Dan Poole, The Eloquence of Clarity

By Richard E. McCabe

Among its membership past and present, OWAA has legitimate claim to a great many communicators who have used their considerable talent to advance the cause of natural resource conservation. A lesser list is the pantheon of OWAA greats who were outstanding professional conservationists and were or became exemplary communicators. Roger Latham, Arthur Carhart, Joe Linduska, Durward Allen, John Madson and Daniel Poole are among this handful.

Poole was born in upstate New York in April 1922. As a youngster, he was drawn more to forests and meadows than to ball fields. He developed a special fascination for the north country of the Adirondack Forest Preserve, which was then as it is now, the largest expanse of state-owned land designated as wilderness in a state constitution. Poole’s interest in forestry and wildlife was kindled by a childhood spent hunting and fishing with his father and indulging his natural curiosity for all things wild.

Poole became a tool designer for General Electric in the early part of World War II, before enlisting in the Army Aviation Cadet Training Program. He was 25 years old and several light-years from OWAA’s Circle of Chiefs Award.

In 1946, Poole journeyed to Missoula’s Montana State University (now University of Montana) to begin studies in forestry. “However, he found himself uncomfortable with classmates and faculty who were interested only in ‘getting the wood out and to market’ “? He switched to his second passion — wildlife. Poole graduated with a bachelor’s of science degree in 1950 and obtained his master’s in 1952. During his years of study, he worked seasonally with the Montana Fish and Game Department (now the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks) and also with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in both California and Utah.

Poole was a junior biologist in the state agency’s waterfowl division when, at a West Glacier meeting in 1952, he met C.R. “Pink” Gutermuth, vice president of the Wildlife Management Institute (WMI). Gutermuth sought a young person with western experience and perspective to work in WMI’s Washington, D.C., headquarters. After traveling to Washington, D.C., and interviewing with WMI President Ira N. Gabrielson, Poole became editor of the Institute’s Outdoor News Bulletin, which was at that time a major source of information to media on national-level conservation issues.

Besides joining ranks with Gutermuth and the brilliant and charismatic Dr. Gabrielson, Poole found a friend in James B. Trefethen, the Institute’s director of publications. It was Trefethen, a long-standing OWAA member and eventual author of the seminal volume on conservation history, Crusade for Wildlife (1961), who, by example and insight, mentored Poole on certain basics of communication craftsmanship. Gabrielson and, to a lesser extent Gutermuth, provided direction and encouragement for Poole when he was thrust into the unfamiliar roles of ferreting out, analyzing and reporting. However, the position quickly became one of personal initiative, and Poole thrived in his new environment and career. He became a card-carrying member of OWAA in 1953.

Poole’s initial role with WMI triggered what he described as a “career-long learning process.” Preparing effective news releases, writing speeches, helping to devise conservation policy strategies, preparing and delivering congressional testimony, and developing alliances and a vital network of trusted contacts within both the ever-changing political arena and the ever-territorial conservation community were Poole’s occupation and preoccupation. He broached this new wilderness with verve and tenacity.

In 1962, Poole was promoted to director of conservation, and a year later was elected WMI secretary. He was also a monthly columnist for The American Rifleman magazine from 1960-1970 and edited the Executive News Service of the Natural Resources Council of America from 1960-1965. In 1969, he earned OWAA’s Circle of Chiefs Award, testimony to the success of his learning process.

The next year, 1970, at the outset of the so-called “environmental decade,” the former junior biologist from Montana succeeded Gabrielson as president of WMI. He continued to produce the bimonthly Outdoor News Bulletin until he hired another eventual OWAA luminary, Lonnie Williamson.

I joined WMI 25 years ago, and first occupied an office that also served as the file room. I reviewed hundreds of files: speeches, reports, news releases, testimonies, briefing documents and more – the majority of which were penned by Poole. Quite a few carried the names of others, but marginal notes assured that Poole was the author. Another clue of authorship was the succinctness of message and precision of language. All of those files in all of those cabinets contained an eloquence that was vintage Poole — the eloquence of clarity.

Poole served 17 years as WMI president, retiring in 1987, followed by four more years as the Institute’s board chairman. During his tenure, he played a significant role either behind the scenes or through testimony and other areas of outreach — in virtually every major piece of national conservation legislation. Poole was not just a player, but also a leader, and one of intense convictions with unimpeachable integrity and tireless dedication to wildlife conservation. Few can legitimately claim as much effective input on policies and programs of federal resource agencies and many state and provincial agencies during the period from 1952-1987. Poole himself, to my knowledge, never sought any credit for the innumerable, successful conservation legislation battles to which he contributed and in which he was often the point man. He disdained the Potomac Shuffle of jockeying for credit and congratulations; for him results were what mattered.

Despite not beating his own drum for deserved recognition, many awards and accolades have come to Poole from those who saw him in action. He also achieved an honorary doctorate of science degree from the university to which he had journeyed years before to become a forester. He earned a second doctorate from Drew University.

Poole married Dorothy C. Sepure in 1946. They live in Gaithersburg, MD, near their son, daughter, grandchildren and a golf course. He is a member of the Boone and Crockett Club, The Wildlife Society, the Izaak Walton League, and Phi Sigma Biological Honorary Society. Daniel A. Poole is a living legend not only for OWAA, but also for the wildlife conservation profession in all of North America.

An active member since 1978, Richard E. McCabe is vice president of the Wildlife Management Institute.

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