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Jim Teer

DATE: March 5, 2008
LOCATION: College Station, Texas
TRANSCRIBER: Melanie Weisbecker and Robin Johnson
REELS: 2441 and 2442

Please note that the recording includes roughly 60 seconds of color bars and sound tone for technical settings at the outset of the reels. Numbers correlate with the time codes on the VHS tape copy of the interview. “Misc.” refers to various off-camera conversation or background noise, unrelated to the interview.

DT: My name is David Todd. I’m here for the Conservation History Association of Texas. We’re outside of College Station, Texas and it is March 5, 2008 and we’re lucky to be visiting with Dr. Jim Teer who is—who’d been a leading wildlife researcher and—and professor here in Texas and—and actually around the world. He’s been a professor at Texas A&M and the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences, Director of that and Director of the Welder Wildlife Foundation and has worked with Texas Game and Fish Commission and—and also Mississippi State University and U.S. Fish and Wildlife service, so lots of stops along the way. And I just wanted to thank you for taking the time to talk about his career and his life and—and wildlife.
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JT: Thank you David.
DT: I thought we might start by visiting a little bit about your childhood and if there might have been experiences that might have led you into an interest in this field.
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JT: Yes, I think being reared in a agrarian society as I was you can’t help but get involved in conservation in one way or anther. And my family were farmers so to speak or at least in agriculture, and so I had ample opportunity to learn about the natural world and how it was being used or misused and also about where management could help obviate some of that. This was at Granger, Texas which is just thirty or forty miles out of Austin and I was born there. As a matter of fact I was born on the—on my family’s kitchen table. As you may remember or know, a lot of the births in those days were births at home. And in my particular case, I was told that my mother had my father bring the car so he could shine it through the windows on the birthing bed and—because it was—they needed light. And so I came
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into the world very—without ostentation or any other thing that singled me out as a conservationist at—at—at that time. But I had a lot of acc—access to the rivers and creeks and tanks and ponds and all kinds of agricultural land to hunt and fish and to recreate one way or the other as boys do. So it became a lifelong interest in my time. We had many opportunities to see the world at least locally and that’s—that was the main interest that most of us at my age had. So it was a—a great example or a great leader to get into conservation coming from the land.
DT: Can you remember any of the maybe little hunting or fishing expeditions that you might have had?
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JT: Well there were many of them. There were many of them and we took every opportunity to take—take part in them. And—but I had several young friends at my age in high school, and I can give you their names, August Pritsine who was a Czech kid, another one was Donald Bennett and another was Robert Baker and myself. The four of us really ran around together and into the nature and the natural world. But beyond that, when I went beyond high school and went to college, I—I got out of the U.S. Navy in 1946 and went directly to school and being that I went to school under became close friends. They took me under their wing as mentors and helped me with what I was trying to do. And it—it was successful I think. The people that I can recall their names now was Dr. W.B. Davis at Texas A&M, he was a mammalogist,
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Dr. Edward L. Kozicky at Iowa State University where I got my master’s degree and then finally the University of Wisconsin where I had hoped to study under Aldo Leopold but he died before I had a chance to know him very well. And these men became lifelong friends. They were—they were my major professors or chief professors in my training years and for some reason we never—we always ran around together, hunted together, fished together and they’re all conservationists. Those of you who know about Leopold certainly know that Aldo Leopold was a—had an office there at 424 University Farm Place on the campus at Madison and he—all the students that had worked with him or under him were at his office there in that
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same building, he wanted close contact with his students. Unfortunately as I’ve said, he—he passed away about two years after—before I got there and so I missed knowing him as a personality. But nonetheless, people that worked with him or studied under him had a lot of the same traits that he had and so I thought at the time that if you can’t study under him, you study under somebody that he produced.
DT: So you were going to schools and wildlife management, fishery science at a time when—when these programs were quite young. This was in the forties and early fifties.
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JT: Yes.
DT: Can you tell what it was like when they were s—still organizing and orienting these—these departments?
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JT: Those days when things were just getting off the ground mainly with the Pittman-Robertson money for the state, there were people who studied the natural history more than management. They needed a chart to understand and catalog the kinds of animals and plants and habitats that were out there. So that was one of the first things that the State Game Department did was to assign their staff to—as a description—to get the descriptions of what was there and what was being done with it.
DT: Were there—was it more of an effort to…
DT: So that I understand this, it—it seems that at that time schools were trying to do taxonomy and inventories rather than…
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JT: That’s right.
DT: Than teaching how to manipulate habitats…
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JT: That’s right.
DT: To benefit different species.
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JT: It was—it was a description science and trying to chart and describe everything that’s there, that was the first step in making any kind of management plan to understand what was there. And so a lot of the efforts at A&M and other places was toward that end and management didn’t come right then. It was some years later when it—when it became fashionable or needed. There was a lot of complaint against that. People in the hunting industry, for example, wanted it more—their money being spent for game species, not very much for birds and small mammals and other things that lived there. So it was a controversial situation in the early days. There was oftentimes, well I don’t want to say that. I think that’s it.
DT: Well and was it sort of an—an analytical academic sort of research or was it very applied?
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JT: No, it was as just as you said, David, that it was more academic than applied. And a lot of the hunters and fisherman and so on that were using the natural world for their purposes wanted more money put into game species. But as you probably know, that has changed now. That’s one of the major changes in conservation that has taken place in the last two decades. And the field has enlarged to include birds and mammals, all kinds of critters and management plans. I got to look at my notes, I’m sorry.
