JAMES “Jim” DONOVAN YOAKUM (June 14,1926-November 21,2012).
(Tina Nappe/Cynthia Perrine/Peter Bradley)
The Western Section of The Wildlife Society lost a dedicated member on November 21st, 2012 with the passing of Jim D. Yoakum. Jim was a valued guardian, advocate and friend of pronghorn antelope, and he devoted his professional life, including 25 years of his retirement, to researching, writing, speaking, and occasionally hunting the spritely pronghorn.
Born in Templeton, California, Yoakum served the Navy from June 1944 to June 17, 1947. Using the GI Bill, he was the first in his family to attend college, graduating with a degree in wildlife management from Humboldt State in 1953. Jim proceeded to Oregon State University on a fellowship; not surprisingly, his thesis paper under Dr. Art Einarson was on Oregon’s pronghorn antelope population. Jim graduated in 1957.
That same year Jim was hired as the BLM’s first wildlife biologist, stationed in Ely, Nevada, where he wrote a newspaper column on wildlife. His writing and photographs attracted the attention of Nevada BLM Director J. Russell Penny, who wanted Jim to highlight BLM’s role as maintaining important wildlife habitat. Eventually Yoakum published the first brochure featuring wildlife on public lands, encouraging them to use color photographs, despite the federal agencies sense of thrift.
As BLM’s wildlife representative, Jim had a number of demands on his time. Among them, rebuilding bighorn sheep populations on BLM lands. When the Devil’s Hole pupfish was threatened with extinction from groundwater pumping, Jim attended the fledgling Desert Fishes Council meetings. Yoakum ran the wrath of Nevada BLM Director Nolan Keil (1966-1972) when he transferred funds from Elko to Las Vegas and built a wild horse exclusion fence to protect pupfish, but Udall praised Yoakum’s valiant effort.
During those formative years with BLM, Yoakum initiated contact with Foresta Institute for Ocean and Mountain Studies, located in Washoe Valley, and contributed to the Endangered Species Committee, attempting a “Redbook” for Nevada, similar to the IUCN Redbook. In 1967, utilizing the Foresta library and other sources, Yoakum published the first bibliography on pronghorn antelope. Soon after, Foresta’s Director, Dr. Richard G. Miller, recruited Jim to study the Vicuna in Peru, then imperiled by hunting to obtain its fine fur, which Secretary of Interior Udall supported.
Unusual for most BLM employees who relocate every few years, Yoakum spent his entire career as a wildlife biologist in Nevada first assigned to work on Nevada issues, and then out-stationed on special projects from the national office.
He purchased land in Verdi on the California-Nevada border in 1967, and this became his home — shared by his dogs, his garden, his various collections of pronghorn art, Navy plates, and where he hosted numerous friends. Jim also raised pronghorn to study their eating habits, and owned two bobcats, one of which was featured in Walt Disney’s “The Living Desert”.
After retiring from BLM in 1986, Yoakum continued working with pronghorn as a consultant and researcher, and also taught classes at the University of Nevada, Reno. He continued to publish papers and give presentations, numbering over 50,000 photographs and 50 published reports. His magnum opus, a compilation of 30 years of research was published in 2004, with author Bart W. O’Gara, who predeceased the release, is titled PRONGHORN, Ecology and Management. The 6.13 pound and 903 page book reflects the dedicated work and respect for pronghorn by many researchers. Yoakum focused on pronghorn habitat needs and food habits, a focus in line with his love of the outdoors. Yoakum and O’Gara were the winners of The Wildlife Society’s Outstanding Editorship Award for 2005.
He was a strong and dedicated supporter of the Biennial Pronghorn Workshop, this year celebrating its 25th meeting. In 2002 he received its Berrendo Award, given to an individual or group who have made great contributions to management or research for pronghorn, and the group has offered an award in his name.
Yoakum was an advocate for all wildlife professionals, and was active in The Wildlife Society, especially TWS Western Section. Joining TWS in 1952, he received honorary TWS member status in 1989. Working with other wildlife professionals in Nevada, The Wildlife Society published a tape called “Silver Mammals” which was distributed to Nevada schools and libraries, and led production of “Golden Wildlife,” a series of photographs with accompanying natural history summaries about California wildlife. Yoakum served on most positions of the Executive Board, including the post of President in 1970-1971, and finally Historian. The Section awards a James D. Yoakum Award, which recognizes individuals who have provided outstanding, long-term service, support, and commitment to the Western Section of The Wildlife Society, and must have dedicated a substantial amount of time, energy, and personal sacrifice to furthering the Section’s goals and facilitating its programs and operations. The Award recognizes service to the organization rather than contributions to wildlife management and conservation.
Jim is quoted as saying, “Wildlife has been my entire life. All my life.” His friends who shared his love of wildlife and the outdoors, enjoyed his social, hospitable, well-read and sometimes dogmatic conversation, might protest just a little, pointing out that he was a good friend and colleague as well.
Link to memories and stories of Jim that have been submitted by friends and colleagues.