Missouri’s Audubon – Part Two
When we last left off, Irwin Bode had recently been appointed Director of the newly-created Missouri Conservation Commission. Bode was charged by Syd Stephens with hiring the best people he could find in order to make Syd’s dream – to manage the state’s natural and wildlife resources based on the teachings of Aldo Leopold and modern science – a reality.
Today we will meet one of the people Bode selected, Charles W. Schwartz, and begin to learn about the role he played in Missouri’s conservation and management history. We will also meet his partner, both in work and in life, Elizabeth or, as she was better known, “Libby.” According to Larry Gale, the Commission’s fourth director, “They’ve undoubtedly had more impact than anybody else in you can name in alerting the populace to the need for conservation.”
Along the way, we will learn about other notable people in the modern game management field, including it’s founder, Aldo Leopold, and see why the Schwatrz’s influence extended far beyond the borders of their home state.
Charles W. Schwartz was born in St. Louis on June 2, 1914. His father, Frederick O. Schwartz was a physician (an ophthalmologist) and an amateur artist. His mother, Clara, was a very patient woman.
For you see, it turns out that Charles, or “Carl” as he was more often called, became interested in studying animals and all other kinds of wildlife at a very young age. According to a multi-page feature article which ran in the St. Louis Globe-Democrat on Sunday, September 15, 1929:
“Ever since Charles was 4 years old Mrs. Schwartz has had to walk with care whenever she set a foot in her basement or went into the yard for a stick of kindling. Even if a person is a lover of animals a person doesn’t care to get chummy with a water moccasin or a ground hog. Mrs. Schwartz has also had to buy a lot of kitchen utensils.’
“When Mrs. Schwartz would come home… to find the skeleton of a mink, a cat or a pigeon stewing in her best saucepan, it was hard for her to think of using the same pan to cook up a batch of greens. Then the snakes and ground hogs, turtles and rabbits Charles had under his wing seemed to have various appetites. He would feed them every evening. He prepared all sorts of feeds and mother’s pans were the readiest implements at hand.”
But his mother did not mind; she was happy her son had something that was of such great interest to him and which kept him from getting into mischief. In the same article, then 15 year old Charles is quoted as saying:
“I collect animals, birds, snakes, moths, bugs – whatever in the nature line I can find – not only because I like to study them and play with them… but so I can draw them, paint them, even mold them with clay (see Figures 1 and 2).
Charles spent much of his free time (after school and on weekends), visiting the Forest Park Zoo, along with the two large parks donated to St. Louis by botanist and philanthropist Henry Shaw – Shaw’s Gardens (now known as the Missouri Botanical Garden) and Tower Grove Park. Charles was especially fond of the zoo, where he enjoyed a close relationship with Marlin Perkins, who was then the curator of reptiles (see Figure 3).
Perkins helped to cultivate Charles’ love of the outdoors and wild animals – much as he did for millions of people worldwide when he later hosted Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom (1963 – 1985).
Charles attended McBride High School in St. Louis, where he was an excellent student and participated in team sports – notably starring on the football team.
Growing up, Charles was also an avid hunter and fisherman, as was Aldo Leopold. These were activities both men enjoyed throughout their lives and shared with their families and friends. I would like to make it clear that these famous conservationists were not against hunting or fishing per se; rather, they lamented excessive or wasteful overharvesting and advocated for “respect and good stewardship of the land” (to include the forests, waterways and soil in addition to fish and wildlife).
Elizabeth Reeder was born in Columbus, Ohio on September 13, 1912. Her father, Charles W. Reeder and mother, Lydia M. Reeder, met when they were students at nearby Ohio State University. Her father majored in history and was a reference librarian at the university before earning an M.A. and becoming a Professor of Economics. Her mother majored in fine arts and taught art at a local high school.
Growing up, Elizabeth was introduced to nature and wildlife through participating in the Girl Scouts. She spent much of her youth wandering the fields and streams of Ohio and discovered she enjoyed identifying flowers, birds and stars – ultimately earning 34 merit badges (see Figure 4).
Her interest in studying animals kicked in when she took a science course in middle school and became fascinated with dissecting various animals and observing how their tissues and organs were interrelated. This kind of “hands-on” methodology greatly appealed to her.
After high school, Elizabeth followed in her parent’s footsteps and enrolled at Ohio State University (OSU) where she pursued her interest in animals and wildlife by majoring in Zoology. It was not long before she realized she wanted to educate others about flowers, birds and wildlife. After completing her B.A. at OSU, she completed her M.A. in Zoology from Columbia University (New York) and was awarded a position teaching Zoology at the University of Missouri from Dr. Winterton C. Curtis, the head of the Department (see Figure 4a).