DT: Sure.
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JT: Shortly before World War II…
DT: Well if I could just put the question, we—we were just talking about your childhood and maybe you could outline—give us a context for the sort of education you were getting that maybe you can tell us about whether the Dust Bowl was an issue in your area or whether there—many kinds of wildlife were common particularly game species sort of, maybe like white-tailed deer or wild turkey.
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JT: There was not so much wildlife at the end of the thirties, they had been shot out or killed out one way or the other and so it—it was a hard scrabble existence for people and they used this wildlife for food. And there was a lot of people who—that’s what they—they lived off the land the best they could. And the Dust Bowl, per se, I saw Lubbock pass Texas one time (laughs). Dust Bowls sent a lot of that sand across even South Texas and—but it was not anything that caused problems to people. Maybe people with asthma or something like that who had some problems but for the most part, in terms of conservation, it was—the main problem was with waterfowl and during the drought the thir—of the mid-thirties, that’s when waterfowl became very important in conservation work. Well, there was very little
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encouragement or very much instruction from my family to where I should—what I should study. We were poor We—we had to make ends meet and nobody heard a lot about careers or about the kinds of things we take for granted nowadays. If you went—usually if you went to—to college it was because the—the person’s family had enough money to send them. But what broke it open was GI Bill, and GI Bill gave enough support for young men and women to go through college and study what they thought was to be their career. There was very little to go over as most went to work shortly after they got out of college. Many had to go through two or more degrees to do that. In my case, when I got out and graduated from A&M in 1950, there—I tried to get a job and there were none and so I started looking for
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graduate—graduate studies using the GI Bill to support it and ended up with a—with a scholarship to Iowa State and worked there for two years or a little over with waterfowl which was very fashionable at that time and needed. And after—after completing that degree, I went to the University of Wisconsin under—under a scholarship to Leopold and spent four years in—in a doctoral program with him, or with his successors. And so I had—I thought I had good grounding and I had no further interest in trying to get a job after that. But in those days, it was diff—difficult. There wasn’t many jobs and people were graduating quite a few more than they were being s—employed.
DT: You—you mentioned in passing that you took your master’s at Iowa State and that you studied waterfowl among other things. Why was waterfowl, I think you said sort of fashionable at the time? What was the need for it?
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JT: That’s poor words, I should say that because of the Dust Bowl days and the drought of the thirties, waterfowl were in really tough straits and President Roosevelt called a conference in—at the time and—to try to secure better futures for waterfowl, legislation, Pittman-Robertson Act and some others and it—it kind of bailed waterfowl out because they were in real danger of just being lost. I studied—I studied waterfowl for my master’s and partly for a PhD. I finished off but then went to work in Texas, however.
DT: Did you find that—that there was a different research interest from Texas to Iowa State to Wisconsin?
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JT: I think that they probably were the same and the solutions were usually the same trying to make sure that waterfowl have places to live and die, nest and so on. I don’t know how else to phrase that.
DT: Well were there some early efforts of protecting wetlands and creating ponds for stopover for these waterfowl?
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JT: There was—there—Ducks Unlimited had gotten underway some time after the Dust Bowl was almost over but they—they were much involved in trying to protect habitat and to create habitat but it was—it—it was a s—problem in those days and still is. We don’t know how to keep our water, ponds and so on very well so much use is made of them.
DT: Well now you were saying that you took your PhD at the University of Wisconsin. And then what was your first job?
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JT: First job was with the State, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and in those days they called in something different, it was Texas Game and Fish Commission or something like that. And I spent six years with them and received—received my doctorate in 1964, I believe it was.
DT: I see. So you were actually at the Game and Fish Commission between your master’s and getting your PhD.
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JT: No, that—that’s an interesting question. The University of Wisconsin tried to get their students involved as—as employees with conservation agencies because you’re almost like an indentured servant. You had to—you had a long time to—to work on your project but you had to have some way to live so the universities usually went to bat for you helping you find work while you did your thesis research. And what I did after leaving Wis—leaving Madison but with a—a proposal to work on waterfowl, I went to Texas and got a job with the State Game Department and but it was on deer. So I—I got sidetracked off of waterfowl which was my first love and worked on deer for those six years before going back to Madison and finishing off my degree. So by the way, education took a lot out of people, it took twelve years for me to get through school, I mean going to school all the—all the while, not just coming back and forth but spending those years in baccalaureate, master’s, PhD degrees.
DT: Tell me about your white-tailed deer research at the Game and Fish Commission. What—what was the focus of that and—and what sort of accomplishments did you make?
