The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation bestowed its highest honor, the Wallace Fennell Pate Wildlife Conservation Award, upon Jack Ward Thomas for his contributions of lasting significance to the benefit of elk, other wildlife and their habitat across North America.
“The four founders of the RMEF started this organization with a Bible in our right hand and the elk hunter’s bible, Elk of North America: Ecology and Management (written by Thomas), in our left hand,” said Bob Munson, RMEF co-founder. “Therein, I believe, lies the revelation and the mystery of God’s creation, the landscape and the critters, the majesty of the North American elk and this movement that has captured the imagination, passion and participation of more than 200,000 RMEF elk hunters from around the world. Thank you Jack!”
“I can name less than 10 people that are pretty much responsible for founding RMEF and Jack Ward Thomas was one of those people. Jack’s tenure on the board was extremely critical and important,” said Charlie Decker, RMEF co-founder.
Thomas, an RMEF life member, served on the RMEF Board of Directors from 1997 to 2003, including a two-year stint as chairman in 2002-2003.
Thomas earned a bachelor’s degree in wildlife management from Texas A&M University, a master’s degree in wildlife ecology at West Virginia University and a doctorate in forestry from the University of Massachusetts. He worked a decade for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and spent 27 years conducting research in Virginia, Massachusetts and Oregon. In 1993, President Clinton appointed Thomas the thirteenth chief of the U.S. Forest Service. He retired in 1996 and accepted a position at the University of Montana as professor of wildlife conservation that he held until his official retirement in 2006.
Thomas has more than 600 publications to his credit covering elk, deer and turkey biology as well as wildfire habitat, songbird ecology, northern spotted owl management, forestry, land use planning and hunting.
Over his five-decade professional career, he taught and mentored hundreds of students and employees.
“We don’t just manage land,” he wrote. “We’re supposed to be leaders. Conservation leaders. Leaders in protecting and improving the land.”
In accepting the award Thomas said, “For a lot of reasons I had a good, long career. The last line in one of my books…is that everybody has their idea of heaven and my punchline in the end is ‘if I could just do it all over again.’”
Wallace Fennell Pate, RMEF’s first president and chairman of the board, dedicated his time, energy and financial resources for the betterment of wildlife in North America. Now deceased, Pate became a national role model for groups or individuals concerned with natural resources conservation.