Written in the Stars
After graduating high school, Charles enrolled at the University of Missouri on a football scholarship. However, his football career was cut short by an injury. As an undergraduate, Charles had become more serious about art and photography and maintained his love for animals and Missouri’s wildlife. While working toward his B.A., he came under the tutelage of Zoology Professor Dr. Rudolf Bennitt – who was, at the same time, advising Stephens on forming the Missouri Conservation Commission (see Necessity is the Mother of Invention – in Part One).
During this time, Bennitt almost certainly would have informed the passionate young lover of wildlife about the urgent need for trained biologists to guide modern game management and, thus, a fitting career path for Charles W. Schwartz came into focus.
As an undergraduate, Charles was rapidly developing into an outstanding artist and this did not go unnoticed by Dr. Curtis. According to Libby’s memoir, Curtis asked Charles to paint several murals for Lefevre Hall, one of the science buildings on campus (foreshadowing the eight murals he would later do for the Missouri Department of Conservation). Dr. Curtis also asked Charles to provide some illustrations for his revised Textbook of General Zoology – marking the first time any of his drawings were published (see Figure 5).
After receiving his B.A. in 1938, he submitted an application to the new Conservation Commission, however, they were not quite ready to hire more biologists. Therefore, he applied to graduate school at the University of Missouri, desiring an M.A. in Zoology. At this time Charles accepted a graduate assistantship to work with a young female teacher in the Zoology Department, Elizabeth Reeder, who was currently working on her PhD.
According to various accounts, including Libby’s unpublished memoir, Charles was initially assigned to assist Libby by Dr. Curtis because her job including a lot of heavy lifting and, being that she was rather petite (5’3″ and 125 pounds), Curtis reckoned Charles, a “strapping” 6 foot tall, 200 pound football player, could be of help. It wasn’t long before Libby realized “she liked having him around.”
Charles and Libby saw each other almost every day on campus and eventually began to see each other outside of work. They found they shared a great love for the outdoors and wildlife; they enjoyed canoeing and spending time on the water together and Charles showed her how to use and shoot various kinds of guns and took her duck hunting for the first time – which she enjoyed immensely.
At this point the the young couple knew they were destined to spend their lives together; Charles started calling Elizabeth “Libby” because his sister shared the same name and he wanted to create a special identity for her; Libby began calling Charles “Charlie” as most of his family and friends did – and they were soon married. They then spent some time in Yosemite, where Charles worked as a Ranger Naturalist (see Figures 6 and 7).
The fact that the the National Park Service was showing an interest in Charles prompted a letter to the Missouri Conservation Commission from a worried Rudolf Bennitt:
“Schwartz comes of St. Louis German Stock. Since boyhood he has been a born naturalist and has a wide variety of experiences with wild animals – both in the wild and as pets – that cannot be satisfactorily recorded in a statement such as this.’
“During the last few years, his interest has been reflected in his photographic and art work… Personally, I think he is the most promising wildlife photographer I know. Our Art Department people say frankly that he is the best artist they have had…’
“The combination of his skill with his training and experience in wildlife is certain to be useful to some conservation agency. His acceptance into the Yosemite Field School opens the way into Park Service work, but I should hate to see him leave Missouri [my emphasis].”
After returning from Yosemite, Libby received her PhD in Zoology and Charles returned to the University of Missouri, where he continued to work toward his M.A. doing research work on cottontail rabbits. He also resumed working as a graduate assistant in the Zoology Department and completed his training at Missouri’s newly established Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit – originally devised by Aldo Leopold and subsequently championed by Ding Darling as a way to produce the scientifically-trained game management professionals of the future (see Figure 8).
Leopold believed that effective wildlife management should not rely on continual restocking programs in areas where the habitat had been seriously altered or depleted – a practice which had failed Missouri’s game species miserably (see Modern Game Management – in Part One). Rather, he believed that modern science and technology could be used to restore and improve wildlife habitat (food, water, cover) and, once this had been accomplished, abundant crops of ducks, deer and other “valued” species would naturally increase.
Leopold argued that such a herculean task, the restoration of vast areas of habitat that had been decimated in the U.S., could only be accomplished through a cooperative effort on the part of not only federal and state agencies, but with the help of national and local conservation organizations and, especially, sportsman, farmers, ranchers and an educated populace.
In June of 1940, Charles completed his M.A. Around this same time the Commission (later known as the Department of Conservation) learned it would soon receive its first allocation of funds from the Pittman-Robertson Act and so, on July 1, 1940, they hired five new full-time biologists – including Charles, who was brought in as a research biologist for rabbits and, especially, prairie chickens.