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JT: In those days, in the early fifties when I started working with them and then again I quit and went—went to the University of Mississippi or Mississippi State and then came back to A&M. But if you work—if you went to work for them you almost certainly were going to be charged with working with deer because that was a—that was a major interest of the state at the time and people, hunters wanted deer so that was what you got assigned to—to work with. And the major problem with it was there was too many deer for the habitat and there were tremendous (?) diseases and starvation and that sort of thing. And the state wanted to solve that problem best they could. So they—they proposed that we start taking Axis deer in the hunting
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programs and they called it furor among the state people, not only in the State Game Department but people in Texas that just didn’t want to kill does or Axis deer. And it was a problem with landowners especially because about that time commercial—commercialization came into being and killing does was to them killing the goose that really laid the golden egg. They—they didn’t want anything that would stop a good production for hunting because it meant money to them. But—so anyway, you had—you didn’t have much choice. The state decided when I came on board that I would be sent to Llano, Texas and where I spent a few years working with white-tailed deer, namely reproductive physiology of this animal. And it was a matter of do it or you don’t do anything (laughs). So it—it was—it was a great job,
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however, I—I enjoyed every bit of it. It was something that finally was solved with more and more data that we were able to gather, present to the county agents, the county super—the county courts who had to sign off on everything we did with white-tailed deer females. If you—if you recommended that it would take so many females for every male we took, they were always there to protect the females. They—they thought that we sh—we shouldn’t be killing deer. That’s where their—that’s where our bucks come from, wasn’t Axis deer.
DT: So this is at a time before statewide game laws, these regulations were set county by county?
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JT: That’s right, yeah.
DT: By elected officials?
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JT: Yeah. What we—we had new surveys every year starting off in September ending up in around the first of November right before the season started where we had surveyed the number of deer, got a census of them and then we presented all these findings after we had analyzed them to the Commission and they would sign off on it or—or in some cases sign off of it, didn’t always go our way. But the—but the matter was very discouraging to biologists out in the field who might spend three or four months doing census work only to come to the meeting and—or the Commission and find they just voted it down. But for the most part, they accepted what we gave them and it was a—that’s when deer hunting started really becoming very important. Ranchers found that they could leas—lease their property not only for
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bucks but to kill does as well and it meant a lot of money to them. So when you started managing something—managing deer according to what you thought was right, not all the ranchers would agree there—caused a lot of debate and sometimes more than debate about…
DT: I—I have a question about that. Were there—it sounds like there were instances where science met politics, you know that the—the research, the inventories you’ve done to (inaudible) would meet up with a county commissioner or county judge and they—they would reject it or accept it? And the second thing is that it seems like there were instances where your research might have been counter to the lore, the kind of myths and anecdotes that landowners might trade around or hunters might trade around. Can—can you talk about those two instances, those issues?
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JT: Well you—you identified one of the problems that we alluded to a minute ago. After these—well censuses were made and the data were analyzed and then presented to the State Game Commission, then they either signed off on it or rejected it. And there was one particular area of the state where most of these animals needed to be taken off, that was Kerr County, Gillespie County, Llano County and the one that Brady—I forgot the name of it. We—we packaged up our deal and we were asked to deliver recommendations to the Commission and there was a Commissioner by the name of “Boss” Peterson and he—he was a very large rancher, a very wealthy man out of Kerrville. And when we got through giving him our suggestions, our recommendations, he said—he was a big guy, smoked a cigar,

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the kind of guy you think of might be in that position, he said oh boys, we don’t want to do that, said we might upset up all of our neighbors and everybody would be fighting each other. And that’s—and he—he chaired the day, that was it, after several months of our work. It didn’t happen often but it could. But most of the time it went from the Commission to the Commissioner’s Court locally and they had to sign off on it. So there was two or three stops and balances there that—that had to take place before we could do what we wanted. But finally in 1954—‘53 was the first time that the state, that a county in the state, had legalized hunting white-tailed deer, females, and it was a success. Not many deer were killed but the next year—next year—next year much larger, more people participated and we saw the first
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really Axis deer killed in Llano County. First one was killed in Mason, second one was in Llano County that had held—that had been held. I think that was a major interest of the game department in those middle years of the fifties, sixties, seventies. Now it’s pretty well accepted by public, by the ranchers who really have deer as a major resource, meaning a lot of money to them and also satisfying our great recreational interests on the part of hunters.
DT: We just finished talking about your work as a research biologist at Texas Game and Fish Commission from ‘51 to ‘53 and again from ‘55 to 1960. I understand that the next chapter in your career was—was working at Texas A&M University as a professor in the Department of Wildlife and Fishery Science starting in ’62 through ’78 and then again from ’99 to the—to the present. Can you tell me what took you to academia?
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JT: Let me back up just a little, a notch.
DT: Please.
