobs for every household, our health facilities, our welfare and educational systems. And of course they bring their birthrates with them. In 1990 world population increased by 93 million — each year that statistic grows by at least a couple of million.”

Obviously Durward was not afflicted with the politically correct disease. He knew the facts, and he wrote them with hope that the dolts and do-gooders of this world would awaken before the human environment is subdivided into standing room only.

Durward Allen died October 17, 1997. That day, OWAA lost one of its most distinguished and productive members.

Life member Lonnie Williamson was the subject of a Legends piece in the January 2003 issue of OU. Williamson is the recipient of the Jade of Chiefs Award and the J. Hammond Brown Memorial Award, and he served as OWAA’s president in 1991-92. He makes his home on the family farm in Athens, Ga.

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