Libby (certainly qualified with a PhD in Zoology) also submitted an application to the Commission. However, in a sign of the times, they would not hire her due to her gender. She still quit her job at the university and began a long period where she could be viewed as Charles’ unpaid female assistant. In fact, this marked the start of an inseparable team that would become recognized, worldwide, as among the foremost experts on wildlife conservation.
For her part, Libby was a pioneer – a role model for her gender – allowing young girls across the country to visualize themselves as female scientists. By all accounts, she was just fine with all of it.
According to Libby’s memoir, “Each biologist was given a certain section of the state to supervise for game management and a certain species as his responsibility. Charlie was given seven counties in north-central Missouri and was assigned to study prairie chickens statewide. We were issued an official car, gas coupons, an expense account, and sent on our way. We were delighted.”
Prairie chickens were one of the species that the Commission identified as in need of immediate attention and study. Prior to white contact it was estimated that hundreds of thousands of these birds roamed the grassy plains of what is now Missouri. However, by the 1930s they were approaching extinction – primarily due to overharvesting and habitat loss.
By the middle of the 19th century, prairie chickens had become known as a delicacy across the U.S., due, in part, by Mark Twain including their flavorful meat on his widely publicized “Fantasy Menu”. They subsequently became a prime target of market hunters, who took advantage of the expanding railway system to ship unimaginable quantities (often measured in tons) to big city markets located throughout the country. It has been reported that a skilled market hunter and a good dog could kill more than 50 a birds a day (see Figure 9).
Charles and Libby would later help to prove that it was not just simply a matter of overharvesting the chickens, themselves. The once abundant buffalo would graze on the prairie grasses and make it possible for a certain species of wildflower to emerge each spring – one which, historically, played an important role in the lifecycle of the prairie chicken. After buffalo were all but eradicated in Missouri, the flowers disappeared (a not so obvious level of habitat impairment) and dealt the prairie chicken population a critical blow.
Charles was asked by the Commission to learn “everything he could” about the state’s remaining prairie chicken population and then make recommendations on their management. He believed that the root of the problem (no pun intended) lay in the fact that when the birds were flourishing, much of the environment consisted of prairie grassland soil. After settlers “improved the land” by building structures and raising crops (see The Homestead Act – Part One), they reduced the prairie chicken’s habitat to isolated patches, scattered throughout the state.
In her memoir, Libby provides a concise account of their field work:
“Our first work was to locate the whereabouts of prairie chickens in Missouri and this necessitated securing soil maps of the state. Once we determined the distribution of prairie soils we blocked the area we had to survey. Roughly, this was north-eastern, north-central, and southwestern Missouri.’
“For this phase of our work we drove all over this area, asked farmers if they had prairie chickens on their land, learned what cover supported dense populations or sparse populations, and then created a working map of state-wide prairie chicken distribution and density.’
“The next phase was to locate areas within our seven counties where prairie chickens lived and try to determine their relative densities. For the game management phase of our assignment, we became acquainted with many farmers in our area and met with leaders of sportsmen’s groups. We were able to help them apply techniques to their land (which Charles learned at the research unit) that would improve food, cover and water conditions for wildlife (see Figure 10).”
By fall, Charles and Libby were anxious to study prairie chickens more closely. They did not know that a big surprise lay ahead – a career-defining moment, actually, that would catapult them onto the national conservation management scene.
A farmer told them that a fairly large number of birds congregated on a ridge on his property every fall and so they made plans to check it out. They arrived early, when it was still dark, and carved a sort of blind out of a nearby haystack. In Libby’s words:
“About one-half hour before sunrise the birds started to arrive. Then more birds flew in. And more. There may have been 100 in all. We watched, fascinated. A bird raised [his] long neck feathers, exposed a large orange orange sac that had been hidden under these feathers, raised orange eyebrows, spread [its] wings and tail like a turkey gobbler and danced a few steps on feathered legs. Then came a weird, booming sound – oo-loo-woo. The bird might lower the neck feathers and resume its original size and shape only to repeat this booming again. Everywhere, bird after bird boomed; they were all males.”
What Charles and Libby had just witnessed was a rare display that only occurred in prairie chicken habitat where the weather did not get too cold – a fall revival of the spring courtship display that occurred on special areas called “booming grounds.”
Charles and Libby documented their prairie chicken research, including the fall courtship displays, made an extensive photographic record of this spellbinding natural phenomena and, in 1944, their meticulously researched book became the Conservation Commission’s first publication (and theirs), The Prairie Chicken in Missouri by Charles W. Schwartz (see Figure 11).