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JT: When I finally finished my work at Wisconsin and got my doctorate, I was able to get a job with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at their—essentially out at Patuxent in Laurel, Maryland and I moved there with my family and started working with mourning doves and other game birds. And then I got a call from head of the department at Texas A&M, asking if I would like to come back to A&M as a member of the faculty and I was ready to come home from the East Coast anyway. And so I was assigned two or three courses to teach and half time with research and that was a great experience and came to be the start of what came (?) about—came to be most of my career. Dr. Davis assigned me to study mule deer in the Trans-Pecos. I had a project there that lasted for oh, four or five years. And I had other teaching
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assignments mainly population ecology and ecology generally and wildlife management techniques. Those were the three courses that I was assigned to teach. So it was—it was exactly what I had wanted, couldn’t have been more—couldn’t have been better. Then I spent almost, I guess, seventeen years at Texas A&M in a teaching research position. During that time, I don’t know how many students that I had in terms of mentoring their work. It wa—it was—it had to be seventy or eighty, I suppose, in those twenty years. Maybe that’s—that’s probably an exaggeration, not that many but fifty for sure. And we—these students worked
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mainly in Texas because that’s where the—the money was being spent or where it was being contained and so we—we had to keep it at home, so to speak. During that time, the King Ranch, with Robert J. Kleberg, Jr., helped us immensely to obtain funds for doing this kind of work in the field. His program that you probably have heard of, the Caesar-Kleberg Research Program was at that time pretty wealthy and they had not distributed the funds in accordance with IRS regulations. And at the very beginning, they had to show that they were spending eighty percent of what they had taken in. So Mr. Kleberg called us down and we talked about what we could do to help spend their money but in research for what they wanted done. And
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so he gave us 1.7 million dollars, we only asked for 75,000. And I was made the director of that program and st—and stayed with it for all of the time we had it which was about twelve years and each year we would get a check for about 1.2 million. We had a lot of support from him. And then about—after being there for s—seventeen years, I had been the department head for the last nine of those and I was getting tired, I guess, pushing paper and asked to be—asked to be reassigned somewhere else and I was for a short time. But then the Welder Foundation, which was a private foundation from the Welder family, asked me if I would come down and become the director of the foundation in Sinton, Texas. And I was pleased to do that and I spent the next twenty years there at the Welder Foundation in an
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academic position really, not—not formal teaching but direction—directing graduate students and their projects. We—we joined and I—my wife and I moved down there and moved our fam—family and everybody else with us, it was—not everybody but anyway, it was a great change and we lived out on the ranch at the Welder Foundation for those twenty years. And it was—we were s—we were well funded and had a lot of work to be done there on the ranch but also other places. During this—during this time, I got interested in international work mainly because Bob Kleberg wanted some work done with some of these large plains game animals in East Africa. He had been hunting there a time or two in s—Tanzania, Kenya and saw all these great herds of wildebeest and all other—some other animals and thought that they could serve as a source of protein for—of food—a country for people that were—not—not—not enough to eat. So he sent me there and to look into the
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prospect of creating a station of research that could attack these—this problem of hunger. He had just been named a member. In fact, the Chairman of Lyndon Johnson’s Food for Peace Program and he thought that these animals could support (?) or feed these people. But—and we stayed with that now for about eight years in East Africa trying to harvest animals and learn how to collect and harvest and butcher and s—and send them abroad to people to eat. It didn’t work because the conservationists did not like something so ignoble as killing an animal for eating. And we had a lot of problems from Europe trying to justify that—that posture and we never d—we never did get it solved, so…
DT: How—how would try to explain to the Europeans that this was a good strategy?
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JT: Well I guess the best way to explain it to them was that like any other animal they live and die and there’s no reason for them to die without some support or without supporting somebody. And the parks like Serengeti and Mara, Amboseli, all of those parks were being inundated by poachers and taken anyway. So we tried to substitute some need for poaching that had been taken—that was taking place. That—that program kept up until, I guess it was eight or nine years, but not always just trying to butcher animals but we had several projects on different species including gran—Grant’s gazelle and elephants, and zebra, I can’t remember the whole number but there was at least a half dozen species that we worked on. Tried
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to—we even butchered, of all things, giraffe and that’s not—I guess giraffe is called the queen’s animal and nobody wanted to see it killed either. So it was a project that went against the grain of human kindness and so on. So, in the meantime, I took an assignment for the—it was a sabbatical from A&M to teach at the University of Pretoria which I did for a year and it was a great thing for me. I learned a lot and had two or three good students that came out of there.
DT: Did you see similarities or differences between the research at Texas A&M and Welder, and—and Sinton and—and what was being looked at in Pretoria or in East Africa?
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JT: No, not so much, David. To back up a little bit, East Africa and southern Africa did not have university training in science or wildlife management. So two men, one of them by the name of Tutus Stain from South Africa, the major conservation branch—branch there and another, his friend by the name of Professor—Professor Elof, those two men decided that we had to have some training—train people working in conservation in east—in southern Africa. So what they did, they got permission and funding for one professor for each of five years. In other words, five years one professor for each of those years, had them come from the U.S. to teach and to establish those curricula for training people in their native country. I could—I was the fifth one, by the way, that—that involved in that and so I helped—helped establish the training program as well as taking part in it one—one year.
DT: And this is 1969? Is that right?
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JT: I think so, yeah. It—that—that program now—I had a Fulbright scholarship about two years ago and I went there and back again to see what was happening and teach for just three months, but it’s still going and really had blossomed in what they were doing, the…
DT: Well while we’re talking about your international wildlife research and teaching, I understand that you also had visits to India.
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JT: Yeah, I—I was asked to go to India on several occasions to look at certain animals they were having problems with. And they, how can I say this, the Indians has—had not so much poaching as it just was sort of poor—poor people. And there was very poor ranges for them. They were being poached for usually for oriental medicine. If it was a tiger it had to be the bones or the cape or something. But there was a university up in the coun—the state of Udder Pradesh and they asked me to come and help develop a curriculum for the training of people in India, it was Aligarh Muslim University. In fact, I was a little bit apprehensive about going there two years ago but it was no—no problems, everybody was—got along very well. But I did this not only for—for the university there in Aligarh but I did the same thing at
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the University of Moi in Kenya, helped with this university to establish this program at Pretoria, and had at least fifteen or so different universities that I had to put—put on team survey, I knew what they were doing. So I had a very wide experience and education in international circles and also U.S. for that matter. Well this was a—I’d had experiences in or employment in universities, in research organizations, private foundations and universities in the administration. So I had a good background. And over these last few years, I’ve been asked to do a lot of things that I would have never done otherwise. It was a just a fortuitous thing, I guess, but it was certainly—it made my career. I—I think having been involved with as many different aspects of conservation as this is not very much help—you don’t si—you don’t see that very
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much now. People are scrapped for money and not as, in some cases, not as much money out there to try to tap as there was back in this—those days. You—you get some argument over that I guess, okay.
