Wildlife Management Institute

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Wednesday, 14 January 2009 14:48
book coverAside from a personal connection to It’s a Long Way from Llano: The Journey of a Wildlife Biologist, I was enthralled by its autobiographical content.  It was authored by friend, colleague and wildlife conservation hero, Dr. James G. Teer.   Jim not only is a world-class biologist, but he tells a really good story.  
This is a memoir, not a brag book.  It is about Jim’s path from a decidedly humble background and borderline Peck’s Bad Boy youth in the Catholic Czech community of Granger, amid blackland prairie of central Texas, to Pacific Islands courtesy of the U.S. Navy, to gandy dancing in Alaska Territory.  It tracks his ricochets through higher education—thanks to the “godsend” GI Bill—at Texas A&I (A&M), Iowa State University and the University of Wisconsin, including research at frigid Forney Lake in Iowa, during destructive wind tides at the Delta Waterfowl Research Station in Manitoba, and on his beloved Llano Basin in Texas.  It chronicles Jim’s stint with the Texas Game, Fish and Oyster Commission and a 30-year career in academia at Mississippi State, Texas A&M and University of Pretoria (South Africa).  It discusses his two decades as executive director of the Rob and Bessie Welder Wildlife Foundation at the King Ranch in Texas.  

Little is made of the many honors and accolades given Jim for his work in the United States, Latin American and Africa, not least of which is the Aldo Leopold Memorial Award (1992).  Little is said of his substantial contributions to wildlife research and to the professional literature.  Little is mentioned of the number and successes of his graduate students who now bolster the leadership ranks of the wildlife management profession.

It’s a Long Way from Llano reviews the adolescent years of wildlife science from the perspective of one who strove to succeed in it.  It is a collection and preservation of “lifetimes of talent, wisdom, beauty, understanding and joy”—a tribute to the time, people and purpose that are cornerstones of wildlife conservation.  It is, subtly, with wit and wisdom, both a conveyance of insight and a passing of the torch of conviction for enlightened natural resource management.

Some of the wit:
“Naked as a picked bird and with a great Tarzan yell, we would drop into the blue hole as far out from the bank as possible…. The smaller boys stayed in the water, measuring its depth from time to time with the words “peter deep, peter deep,’ always good for a laugh.”
“…most [wildlife biologists] wear jeans, boots, and sometimes a wide-brimmed hat but usually a baseball cap with someone’s advertising on it.”
“Emmit took me aside and said, ‘Jim, this guy [a newly graduated student working on a deer survey project] ain’t going to make it…. Why don’t you send him packing?’”  Jim didn't, and the former grad student still goes by the name of Jack Ward Thomas.
“Around the campfire one night, George complained several times about smoke getting in his eyes.  W.A. said to him, ‘George, you’re a Ph.D.  Get up and move.’”

Some of the wisdom:  
“Many of us followed hunting and fishing into careers in wildlife biology because we knew the natural world and liked it.”
“Caring for the earth has to be more than a clever one-liner or entreaty.”
“In my view (not shared by many of my persuasion), fair chase does not ring true as a valid defense of hunting…. The score of any contest between hunter and prey, if there is such a thing as a contest, will always be hunter 1; game, 0.  I believe other arguments—biological and economic, for example—must be made to justify hunting.”
“Poverty is the greatest enemy of conservation.”
“Most conservation efforts are doomed to failure if impacts on nature are not considered in efforts to improve people’s living conditions.”
“I am convinced that employment in a conservation agency should be a requirement for employment in [wildlife science and management] academia.”

A fair portion of the book deals with Jim’s work with exotics in Texas, with a host of native game in Africa, with great cats and with fat cat conservation (my term, not his).  Each part is a synthesized case study and fascinating.

Long before he crafted this 152-page memoir, Jim Teer had crafted a significant legacy in wildlife management.  It’s a Long Way from Llano merely, eloquently adds to it.

The hardcover book is available from Texas A&M Press (http://www.tamu.edu/upress/) for $29.95.