A few years later, in 1948, with the backing of Edgar Monsanto Queeny (the founder of Monsanto Corporation), a noted conservationist and also an avid amateur photographer, Charles and Libby made their first wildlife movie. Queeny had received a copy of the prairie chicken book for Christmas and thought the story would make for a good film.
Although Queeny went all out and flew in consultants from Hollywood giant Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), the film appears to be crudely made by today’s standards. However, it was a landmark piece for two reasons – it was the first time the prairie chicken courtship displays were captured on film (and made accessible to audiences around the world) and, as it concerns our present story, it was the beginning of the wildlife movie chapter of the Schwartz’s conservation education career:
Charles and Libby later gave James Alger permission to include their prairie chicken footage in the mainstream documentary The Vanishing Prairie (which was released by Walt Disney Productions in 1954) and this film subsequently won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.
During the same time Charles and Libby were studying prairie chickens in Missouri, another husband and wife biologist team was studying them further north, in Wisconsin. Their names were Frederick and Frances Hamerstrom (see Figure 12). The Hamerstroms, like the Schwartz’s, became internationally known for their work on prairie chickens and, together, the two couples helped save the fascinating species from extinction. For an excellent article on the Hamerstroms, click here.
In the late spring of 1941, the Missouri Conservation Commission decided it would be a good idea for Charles and Libby to make the drive north, meet this other couple and “share notes” if you will. The couple’s research corroborated each other’s perfectly – with the exception of the fall revival. It was then determined that the Wisconsin fall weather was simply not conducive to such a display.
The two couples got on quite well. The Hamerstroms appreciated the work that Charles and Libby were doing with the prairie chickens in Missouri and realized their mentor would want to meet them. He was a professor at the University of Wisconsin, where the Hamerstroms were research fellows. Recently, in 1940, Fran became the only woman ever to earn a graduate degree under him and later in 1941 (subsequent to the Schwartz’s visit), Fred would become the only person to earn a PhD under him.
Hitherto, the same man had played a major role in developing the Schwartz’s own philosophy and methods of game management; via classroom lectures and informal advice from Dr. Rudolf Bennitt, conversations with Starker Leopold and as a result of the comprehensive training Charles received at the Missouri Cooperative Research Unit. You have probably guessed his name…
Prior to this formal introduction, some accounts suggest that Charles and Libby might have already met Aldo Leopold once or twice in passing. Either while Leopold was in Missouri doing field work, advising Syd Stephens and the Commission or visiting his son, Starker, who lived in a house on the same piece of property as the Schwartz’s.
The encounter in Wisconsin was different, however, for it gave Charles and Libby a chance to get to know Leopold better in a relaxed setting (The Shack, for conservation aficionados), share ideas and begin a personal friendship. For Leopold, it was an opportunity to gauge the potential of this adept young couple – not quite yet a rising force in the conservation and environmental movements.
Leopold obviously come away with a favorable impression, for he would subsequently make a sage recommendation on their behalf which would not only give Charles and Libby’s career a major boost, it would greatly enrich their lives and allow them to become principles in the fascinating backstory for one of the most popular federal duck stamps of all time.
Aldo Leopold was born and raised a couple of hundred miles north of St Louis, in Burlington, Iowa. His maternal grandfather was an avid naturalist, imparting a love of the outdoors first to Aldo’s mother, Clara, and then to Aldo, himself. Clara was also a highly educated and sophisticated woman, introducing Aldo to philosophy and poetry at a early age.
Aldo’s father, Carl, was a serious outdoorsman, hunter and lover of the forest. He was also a man of great integrity. Carl frequently included young Aldo on his outdoor trips, where he taught him how to hunt (which Aldo very much enjoyed) and impressed upon his son a code of sportsmanship, honor and ethics – a mindset where there was no room for excessive, wasteful killing of birds or animals (see Figure 13).
Like his father, Aldo gravitated toward woodcraft and grew to feel at home in a forest environment. As a teenager he worked hard to eventually become accepted at the first American forestry school, which had been established at Yale University. Upon graduation form Yale he became a member of the nascent U.S. Forest Service, where he continued to push the service to continually redefine and expand its mission to include ethical stewardship of not just trees and timber, but all of the forest’s resources – which he initially defined as “timber, water, forage, farm, game, fish and scenic.”
The next phase in Aldo’s life saw him become an ardent proponent of preserving wilderness areas and developing soil conservation programs, all of which he would incorporate into his holistic approach; first toward game management and then, ultimately, wildlife conservation in general.