DT: When we were speaking earlier, we were basically tracking your—your childhood, your education and—and your career. And maybe this would be a good time to—to talk about some sort of general trends that you’ve seen over that—that time.
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JT: That’s a good point. I’d like to use that. First of all there’s been a great number of trends that have changed conservation to almost unrecognizable from what it was in the beginning. I’ve listed those down in this little tablet and the first one that comes to mind is that there’s much more uses made and managed for non-game species than there were before. Society has told us that you just can’t manage for something to be killed, that there are a whole host of people out that are interested in birds and mammals and the natural world for its own beauty. So there’s been a lot of changes and emphasis on management activities and game departments and universities and so on.
DT: Do you—do you know what might have triggered that? Was it perhaps Rachel Carson’s book or Earth Day? Or was there some other kind of watershed event that m—led agencies and schools to start (inaudible)?
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JT: I don’t think it was one single thing, I think it was several things that happened almost at the same time. People decided that there—there are more to life than just a white-tailed deer or a s—skunk or something, that all of these animals have a place and society reinforced that with what they would buy and what they wouldn’t. So those charges were—became much more inclusive of all of life and it—its uses.
DT: Do you recall when the Texas Game and Fish Commission became Parks and Wildlife? I mean was that part of the switch over?
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JT: It may—I don’t know if it was a result of it. It just maybe concomitant with it. But you know it changed, the name changed, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department two or three times. And the first one was when I went to work; it was the Texas Game, Fish and Oyster Commission. Then it became the Texas, oh, I don’t remember but it wa—the last one is now what is now. But I understand that’s been changed the last few weeks or few months from Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to Texas Parks and Wildlife, they knocked off the Department. So anyway, there was a lot of things that—that went in place, or went to cause this change into more than just game species. There’re a whole host of people out there with binoculars and just want to be out on the weekends and so on and they were trying to—management now has to take them into account.
DT: Well do—do you think it’s partly the funding sources that—when we used to just have Pittman-Robertson providing guns and ammo taxes and now it’s maybe more sporting goods in—including binoculars (inaudible)?
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JT: There—conservation has been funded primarily by hunters and that’s still the case. And some people would say that birders are cheap that—that’d be a poor way to say it, but they have not taken up the slack with where—for the uses they make of the wildlife resour—and other resources. Another important trend that I think has happened is that commercialization has taken place where wildlife is now being produced and sold as if we would be a bull or a cow or something like that. Al—always but in the—in the context of the laws but nonetheless commercial hunting, game farming and this management for animals to be on their prop—property has become much more now, much more happening than—than in the past, even to the point of producing commercializa—producing commercially meat that people want.
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Some of these exotic animals that you’ve probably heard from Bill about are being now harvested to get rid of them and they are being sold, the carcasses are being sold for very fancy prices in upscale restaurants and so on. So commercialization has been mainly for hunting but for other uses as well, has come into place.
DT: Well it—it’s interesting, it seems that the commercialization is more for trophy hunting and upscale dishes rather than for as when you went to East Africa, an idea of trying to provide a cheap source of protein for poor people. Is—is that—is that true?
00:48:34 – 2441
JT: Well that’s—it—it is com—commercialization of—of animals for meat production in East Africa or Africa generally not taken—not—is not being done anymore. As I’ve said earlier, the society has said it’s—it’s not acceptable to take animals for that purpose. Hunting would be just as bad but nonetheless there’s a very strong lobby for hunting, not so much for the other.
DT: Well do you see a difference between the commercial hunting now and—and say the market hunting of the teens and twenties?
00:49:19 – 2441
JT: The market hunting for…?
DT: Well in the United States where they had hunters who’d go out and shoot…
00:49:24 – 2441
JT: Bison.
DT: A hundred ducks in a day and sell them on the market or how’s it different from that period?
00:49:34 – 2441
JT: For one—for one thing it was illegal. The laws protected wildlife whether it was ducks or deer or whatever. You had to take it under those laws or not at all. There’s—it’s usually the—actually commercialization can be the front door to over-exploitation that when it becomes valuable, people are going to go after it much more and take it whatever way they can. That’s happening in a lot of parts of the world. By the way, did you see in the paper this week where elephants are being cropped again in Kruger Park in South Africa? They just released them—released that—made the laws where they can and, you know, they had for years too many elephants in Kruger Park and in other parts of Africa and so the laws to protect them
00:50:38 – 2441
were passed and they could no—they could no longer crop them to reduce their numbers where they were causing conflicts with other sympatric species. So it’s—commercialization is taking place in some places for management purposes but in other places to furnish meat and in other places just to preserve habitat for themselves and for other species. Elephants is a—are a keystone species and they can destroy habitat that others have to live in, at will.
