Olaus Murie 1912: Conservation Legend

Olaus Murie, Class of 1912. Illustration by Liz Moyer.Sixty years after his death, Olaus Murie, a 1912 graduate of Pacific University, is still revered as a pioneer in conservation.

His 1951 book, The Elk of North America, is considered one of the most important works in conservation wildlife biology in the 20th century. His 1954 Peterson guide, Field Guide to Animal Tracks, remains in print and is in its third edition.

But Murie’s greatest legacy is in his work to help preserve two of the country’s most majestic tracks of land: the Alaska tundra and the Grand Tetons of Wyoming.

Murie’s love affair with The Last Frontier began in 1920, when he accepted a job with the U.S. Biological Survey to study caribou. Using Fairbanks as a base, Murie spent six years tracking caribou, mapping migration routes and estimating numbers.

It was in Alaska where Murie met his wife and life partner in conservation, Mardy. The two were married in 1924 and promptly went on a three-month honeymoon in the Brooks Range, studying caribou.

Even after being assigned to Wyoming to research the Jackson Hole elk herd in 1927, the Muries’ love for Alaska never waned. They spent many summers in Alaska, and their advocacy eventually led to the creation of the Alaska National Wildlife Range in 1960, now the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge.

The Muries became just as passionate about preserving their new home. Olaus Murie combined his work for the federal government and his role as a director of the newly formed Wilderness Society to press for preserved habitat for the Jackson Hole elk herds. His work led to the creation of the Jackson Hole National Monument in 1943, which became part of Grand Teton National Park in 1950.

Olaus Murie received an honorary doctor of science degree from Pacific in 1949 and returned in 1953 to present three lectures on the environment as part of the Isaac Hillman Lecture Series. At that time, he expressed an appreciation for the university that helped feed his passion for the outdoors:

“... here at the edge of wilderness, born of the wilderness, was an institution where, from the vantage point of an atmosphere of simplicity and serenity, we could form our opinions of the strivings of mankind. Among these native campus oak trees ... we could look down to the corridors of history and struggle with man’s efforts in literature and science, biology, religion and chemistry.”

Olaus Murie died in 1963, eulogized as a champion for the environment. Conservation’s ultimate power couple, Mardy Murie carried on their shared work long after Olaus death. Mardy passed away in 2003 at age 101.

Friday, Oct. 27, 2023