Aldo was the first to recognize the need for “scientifically-trained specialists to do professional wildlife management, research, and administration.” Subsequently, he advised Ding Darling on how to set up Cooperative Research Units nationwide, where game management trainees learned the necessity of cooperation among all levels and walks of life; to include the federal government, state conservation agencies, national and local conservation organizations and clubs, hunters, farmers, ranchers and, arguably most important, a general populace educated about wildlife and ecology.
Via the research units and later as chair of the first graduate program in game management at the University of Wisconsin at Madison (see Figure 14), Aldo was able to produce capable wildlife management professionals with an understanding for the need to work with farmers and landowners to provide birds and wildlife with a healthy habitat – including the essential cover, food and water. He outlined some of his initial goals in an interview which was published in the Milwaukee Journal:
“To conduct research in the life history of Wisconsin birds and animals; develop cropping methods suitable for their [the birds and animals] increase; train men to devise and apply such methods; impart to other students a general understanding of the wild life conservation problem; assist farmers and other landowners in selecting and applying cropping methods; integrate game with other uses of the land; and advise conservation officers on questions of wild life management and policy.”
Aldo’s work showed that once habitat restoration was achieved, wild species could first regain a toehold – and then successfully move toward population equilibrium in a natural or “organic” way.
Aldo was a scientist, teacher, philosopher, essayist and poet and, in so many different ways, a progressive thinker. By 1937, Aldo’s’ Game Management 118 had become one of the most popular classes on campus. He now had seven graduate students, including Fred and Fran Hamerstrom (see Figure 15). According to Fran:
“Aldo Leopold was the first professor I ever heard of to accept a girl graduate student. The very thought of a female wildlifer was so bizarre that it hardly bore consideration… [However] Aldo evaluated people – and was way ahead of his time in saying Nay to sex discrimination.”
Based on Libby’s recent experience with the Conservation Commission, this would no doubt have endeared Aldo to her. As they chatted at the shack in Wisconsin, Charles and Aldo quickly realized they were were kindred spirits. Aldo also no doubt appreciated the way the Schwartz’s had faithfully applied his principles to their work with Missouri farmers – helping them apply techniques to their land (which Charles had learned at the research unit) that would improve food, cover and water conditions for prairie chickens and Missouri wildlife.
On December 15, 1941, shorty after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Libby gave birth to their first child, Barbara. Although Charles did not qualify for active duty due to a nasal condition, the Schwartz’s would soon find themselves in the South Pacific. On may 20, 1944, Bruce Schwartz was born and shortly thereafter the President of the Board of Agriculture and Forestry in the Territory of Hawaii asked Charles and Libby if they would move to the Islands, make a survey of of Hawaiian game birds and help set up a game management program for Hawaii.
The Hawaiian Board was specifically looking to upgrade their Division of Fish and Game by adopting scientific methods. Based on their proficient work with prairies chickens and the positive feeling that both he and the Hamerstroms developed for Charles and Libby when they visited Wisconsin, it was Aldo Leopold who recommended them for this assignment.
Saving the Nene Goose
It is widely believed (and supported by fossil records) that the “native” Nene came to live in Hawaii as a result of a flock of migrating Canada geese getting blown off course and arriving in the Islands some 500,000 years ago – roughly the same time the youngest of the archipelago (the “Big Island” of Hawaii) had risen above the surface of the Pacific Ocean.
After arriving, the Canadian geese became more terrestrial, undergoing a series of evolutionary adaptations that allowed them to 1) blend into their new (predominantly lava field) environment and 2) better traverse it: The Nene have a black head, with a black stripe continuing down the back of it’s neck. There are also distinctive black striations all around the neck. Unlike other geese, their feet are not completely webbed, the pads on the bottom are thicker and their toes are longer. In addition, as it was no longer necessary to fly south for the winter, their wings became shorter.
Once plentiful, their numbers underwent a steep decline to the point where it seemed likely they would soon become extinct. The story of their survival involves a number of people who played a significant role. Perhaps the best place to start is with Paul Baldwin (see Figure 16).
A Man with Keen Powers of Observation
Paul. H Baldwin was born on February 26, 1913, in Berkeley, California to George H. Baldwin and Corrine B. Baldwin. His mother collected seashells and pine cones and introduced Paul to the natural world at a very young age. She taught him to slow down and helped him to develop keen powers of observation. Paul would later attended U.C. Berkeley and, in 1936, he graduated with a B.A. in Zoology (eight years before Starker Leopold would complete his PhD in Zoology there).