DT: Well—well taking that example that you just gave of the elephants in Africa, I’ve heard that there are at least two camps. There’s one that believes they should be commercialized so that the neighbors, maybe the farmers whose crops get trampled by the elephants have a stake in the protection of the elephants or at least the exploitation of them. And then other people are saying well, if you start shooting them then there’s going to be a valid market for ivory on the open market…
00:51:47 – 2441
JT: That’s true.
DT: And—and that will lead to more poaching and over-hunting. Where do you fall into that spectrum?
00:51:53 – 2441
JT: Well I think elephants should be cropped wherever they cannot subsist without harm to people or their interests. Parks are not large enough or numerous enough to control or to—to protect all of them. I can remember in the middle 1970s when elephants were crowded into Tsavo Park in East Africa, they lost 3,500 there. They starved to death because efforts to—to feed them and to put water there where they could get it only attracted more and so most—well it looked like a battlefield where they had died after having pushed down trees and so on. It was a—it was a mistake. I’m not answering your question I—I perceive.
DT: No, no I think that that’s a perfectly good response, thank you. We were talking—let’s continue talking about the trends that you’re seeing.
00:53:05 – 2441
JT: Keep me on my page. Okay, well there’s this trend towards private ownership of wildlife that you—you must have been aware of what’s been going on for the last two or three decades, that landowners are claiming ownership of wildlife as they might even a cow or something else. And this has been debated because wildlife under the law is owned by the people held in trust for them by the state. And it happens that landowners can see a great commercial value in them so they go ahead and crop them, even though they don’t own them. And one of the most—the legal way is to do it through hunting. The other way is poaching or cropping commercially with the helicopters or whatever. That does happen. For example, two of the ranchers that I work with now as a consultant, both of them are killing exotic animals to get rid of them. And there—there’s a guy out at—near Kerrville who has
00:54:28 – 2441
a company, you know, cropping these animals for the meat and he takes this meat after they butcher it in the field and sends it up to Colorado where it’s very, very expensive to eat in restaurants there. They—they are—are usually getting anywhere from eighteen dollars a pound for some of that meat as—and even more in places. Okay, well…
DT: Do you think that this is partly a—a change because there are all these high fences? It’s a technological change to figure out how to build these and—and maintain boundaries for—for wildlife that they could then claim as privately owned?
00:55:28 – 2441
JT: Well the landowner, he’s own—he owns it because he controls access to it. If you—if—if he would provide for some—for some people—people to go into a ranch and take animals, then there’d be no complaint. But right now landowners very zealously protect what they have, build high fences around them to keep poachers out and also animals in. They don’t want to have animals that are lesser genetic—genetic constitution to be put into their prop—property either. So it’s work—works both ways. They want animals to stay in and they don’t want other animals to come in to affect their gene pool. I guess one other thing I would mention is there’s a lot more impetus about the part of females and wildlife and its use than there has been in the past. And you might expect that there—there’s more female hunters than
00:56:44 – 2441
there ever was, there’s probably less male hunters than there har—have been in the past but females are now going into university training as wildlife biologists. They’re also managing ranches, I know several. And they—there are much more females involved in the conservation work in Texas. How about…
00:57:19 – 2441
JT: I put them in…
DT: Let’s go—go back to—to maybe an earlier time and—and find out who some of your mentors might have been to lead you to an interest and knowledge about this (?).
00:57:31 – 2441
JT: Okay, well I mentioned I think three of them earlier, Bob McCabe who was a Leopold student at the University of Wisconsin, Ed Kozicky, K-O-Z-I-C-K-Y. He was a prof at the Iowa State University and also a unit leader there. And then another one was George, God what is George’s last name (laughs)? Well anyway this guy was head of the Max McGraw Wildlife Foundation in—near Dundee, Illinois. But those people were my major advisors and we’ve kept together, so to speak, on a—in private life, no longer any kind of a student relationship but we—we hunt together every year. We try to keep in touch with each other’s careers, what’s going on with them and they, in turn, for me. So they were mentors that have continued even until their deaths not long ago, were involved in my—my life.
DT: Is there anything in particular you could look to those individuals to for—for what you know and what you do?
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JT: Well there’s a whole host of things that they taught me in school and in classes and I’ll tell you about what my master’s project was done in—in last—very last—southwest corner of Iowa along the Missouri River and it was—had to do with migration of waterfowl. Kozicky was a waterfowl man and so he sent me there and—to study duck migration through that area. That—that was in 1951 and—but—you—you just need to see the ducks (laughs) maybe—maybe that would turn you on. But there’s always—every one of these people at one time had—had had me as a student but it continued on past student days into work that I did with other agencies and people. And…
DT: Is it—it sounds like more than just data that was passed on. It was actually friendship and sort of an apprenticeship. Is that (inaudible)?
01:00:26 – 2441
JT: David, you need to—I’ve just finished writing a book and you need have this book and get somebody to read it (laughs). Tell them it’s Teer talking (laughs).
DT: Okay.
01:00:35 – 2441
JT: (Laughs) no, I’m—I’m joking.
[End of Reel 2441]
DT: Dr. Teer, when—when we broke off from the last tape, we were talking about mentors that you had had during your education and I was curious if you can look at the other side of the coin and talk about some of students you’ve had in your career teaching and, you know, how their interests have changed over time from when you were first teaching in the ‘50s to more recently.
