RON WALKER MEMORIAL FUND
Donate to the Ron Walker Memorial Fund
A generous donation has been received by the Society for the purpose of establishing the Ron Walker Memorial Fund in support of HAS activities and educational programs. If you would like to contribute to the Ron Walker Memorial Fund, you may either donate using online via the button below or make a check out to:
Hawaii Audubon Society
850 Richards St., Suite 505
Honolulu, HI 97813
Read about Ron Walker in the January/February 2013 issue of the 'Elepaio dedicated to his memory.
Ronald L. Walker (1932 -2012): Wildlife Biologist and Practitioner of the Art of the Possible
By John T. Harrison
“When it comes to a problem in wildlife management, don’t go off the deep end in some esoteric, idealistic approach to solving the problem. Practice the art of the possible. I never forgot that…that’s what kind of guided me throughout my career.”
Ron Walker was a treasure. The qualities of perspective, wisdom, knowledge, humor, and overarching pragmatism that Ron brought to a conversation enriched the edifying value of his contributions. In choosing paths forward, we frequently seek guidance from experience, and the span of Ron’s 53-year career in Hawai‘i wildlife management engendered lessons that he shared freely, benefiting all those whose lives he touched.
Observations of alien species’ impacts on native flora and fauna had a deep and lasting effect on Ron. During a 2011 interview, he noted that the biggest change in wildlife management over the course of his career was the enactment of statutory and regulatory controls relating to environmental impacts, to endangered species, and to the protection of vulnerable organisms across the full range of Hawaiian ecosystems. At the time he started with the Division of Forestry and Wildlife, controls over species importation were “very lax and very cursory”, and under current policies, it’s likely that none of the game birds as well as other imports such as the cattle egret or the Guamanian Swiftlet would have been permitted entry to Hawai‘i. Resource management responsibilities of DLNR’s Forestry and Fish and Game divisions include maintaining populations of game animals and supporting public hunting programs, and these responsibilities were specifically identified elements of Ron’s terms of employment. However, his experiences and observations as a field biologist brought him into daily contact with evidence of the harmful effects of game animals on native habitat. As Ron puts it, “I had to, on the one hand, say, ‘I support the Department’s, the State’s position to maintain the sheep for the hunters’, and yet I knew that was a bad idea. I’m still struggling with that.”
Ron was an accomplished wildlife manager, and while his work entailed extensive administrative responsibilities, it’s not surprising to those who knew him that he most enjoyed the hands-on field management and research part of his job. As the arc of his career rose to higher levels of responsibility, periodic field surveys, including repeated excursions to the Northwest Hawaiian Islands in the 60s and leadership of the Hawaiian Waterbirds Recovery Team in the 70s and production of Hawai‘i’s first waterbird recovery plan, were cherished accomplishments. But despite his preference for fieldwork over administration, when a bureaucratic situation arose, Ron was a master of elegant solutions.
When asked what specific skill set was required to be a great wildlife manager, Ron responded pragmatically, based on his own experience. “Wildlife management, to a large extent, is people management. If you can’t get the ear of the people, and by that I mean those in the field, wildlife biologists, environmentalists, and the general public, then you’re not going to have a successful program. You have to let them know what you’re doing and be very open and honest about it.”
One had only to enjoy the privilege of working alongside Ron out in the field to really appreciate what an extraordinary man he was. In addition to every archival legacy he has left, there are numerous special places where his sweat equity and his prodigious knowledge are on glorious display in the panoply of natural beauty and restored habitat that supports thriving native communities. Countless students, interns, and starting wildlife professionals have enjoyed Ron’s supporting encouragement at the trailheads of lifetime journeys of natural discovery and conservation efforts, and each of them carries on his legacy.