After graduating from Berkeley, Baldwin accepted a job with the National Park Service and moved to the Big Island of Hawaii where he served in various capacities as a biologist and park ranger. As it concerns our story, Baldwin was, arguably, the first of our protagonists to bring the plight of the Nene to worldwide attention. This was achieved in 1945, with the publication of his “The Hawaiian Goose, It’s Distribution and Reduction in Numbers” in The Condor, a scientific journal devoted to the conservation, management and ecology of birds.
In the paper, Baldwin reported that the Nene’s distribution had had decreased dramatically with the increasing arrival of white men starting in the mid 19th century. From 1800 to 1900 their range on the Big Island decreased from an estimated 2,925 square miles to 1,150 – a drop of over 50%. Baldwin attributed much of this to man made activities, including the introduction of non-native predators such as the mongoose.
Mongooses were imported to the islands from India in 1883 by the sugar cane industry in an attempt to control rats in the cane fields. They failed to accomplish this purpose – but had a devastating effect on the Nene population. As the Nene had evolved without mammalian predators, they were easy targets (see Figure 17).
Their reduction in numbers was even more startling. Baldwin estimated the number of Nene living in the archipelago to be 25,000 in in the 1700s. However, when he published his paper in 1945, Baldwin reported the total number of surviving Nene to be less than 50 birds.
The Schwartzes Move to Hawaii
After Baldwin’s paper was published, Colin Lennox, the President of the Board of Agriculture and Forestry in the Territory of Hawaii, contacted Aldo Leopold for a recommendation and he named the Schwartzes from Missouri. According to Libby’s memoir, “[Then] everything happened very fast.”
The voyage was quick and within a week the Schwartz family had arrived on the Big Island. Similar to their work with the prairie chickens, their first goal was to acquire a vegetation map of the Islands. Once this was located, they set about their mission:
“Our job was to survey the game birds that were native or introduced into Hawaii and to determine where they lived, their approximate densities and actual numbers, what they ate, when they reproduced, and what was their survival rate.”
According to an interview Libby gave to Laurie Peach in 1992, the couple scoured the the Hawaiian Islands from sea level to volcano top for [close to] two years, ” Charlie would collect the birds and I would stay in camp, dissecting them on the tailgate of our jeep and watching the kids while they played in the volcanic dust” (see Figure 18).
At the end of 1947, after completing their assignment, the Schwartz’s returned to Missouri. Prior to leaving they met with the Board of Agriculture and Forestry. According to Libby’s memoir, they agreed to produce two reports, a technical one for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and one for popular use. The latter would play a major role in our story.
Enter Sir Peter Scott
After they arrived back in Missouri, Charles was contacted by Sir Peter Scott, who had heard about the Schwartz’s recent work in Hawaii and and asked if they could arrange to have live Nene or eggs transported to England and his Refuge at Slimbridge. This would mark the beginning of a lifetime friendship (and mutual admiration) between two of the greatest wildlife artists and conservationists of the 20th century.
Peter Markham Scott was born on September 14, 1909, on Buckingham Palace Road to the famous explorer Robert Falcon Scott (discoverer of the South Polar or Antarctic Plateau) and the sculptor Kathleen Scott (three busts in London’s National Portrait Gallery).
Duncan Wilson, author of Making the Nene Matter: Valuing Life in Postwar Conservation, stated “Scotts Fascination with geese started when he attended boarding school in Cambridgeshire and began sketching grey geese found on local floodwaters. After arriving at Trinity College, Cambridge, to read natural sciences in 1927, Scott became a ‘fanatical waterfowler’, who divided his time between painting and shooting geese” (see Figure 19).
In time Scott became more interested in studying birds (keeping them alive) rather than shooting them. He traveled across Europe and the U.S., developing a network of contacts among wildlife reserve personal and private collectors. He also trapping birds and brought them back to England, keeping them in enclosures on his property much as Charles Schwartz did in his youth. There he would detail their habits as he painted them.
In 1938, Scott found out that Herbert Shipman, a rancher, orchid grower and conservationist in Hilo, had a small flock of Nene, the only private one in the world. Wilson continued, “Before Scott could travel to Hawaii, however, Britain declared war on Germany, and he was called up to the Royal Navy.” It would be ten years before Scott resumed his interest in the Nene.
By this time (1946) Scott had established the Severn Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust at Slimbridge, on the River Severn in Gloucester, as a wildlife sanctuary and scientific research center – dedicated to the conservation of waterfowl.