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JT: Well let’s start off with undergraduate students. There has been some accusation that they’re too apathetic to really amount to anything now a days (laughs) that’s not true. Most of them are geared to their work simply by the quality of the teaching they get. And you can’t—you can’t call them apathetic or uninterested unless somebody’s there to stimulate them and they still keep that problem. But for the most part, undergraduate students are much more competent in what they are taught, learn than they were when my—when I went through. They—they are—they—they understand what the world is like and then they try to use it and have new technology to help them including all the computers and all the
00:02:35 – 2442
electronic gear that goes with it. So students are generally the same. The teachers are not I think, well maybe they are, too, but if you find someone say that this class is terrible, you usually can fall back on the teachers.
DT: Well while we’re talking about students I—I think that—that you’re unique or dis—distinctive certainly in—in having had some of the students who’ve done field research. And I was hoping that you could talk about some of the projects that you remember supervising, whether you were at A&M or Welder that were creative, unusual (inaudible)…
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JT: Let me give you an example of that.
DT: Censuses and inventories and so on.
00:03:25 – 2442
JT: Yeah. The students will—will come to enjoy and to—and to do what they’re supposed to do if you give them a chance. We had a project that involved banding of white-winged doves in Mexico, an eight year, f—four years—four years we sent teams of students down into northern Mexico to band white-winged doves. There was some concern that the doves that were produced in the Rio Grande Valley were—were not returning to their natal areas when they got through migrating south and came back. So we—these banding crews were charged with putting leg bands, numbered leg bands on birds that were trapped, not they were—they were fly aged birds they would appear four or five years, I can’t remember if it was five or four
00:04:31 – 2442
now. We banded 70,000 and when these 70,000 birds were trapped by a team of five or six men that were students every year until we got a quota around thirty or around, oh, 15,000 or so and—but these leg bands being able to identify where they came from, we could also ter—determine where they went and where they were coming back to. So these 70,000 birds were banded and the data were analyzed. We got about a one percent return of those birds and which is not many, 70,000 we got about seventy birds or so. And we found out that most of them were going to—to Costa Rica and one of the—one of those middle Latin states, I can’t remember the name. And they did to—they did return to the investigators where they were—they
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only wintered in Mexico but they would nest in the Rio Grande Valley. So that was the kind of project we had students doing in the field. They generally liked it. They thought you’d coop them up in a classroom unless there is a computer nearby, they—they’re—they don’t care much for that. So what I’m saying is that give them the chance in the field, they work really well for you and learn a lot.
DT: You mentioned the—the white-winged dove research. I guess that’s a game bird. Were—were there some non-game research projects that you recall?
00:06:16 – 2442
JT: Yes, we were—we worked with several of different bird species including grackles. You know grackles are a very hard, are very serious pred—predators on white-wing dove eggs and the young. So we had the students trying every way in the world to keep those grackles out of the colonies by—by noise makers and even by twenty-two rifles and so forth. So that was a project that students did on the weekends when they didn’t—weren’t supposed to be in class. So, yeah, there—there’s a whole array. At the Welder Foundation we—we supported over 300 students for their doctorate and master’s degrees and these were that many different projects. They ranged all the way from white-tailed deer to white-winged doves and so on and so on.
DT: What sort of research was done on the Welder Ranch itself?
00:07:21 – 2442
JT: Well we had a—over the years we worked with coyotes and deer to find out if the coyotes were serious predators on the farms and—and the doe deer and we could never relate it as a controlling influence on deer numbers. We found out that they do take white-tailed deer and they certainly use far more than any other age class but it—it was—deer have a—deer are—are really (?) and when they lose numbers, they can produce more fawn the following year than they did that year that they were taken, compensatory trend, that’s what they call it. If you—if you reduce their numbers and make more room for deer, they’ll—they can have increased numbers of fawns that year. So they’re—they’re very resilient to being overshot. They come back quickly because they have this ability to increase their numbers of fawns each year.
DT: Well it—it’s interesting you—you mentioned the effect that controlling coyotes might have on white-tailed deer population and I remember you said that—that you had gone to the University of Wisconsin because you admired Aldo Leopold who I—I believe changed his attitude about predator control.
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JT: He did.
DT: And I was curious if you could, I guess explain what your attitude is about the efficacy of—of controlling predators?
00:09:03 – 2442
JT: Well as a question it was interesting to anybody. Do white-tailed deer or—or can coyotes control white-tailed deer numbers? Well over the years, we’ve had a train of students that worked on that one project. One student would do his doctorate and the next student would take over where he left off. And so we had about fifteen years of data and we couldn’t—could never find any real reason to suspect them as being controlling influences on deer numbers. And the one—the main reason was because they can up there productivity and then when they lose numbers in a population and end up just about where they started.
DT: And—and the coyotes and—I—I’ve understood that when you trap or hunt or poison coyotes, they tend to rebound quite rapidly as well.
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JT: They do, yeah.
DT: Is that the truth?
00:10:13 – 2442
JT: Yes, that’s true. Not only do the deer increase their numbers but white—but coyotes can also have more young per litter and maybe breed more often than they would have otherwise and so it’s a balance between numbers of deer and numbers of coyotes really.
DT: Well I—I’d be curious what you would ascribe to why the belief in controlling predators is so persistent?
