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Conservator Of Biological Diversity

Radical changes have shaken the conservation community in recent decades, and UW- Madison conservation scientists have often been the center of attention. During his 21 years of teaching, research and outreach in CALS, Stanley Temple, the Beers-Bascom Professor in Conservation in the Department of Wildlife Ecology, has been an outspoken advocate and architect of some of these revolutionary changes. He has devoted his career to the preservation of biological diversity through his innovative teaching of conservation biology, his pioneering research on threatened wildlife, and his skillful leadership of conservation organizations.

To appreciate why these accomplishments have earned Temple the Spitze Land Grant Award for 1997, you must understand the concept of a “paradigm shift,” first proposed by the late Thomas Kuhn, a philosopher and historian of science. He showed that the course of science is punctuated by radical changes or paradigm shifts, rather than progressing in an orderly, linear fashion. His ideas disturbed some scientists and inspired others–including Temple.

Paradigms are like “eyeglasses” that allow us to see the world only in a certain way. Kuhn contended that in science, most paradigms prevail for a time but eventually reach a crisis when scientists start to uncover inconsistencies in the prevailing view of the world. The old paradigm can”t accommodate these inconsistencies and becomes vulnerable, even though the old guard continues to defend it. A revolution follows, often catalyzed by a few bold individuals who see the world in a different way. The old paradigm is abandoned, and the new paradigm replaces it.

The paradigm shift in conservation that Temple has championed had its beginnings on the UW campus 50 years ago, when Aldo Leopold eloquently pointed out the inadequacies of the prevailing “natural resource” paradigm. That paradigm featured a reductionist approach that compartmentalized nature into discrete natural resources. Separate disciplines, such as wildlife management and forestry, managed separate resources, such as game animals and commercially valuable trees, each defined by its value when used by people. Many elements of nature were overlooked and abused under this paradigm.

Leopold came to realize that conservation was approaching a crisis between competing paradigms: one reductionist and anthropocentric, the other holistic and ecocentric. He recognized the natural resource paradigm”s limitations and offered an alternative in which the focus of conservation shifted to preserving biological diversity and maintaining ecosystem health. It took several generations for Leopold”s visionary ideas to precipitate a paradigm shift, and the revolution started in the 1970s, about the time that Temple joined the UW faculty. Throughout his career, Temple has been a flag bearer for the new biodiversity paradigm in his research, teaching and outreach activities.

Temple”s research on threatened wildlife has taken him around the world from the Arctic tundra to tropical rainforests. He has worked with some of the world”s most endangered species, such as the California condor, whooping crane and trumpeter swan, all of which have benefitted from his efforts. The peregrine falcon, a long-time focus of his applied research, was recently taken off the endangered species list because of a successful recovery effort that Temple helped design and carry out. His research on the impacts of habitat fragmentation on wildlife has resulted in major changes in the way conservationists manage landscapes–such as the forests, prairies and pine barrens of Wisconsin. His peers in several professional organizations have recognized Temple”s research accomplishments with their highest honors.

Temple has taught eight different courses in wildlife ecology, each with a central theme of conservation. He is a past recipient of CALS and UW teaching awards. In collaboration with colleagues, he helped create the new graduate program in Conservation Biology and Sustainable Development in the Institute for Environmental Studies. Now considered to be one of the best of its kind, the award-winning program takes an interdisciplinary approach in training students to preserve biological diversity while meeting human needs. Temple helped design and now teaches the program”s centerpiece course, “Conservation Biology.” He has mentored 46 graduate students who have gone on to careers in conservation in Wisconsin and around the world.

Temple”s outreach activities have placed him in several key leadership positions within the conservation community. He was a founder and president of the Society for Conservation Biology, whose 6,500 international members are professionals involved in the conservation of biological diversity. He helped found the society”s Aldo Leopold Chapter in Madison, one of the largest and most active chapters in the country. He was Chairman of the 22,000-member Wisconsin Chapter of The Nature Conservancy, and he steered the Conservancy toward landscape-scale protection for natural areas, such as the nationally acclaimed Baraboo Hills Bioreserve in Wisconsin. Temple has received the highest honors bestowed by several of the conservation organizations he has assisted.

As a spokesperson for the new biodiversity paradigm, Temple has given hundreds of presentations on endangered wildlife and biodiversity issues in Wisconsin and around the world. In the biopolitical arena, he has testified 16 times to the U.S. Congress and the Wisconsin legislature as an expert witness on conservation legislation, such as the reauthorization of the Endangered Species Act and the creation of a national biological survey. He has served on several committees of the National Academy of Science”s National Research Council that addressed environmental issues. Temple was recently a Fulbright Scholar, which allowed him to work on conservation problems in the Caribbean region.