Charles informed Scott that he and Libby had agreed to publish a book based on their research and findings in the Islands. Scott is reported to have been very enthusiastic and believed it would prove a game changer for the Nene – bringing attention to their situation to the world’s general population (many of whom were conservation minded by this point in time) as opposed to the relatively limited number of government officials, biologists and ornithologists who had access to Baldwin’s paper in The Condor or the Schwartz’s report to the USFWS – and, in the process, creating support for Scott’s plans to breed (in England) and restock the Nene.
The Game Birds of Hawaii
As Charles had resumed working for the Conservation Commission, it was primarily Libby who finished the manuscript and then had it delivered to the Board of Agriculture and Forestry in Hawaii. It was published, in 1949, as A Reconnaissance Of The Game Birds in Hawaii.
Their research indicated sufficient food was available for the Nene, however, adequate cover in breeding areas was lacking. Their explanation for decreased numbers basically corroborated Baldwin’s findings; overharvesting, a heavy toll from introduced predators (the Schwartz’s would team with Baldwin to publish a paper zeroing in on the mongoose in 1952), and a changing vegetative pattern due to a change in land-use practices.
In their closing recommendations the Schwartz’s acknowledged the Nene’s situation was so dire, it would require a combination of old and new game management techniques to afford the species any chance to avoid extinction – including securing breeding stock from captive birds, propagation and, ultimately, restocking, “To permit this tragedy to occur without exerting more effort than has done would be unpardonable [my emphasis]“ (see Figures 20 – 22).
As Scott predicted, the Schwartz’s well-researched book garnered a great deal of attention and was named the “Most outstanding publication in Wildlife Ecology and Management during 1949-50” by the North American Wildlife Society. It created broad support for saving the Nene goose and their closing statement was a call to action that simply could not be ignored.
Breeding Programs Established at Pohakuloa and Slimbridge
At this point (August, 1949) the Hawaii Board of Commissioners allocated funds to establish a Nene breeding program at a Forestry, Fish & Game Camp located within the Pohakuloa (military) Training Area on the Big Island. This appeared to be appropriate habitat, situated on a high plateau between Mauna Loa, Mauna Kea and Hualalai volcanic mountains and, at the direction of the Schwartz’s, improvements were made to ensure adequate food, cover and water (see Figure 23).
Shipman either gave or loaned (accounts differ) two pairs of breeding Nene to the program run by ornithologist J. Donald Smith. According to Wilson, these were supplemented in early 1950 by another pair from the Honolulu Zoo. Unfortunately, the local breeding program got off to a rocky start.
Reaching out for help, Smith sought an advisor from Slimbridge, and Sir Peter Scott sent his curator, John Yealland, to the Big Island in 1950. Yealland made several constructive suggestions and, in a spirit of cooperation and gratitude, Shipman and Smith decided to send back with him the breeding pair that Scott has so long desired.
After a little sorting out, Slimbridge was successful in producing nine goslings. Scott subsequently stated the twelve Nene “probably represented about twenty percent of the world’s population.”
Becoming Hawaii’s State Bird
Wilson maintains that, back in Hawaii, (white) people who promoted the Nene restoration project took a different slant; perhaps overly interested in the Nene’s more tangible socioeconomic and political possibilities. He quotes Donald Smith, for example, as saying the efforts to save the Nene were a “worthy cause because they allowed for the preservation of something of old Hawaii for the education of tourists and residents alike.”
Wilson is implying that, on some level, the Nene was commodified – in much the same way as the romanticized Hula girl (see Remembering Harry Foglieta – Part Two). In 1957, Paul Breese, the first Director of the Honolulu Zoo and Director of Hawaii’s Board of Public Parks and Recreation fashioned a resolution to make the Nene the official bird of the Islands – it came at a time when (primarily) white Hawaiian business leaders were trying to achieve statehood.
It did not escape their attention that every other state and the Territory of Alaska (which was also vying for statehood), had a state bird. Therefore, they threw their full support behind the resolution and the Territorial Senate quickly adopted the Nene as “the bird emblematic of the Territory.”
On October, 13, 1958, the Washington Evening Star announced: “Uncle Sam is about to join in the effort to keep Hawaii’s Nene (pronounced Nay Nay) from being a gone goose.” Just ten months later (on August 21, 1959), Hawaii was granted statehood and the Nene became their official state bird (see Figures 24 and 25).
As more funding was made available to the breeding programs at Pohakuloa and Slimbridge, great strides were made. By the end of 1959, the Nene flock at Pohakuloa numbered 48, Shipman had increased the size of his private flock to 40 and the total Nene population, including those at Slimbridge, topped 200.