00:10:46 – 2442
JT: You ask any rancher about, you know, what’s—what’s the problems with your deer herd, they’ll say it’s the fox or the damn coyotes or it’s this or they’ll always coming up with a predator. And that’s not the—that’s not the case many times. Sometimes there is some over—overuse of deer by coyotes or something but for the most part, they can’t control deer numbers. I—I—there’s a paper that I wrote on at Welder experiments of why coyotes—that was a result of that fourteen year study and that was a conclusion that was reached after that.
DT: Well this might be a good jumping off point to talk to you about wildlife management strategies in general. I mean, here you’re doing a lot of research and censuses and banding and inventories of various kinds trying to understand how wildlife fluctuated but a lot of that was applied to how habitats could be manip—manipulated to benefit wildlife using the plow or the cow or fire. What did you learn in that regard?
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JT: Well habitat management is also the key to success in any kind of management program for wildlife. It is—it’s their home and you’ve got to provide that if you’re going to have anything. And just take, for example, fire, if you—if you let ground vegetation grow so dense that it impedes movement by quail or turkeys and some other things, then you have to burn, you got to get that vegetation burned down to where they can navigate very well and also where s—seed production may be stimulated by fire. So it’s used as a—prescribed burn is—is a major technique for improving habitat for certain animals, and the same thing with white-tailed deer. White-tailed deer have food habits that range all the way from browse which are woody plants and to—to forbs which are weeds and they—they are conditioned to
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take one or the other of those. In the western Edwards plateau, you’ll see them taking more browse. South Texas is good for weeds, forbs, as we call them, so they’ll be taking that but it varies what their—what their food habits are. So you can plant food plots or you can feed them just outright in the—outright with throwing grain on the ground, I guess you could. So those things are often used and especially now. There’s a lot of feeding of high grade protein to try to enhance the size or antlers and the size of body size of white-tailed deer. There are all kinds of management programs that can be done but usually most ranchers want to have a natural area un—un-trampled food—food plots and all these other things that people do. They’d rather think that their animals are close to nature and don’t have to be fed to—to become viable for hunting.
DT: I—I think that in—in recent years, there’s been interest in trying to not just manipulate the—the habitat that’s—that’s there but actually try to restore a habitat that once existed. I mean, I’m thinking of an area that maybe overgrown with Bahia or with common Bermuda or Coastal Bermuda and—and there are these efforts to bring back native bunch grasses and so on. Do you see merit in that?
00:15:08 – 2442
JT: Sure, there’s—that’s fine. I think if you can try to recover a rangeland with native species that’s fine. But the purist in most of us don’t like that idea. Let it—let it—let these animals live and die on their own native range but there are certainly a lot of plantings being done now a days to try to enhance size of body and antlers. There’s one plant, lablab, is one that’s so often used and it’s a—it’s a proven stimulus. They—they can get a lot of weight out of that. I think we’ve said enough.
DT: Dr. Teer, we—we spent a little time talking about your past and past trends and I was hoping that you might be able to look into your crystal ball and—and talk about future opportunities and challenges. I think there was a report you prepared in 2000 for Governor Bush called Taking Care of Texas and you identified a number of issues for the future world. What would those involve?
00:16:27 – 2442
JT: Bush wanted—it was right before the election last time. He wanted to go on record as being conservation oriented and he told—he appointed twelve men and some two or three ladies as well, and asked us to ferret out as best we could the problems that he should be attacking when he came to Washington. So we worked very hard for several weeks and months really and produced a report for him and he—he released the report about seven days before the election (laughs). And it was—it was pretty good really and—and we thought that when he got to Washington that he was going to put those things into effect but he didn’t. I guess there’s more to it than just writing a report and handing it to the pres—to the—to the Governor.
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So anyway what we—what we found there was about twelve or fifteen different recommendations including fragmentation of habitat by sell-off of land to carve up an estate into smaller and smaller chunks, which is not good habitat management. And certain things that have been produced as you probably know, including the safe harbor problems with daily life and some other things I—I can’t remember. But anyway it was a—it was a good report and he took it with him, I’m sure, but we never saw anything come of it. Whether that was somebody else’s problem, we—we were a little bit disappointed. That’s about all I want to say about that. You see—did you ever see Forrest Gump?
DT: Yeah.
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JT: That’s what he—you know what he says (laughs). That’s about all I want to say about that.
DT: Okay. Well…
00:18:40 – 2442
JT: Sorry.
DT: Well let me ask one last question on an unrelated topic and that is just talking personally, why is—is wildlife conservation and research important to you and why—why should it matter to society at large or to your descendents?
00:19:01 – 2442
JT: Well, I have a chapter in my book about that question with a quote from a guy from the University of Oregon. Anyway, for me it’s a matter of beauty and fun, glorious fun. And I think if you have grown up with something like we have, then you’re going to take care of it for the rest of your life. On the other hand, if you’re born and reared in New York City or somewhere like that, not having had any experience as a youth, you may not appreciate it as much as those that have. So I think it has—it has a redeeming social value, not only in the beauty of what it—what—what it is but also socioeconomic reasons. And the industry of hunting and fishing and recreation is tremendous now. People can no longer can just go out and
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shoot things or trap them or in some way to remove them from the land without some recourse. So it’s to our benefit try to keep those—keep them—keep habitat, keep wildlife and let it be a major interest on the part of society. Thank you.
DT: Well you’re welcome, thank you. I enjoyed visiting with you.
[End of Reel 2442]
[End of Interview with Jim Teer]