Dr. Dan Decker was awarded the Aldo Leopold Memorial Award this past Monday, October 15. The award is described as follows:
Aldo Leopold Memorial Award
Following Aldo Leopold’s death in April 1948, The Wildlife Society established an award medal in his memory to recognize individuals who have demonstrated “distinguished services of undoubted significance to the cause of wildlife conservation.” It is our highest honor. We are proud to recognize Dr. Daniel Decker as the 2012 Aldo Leopold Memorial Award winner.
Daniel J. Decker
In Meine’s (1988) book: Aldo Leopold: His life and Work, Leopold is quoted as saying:
“One of the anomalies of modern ecology is the creation of two groups, each of which seems barely aware of the existence of the other. The one studies the human community, almost as if it were a separate entity, and calls its findings sociology, economics and history. The other studies the plant and animal community and comfortably relegates the hodge-podge of politics to the liberal arts. The inevitable fusion of these two lines of thought will, perhaps, constitute the outstanding advance of this century.”
In truth, we as a profession struggled for many years on how to understand and incorporate public opinion and their values into wildlife management without sacrificing the biological relevance of wildlife management. Traditional wildlife management focused on applied wildlife biology in all its evolving sophistication. But as been pointed out elsewhere, wildlife management decision-making has become as much a socio-political issue as a biological one. Managers are faced with publics that have become vocal about wildlife issues and now demand a full role in the decision- making process. Many of us in this room were not trained to understand, much less to cope with, these challenges. Yet the rapid ascent of Human Dimension in into a field of wildlife study at more than 55 universities and countless professional training programs attests to the devotion and tireless efforts of is champions in just a few short years.
This years’ winner of the Aldo Leopold Award is one of the most successful of these champions in recent times. He is an outstanding leader, who has guided us down the path of integrating Human Dimensions into our field in both in an effective, applied manner and to a compelling end.
This year’s winner grew up in his native Catskills of New York where his passion for wildlife was fueled by hunting deer and stalking wary waterfowl tucked away in the back waters along the Delaware River. He soon went on to earn a Bachelor of Science in wildlife ecology at Cornell University. He remained at Cornell, where he earned both a Masters and PhD degrees in wildlife by the mid-1980s.
Although his roots began in conventional wildlife sciences, he moved toward a human dimensions orientation because he believed that he would contribute more toward sustainable conservation decisions through this line of research and outreach than if he followed the traditional path. He was among the first and most productive wildlife scientists to recognize importance of the human dimensions. He has produced several hundred publications including numerous seminal papers and several first-time books in Wildlife Values and Human Dimensions; he put his written word into practical training by developing pragmatic workshops, which have been instrumental in helping state and federal agencies implement new knowledge into their management programs– something that has generated strong support from his governmental sponsors, as his strong letters of support for the Aldo Leopold Award illustrate.
His ties to Cornell proved deep, and despite short excursions elsewhere, it was at Cornell University that for over 35 years he has fostered his work in Human Dimensions in wildlife. From 1982 to the present, he has been Co-leader or Director of the Human Dimensions Research Unit, a flagship research entity that has educated many wildlife professionals working in this area. Although the Human Dimensions Research Unit dates back to the early 1970s and has employed many fine scientists, the Unit’s trajectory of growth and impact in wildlife conservation and management since 1982 has been almost single-handedly fueled by this year’s recipient of the Aldo Leopold Award. The Unit now consists of 27 faculty, staff and graduate students, is the leader in this arena of applied scholarship, and has earned an international reputation for training academicians, students and nature resource agency staff.
In his position at the Human Dimensions Research Unit, the recipient promoted applied research in the fields of conservation education and human dimensions, and translated research findings for resource professionals via publications, presentations, workshops, and with sabbatical leaves working directly with public agencies. His recent research and outreach efforts have positioned the wildlife management profession for greater relevance in the future, by tackling the human dimensions across a range of tough subjects, ranging from suburban wildlife to adaptive harvest management to local community-based management, to hunter retention, and wildlife habituation in National Parks. It is these devoted efforts that has resulted in his long list of publications and produced a cadre of exceptional graduate student ambassadors who have carried on in the field. His efforts across the board have been visionary and have challenged professionals to help them become better leaders, decision makers, and overall stewards in trust of the natural resources. And all these efforts occurred at the same time as holding positions such as Chairman in the Department of Natural Resources, Director of the Cornell University Agricultural Experiment Station, Associate Dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and Director of the Office of Land Grant Affairs, and conducting research projects nationally and internationally.
Past awards bestowed on this year’s Aldo Leopold recipient attest to his unique contributions in the field of human dimensions. Among those are the Jack H. Berryman Institute for Wildlife Damage Management Award and the Daniel L. Leedy Urban Wildlife Conservation Award. He also has been recognized by The Wildlife Society. He was awarded the Wildlife Publication Award for his co-edited book, Wildlife and Society: The Science of Human Dimensions (2009), he was elected a Wildlife Fellow, he received the John Pearce Memorial Award from the Northeast Section of TWS, and Outstanding Wildlife Professional Award from the New York Chapter of TWS. His service to The Wildlife Society has been no less outstanding. He moved through the ranks from Northeast Section President in 1988 to vice President to President of TWS from 2001 to 2005, a time of strain in The Society, when his leadership in thinking “outside the box” put us back on the road to success and left us with legacies such as the Wildlife Professional.