Our Final Protagonist – Stanley Stearns
The next chapter in our story concerns the involvement of our final protagonist, Stanley Stearns, the winner of three federal duck stamp contests; in 1954, 1963 and 1965. It was in 1963 that Stearns submitted his winning entry featuring a pair of Nene geese (see Figure 26).
When discussing this blog series with Russell Fink, I asked him if he knew why Stearns picked the Nene. He told me that Stearns was always looking for “something different” to paint and that he was “a champion of endangered species.”
With this in mind, and knowing that Stearns lived in Maryland when the article shown in Figure 24 was published, it was tempting to jump to the conclusion that he had read the article and it provided his inspiration. While the article may have somehow factored into his decision, it turns out that Stearns had a much deeper (and cooler) connection to the Nene.
According to the Stanley Stearn’s biography (on page 50) in Duck Stamp Prints by Stearns and Fink, “As a boy he had many interests, wildlife being one of them, and he took every opportunity to go on geological field trips with his father.” When I reminded Russ of this – and the fact that Stanley spent his childhood in Hawaii (ages 4 – 14) and the fact that Paul Baldwin was working in the same vicinity for at least two of those years – the lightbulbs flashed in both of our heads at the same time!
“Well, there you go” Russ said, “There is your inspiration.” Not only would Stanley have encountered Nene in the wild on many occasions while walking the countryside with his father, he almost certainly came into contact with Paul Baldwin and learned about the plight of the Nene straight from the horse’s (Baldwin’s) mouth. Stanley may have also met Shipman while accompanying his father and, perhaps, spent time with the Nene on Shipman’s ranch (the “Big” Island was actually a small world in those days).
Stearns selected the printing firm of George C. Miller & Son, in New York City, to engrave a litho stone reproducing his winning artwork and then “pull” two limited edition (665 in the 1st edition; 100 in the 2nd edition) “duck stamp prints” for sale to collectors, wildlife art lovers, conservationists and (in this case) Hawaiian citizens to proudly display in their homes and offices (see Figures 27 – 29).
A total of 1,573,155 stamps were sold (at $3.00 each), raising nearly five million dollars for the federal duck stamp program – some of which went back to fund the breeding program at Pohakalua. Both the stamp and the print have proved very popular over time and have brought a great deal of attention to the effort to save the Nene. This has resulted in increased funding not just for the federal duck stamp program – but (indirectly) for the breeding program at Slimbridge, as well.
By the mid 1970s, Scott and the Severn Wildfowl Trust had sent over 200 Nene to Maui, enough to establish a stable flock on the island. In part due to the positive publicity and funding it received from helping to save the Nene, the Trust grew tremendously and now welcomes over a million visitors a year to nine wetland centers in the UK. At many of these centers you can see Nene geese, a lasting tribute to Sir Peter Scott’s role in our story (see Figures 30 and 31).
According to “Good for the Goose” an article written by Shannon Wianecki for Hana Hou! The Magazine of Hawaiian Airlines in March of 2012, “After their successful reintroduction to Haleakala, nene were released elsewhere on Maui and [on] other islands. At last count there were 386 on Maui, 480 on Hawaii, 112 on Molokai, and 1,000 on Kauai – almost 2,000 birds total.”
Since 2012, the Hawaiian Nene population has steadily increased. According to an article which appeared in The Hawaii Tribune Herald on April 3, 2018, “Conservationists say a new proposal to reclassify the nene from endangered to threatened shows ‘great strides’ have been made in recovering the species, whose population dropped to 30 [birds] in 1960.’
“Last week, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed reclassifying the nene, or Hawaiian goose, under the Endangered Species Act because it no longer is in danger of going extinct in the foreseeable future… Today there are more than 2,800 statewide, including 1,095 on Hawaii Island.” On December 19, 2019, this became a reality.
For Charles and Libby Schwartz, their role in saving the Nene was yet another salient milestone (from reading Libby’s memoir I infer they did not realize it at the time – they were simply doing work they believed in and spending precious time with their family) in what would become a long and far-reaching career.
Happy Holidays & Extended Cuts!
As many people are now sheltering in place for the second time in 2020, it feels different. No longer caught unawares, we have been steeled by the events of the past year and much of our uncertainty has been replaced by hope and resolve. If we collectively remain vigilant, strong and kind, we will get through this and, perhaps, find ourselves in a better place. A place where we will have a much greater understanding and appreciation for the world we live in and seldom take things for granted.
In the spirit of giving during this unique holiday season, I have prepared a couple of bonus features for your enjoyment:
For the Aldo Leopold – Extended Cut, click here.
For the Saving The Nene Goose – Extended Cut, click here.
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