MTPR

Revered Wildlife Biologist John Craighead Dies At Age 100

Sep 20, 2016

Yesterday we learned that legendary Montana wildlife biologist John Craighead died one month after celebrating his 100th birthday with family and friends. He passed on Sunday at his home outside Missoula. Craighead did pioneering work in and around Yellowstone National Park with his twin brother Frank, who died in 2001.

John Craighead
Credit Courtesy Craighead family

Dan Pletscher was a lifelong admirer and colleague of the Craigheads, and for 20 years served as chair of the wildlife biology program at the University of Montana. Pletcher spoke with MTPR’s Josh Burnham yesterday.

"It'd be very, very difficult to over estimate his influence. John and his twin brother Frank did some National Geographic specials, oh boy, 50 years ago or so, that an awful lot of budding wildlife biologists or wildlife biologist wannabes saw and really brought many of us into this discipline. The work he did on grizzly bears in Yellowstone and early uses of radio telemetry, satellite imaging to look at habitats — his influence was huge. And an awful lot of that he did right out of Missoula, Montana.

The National Geographic society listed him as one of the top scientists of the 20th century. And he was the leader of the Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit on campus for 25 years. He was so highly thought-of that colleagues, admirers, supporters, family, contributed money to the University of Montana Foundation to create an endowed chair in his name.

The first time I met him would've been in the early '70s. I don't remember what year it was, but he came and gave a talk at the University of Minnesota St. Paul campus where I was an undergraduate student, and just mesmerized the whole crowd, including me. I think part of the reason that I was so drawn to John is that he had an identical twin brother who he worked with closely for their lifetimes, and I've got an identical twin brother as well. That, and the contributions he made to the wildlife profession just really energize an awful lot of us to try to make the kind of difference he did — which was not possible —  his contributions were huge.

The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act that Congress passed was largely due to his efforts. Just one more example of the sorts of things he did. He worked on raptors in India before World War II. He worked with the military during World War II to work on survival techniques for our servicemen during that time. Just a long, amazing life."

Dan Pletscher was a lifelong admirer and colleague of the Craigheads, and for 20 years served as chair of the wildlife biology program at the University of Montana.