A Fond Farewell

In Memory of Naturalist-Conservationist David Gaillard, 44

Northern Rockies Conservationist Dies In Avalanche

Written by Todd Wilkinson (Authors Bio)

[This post originally appeared on January 2nd 2012 on WildlifeArtJournal.com]

Heartbreaking is the only way to describe it.  On the afternoon of New Year’s Eve 2011-12, the American conservation community lost a young, fearless and inexhaustible advocate.

David Gaillard, 44, of Bozeman, Montana, died in an avalanche while cross-country skiing the Hayden Creek drainage, located in the Absaroka Mountains just beyond the  back northeastern doorstep of Yellowstone National Park.

A proud graduate of the Yale School of Forestry and Williams College, Gaillard came West in 1990 seeking to groundtruth what he learned in the classroom.  He worked for the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, Predator Conservation Alliance and, for the last five years, Defenders of Wildlife. His special interest was with carnivores, which are key indicators of ecosystem health.

Gaillard was at his most passionate in giving voice to a suite of forest and mountain dwellers many of us take for granted because they are so elusive and seldom seen.  The animals on this list include the wolverine, Canada lynx, fisher, and pine marten.

“People will protect the things that are right before their eyes,” he told me in 2011 as I was writing a story about wolverines, then being considered for federal protection as a result of a listing petition that Gaillard himself helped craft.  “If people can’t encounter these animals directly, then I at least want them to realize they are out there—and they need our help.  Otherwise, they could easily disappear without anyone knowing the difference.”

Gaillard, a lanky, red-headed outdoorsman, loved traversing through snow on skis and snowshoes. He wasn’t the kind of conservationist who saw himself as a town crier;  rather, he was a celebrator of wild places.  During the course of his career, he attended countless public meetings and dared to testify before hostile audiences that automatically equated species protection with loss of jobs. He delighted most in sharing anecdotes about the life histories of wolverines and lynx, encouraging folks to learn what their tracks look like in the snow and to take up the mantle of “citizen science” by sharing information they gleaned from their own backcountry adventures.

In 2011, as the U.S. Forest Service in Wyoming deliberated over whether it will open the Hoback Basin and Wyoming Range to oil and natural gas drilling—bringing industrial strength development to an important wildlife corridor—Gaillard erected remote controlled cameras.  He wanted viewers to objectively see for themselves that the areas targeted for energy production were used by a wide variety of critters, including hunters and outfitters drawn to mountains unblemished by pumpjacks and air pollution.  For an example of David’s handiwork, enjoy the video below (click on the lower corner of player to bring it to full screen).

Gaillard had many friends in the conservation movement. Not long ago, Defenders magazine published a story about wolverines and global warming written by Douglas Chadwick and in it Gaillard was quoted:  “Nobody can say for sure what the future may bring,” he said. “But I want to be able to look my daughter in the eye and say we are doing everything we can to prepare lynx, wolverines and other wildlife that she loves for the big changes ahead.”

Gaillard delivered on his promise.  His daughter can always know that her Dad did everything he could to remind us that wild places matter.  Condolences go out to David’s family and close friends.

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