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Exploring the Legacy of Leopold’s Students: Allen Stokes

Allen W. Stokes: Forging the Link Between Animal Behavior and Wildlife Management

Like Tony de Vos, Joe Hickey, and several of Aldo Leopold’s other 26 graduate students whose stories I will be telling, Al Stokes’ path to graduate study with the author of Game Management did not include a passion for hunting. Instead, Stokes was first and foremost a curious natural historian who wanted to study wildlife in the field. That he began his distinguished career in wildlife biology under Leopold’s mentorship in 1946 perhaps reflected subtle changes in Leopold’s criteria for accepting students in his latter years when training individuals with potential to become wildlife scientists seemed to be his priority.

Allen Stokes was born September 16, 1914, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His family belonged to the Quaker faith (Society of Friends) with a strong tradition of being naturalists, and his early schooling was at the Quaker-affiliated Germantown Friends School. He received his BS degree in Chemistry from Haverford College in 1936. After teaching school in Philadelphia for seven years he received an MS degree in Chemistry from Harvard University in 1944. But by then he realized that natural history, not chemistry, was the real passion in his life, and he decided to change his career path. That decision led him to Aldo Leopold.

Although he had never heard of Aldo Leopold and knew little about the then-new field of wildlife management, Stokes learned about a summer job studying Bobwhite Quail in Prairie du Sac, Wisconsin, under the direction of Leopold and Paul Errington. Stokes made the train trip from Philadelphia to Madison, interviewed with Leopold and landed the job, but by the time he returned in June 1944, the project had been dropped when Leopold and Errington disagreed over how to interpret findings. Instead, Al was offered a chance to work on songbird research at the University of Wisconsin Arboretum. He was given lead responsibility for studying American Goldfinches. That was the start of a career that eventually focused on animal behavior and how it could inform wildlife management. It was during his goldfinch study that he met and courted Alice Harper, Leopold’s secretary from 1941-1945. She had helped prepare many of the essays that would eventually appear in A Sand County Almanac. Allen and Alice married in 1945.

Alan Stokes

Stokes with his wife Alice. Image courtesy Utah State University Archives.

That year, after getting a strong letter of recommendation from Leopold, Stokes landed a job working on a research project directed by John Emlen, who was about to join the faculty at the University of Wisconsin. The project involved a study of the ecology and behavior of urban rats in Baltimore, but it introduced Al to the emerging field of animal behavior. His work on rats with Emlen, who was a pioneer in the field, would have a big influence on Stokes’ future career direction. He began his Ph.D. studies with Leopold in 1946, studying the Ring-necked Pheasant population on Pelee Island in Lake Erie. Like the rest of Leopold’s students who began their studies after WWII, Aldo’s sudden death in 1948 meant he had to finish his thesis work without Leopold’s guidance. He earned his Ph.D. in 1952, and in 1954 the resulting publication “Population Studies of Ring-necked Pheasants on Pelee Island, Ontario” won The Wildlife Society’s prestigious Publication Award.

In 1952, Al joined the faculty of the Wildlife Department in the Forestry School at Utah State Agricultural College (later Utah State University) where he taught wildlife management and animal behavior until his retirement in 1976. During his distinguished career at Utah State he became a leader in the study of wildlife behavior and its implications for wildlife conservation and management. He received a National Science Foundation Fellowship in 1958, and used it to study animal behavior at Cambridge University in England, where he interacted with influential leaders in the field like Konrad Lorenz and Niko Tinbergen. That fellowship resulted in several papers on the comparative behavior of Great, Blue, Marsh, and Coal Tits that helped establish his international reputation as an animal behaviorist.  In 1964 he became a founder of the Animal Behavior Society, was the society’s President from 1969-1972, and was elected as a Fellow of the Society in 1973. His 1971 Scientific American publication “The Social Order of Turkeys” exposed readers to the fascinating lives of this well-known bird. In 1974, he edited Territory, a classic book on animal territoriality. His studies of animal behavior spanned the wide range from songbirds to grizzly bears. But, his most significant contribution to the field of animal behavior was undoubtedly his lab manual, Animal Behavior in Laboratory and Field, first published in 1968. His lab manual introduced many students, including myself, to the wonders of studying animal behavior and to how to become better observers of animals in the field.

Stokes was an outstanding teacher, and he received much recognition of his skills. He received the Professor of the Year (the first wildlife professor to be so honored) and Faculty Honor Lectureship awards at Utah State University. On the occasion of the later award, Stokes gave a speech and wrote an influential essay, “ Aggressive Man and Aggressive Beast” in which he explained how living in harmony with nature depends in great measure on our ability to live with each other.  He received an Honorary Doctor of Science from Haverford College, his alma mater.

He continued to teach at the Teton Science School and lead field trips with the Bridgerland Audubon Society long after his retirement from academia. In recognition of his devotion, Bridgerland Audubon Society has awarded the Allen W. Stokes Conservation Award since 1976. Allen also helped found the Utah Audubon Council in 1985, and he was a member of the Logan Forestry Board. Allen was involved in many organizations on campus and in the community at large, including United Way, Friends of the Cache Libraries, Hospice of Cache Valley, Planned Parenthood and the Gay Lesbian Alliance. He helped found the Logan Friends Meeting, Society of Friends in 1965.

Al died at his Logan, Utah home in 1996. Alice died in 2009. To honor them, Utah State University established the Allen W. and Alice Stokes Scholarship Fund in the College of Natural Resources at the Alice H. and Allen W. Stokes Scholarship Fund in the Women’s Center. In 1997 the Allen and Alice Stokes Nature Center in Logan was dedicated, honoring the couple. Allen and Alice had been a major influence on the quality of life in Cache Valley and northern Utah, but perhaps their greatest legacy is their contribution towards their community’s understanding of and appreciation for the natural world.