David Robert Klein, world-renowned ecologist and lover of life, died peacefully surrounded by family on November 21, 2020 at the age of 93. His life was filled with adventure and personal connections. He was passionate about the environment, and happiest outdoors.
Dave was born in Fitchburg, Massachusetts on May 18, 1927, the youngest of three siblings. During the depression, his family lived near his grandparent’s small farm in Vermont and he enjoyed helping his grandfather. As a teenager he and his buddies scraped together enough money to buy a huge Essex touring car which was an antique, even then. It was hard for teenagers to get gas during the war, so sometimes they ran it on kerosene. That led to power issues, but there were plenty of guys to push. He kept in touch with his friends from that time all his life.
His sister, Betty has said of Dave, “when he was a child, we always thought that Dave would become a lawyer as he had the ability to pursue an idea to the end.” But as a child he wanted to become a farmer like his grandfather. Though his career turned out to be research and teaching, those threads of working with plants and animals, and pursuing ideas ran through his life.
Near the end of World War II Dave joined his older brother and sister in the Armed Services and studied to be a Navy pilot for a year. After the war, he found a job in the Connecticut woods as a forester. In 1947, he and one of his forester friends headed to Alaska in search of adventure and bigger, wilder forests. They drove a model A Ford to Fairbanks and spent the summer working. Dave got a job putting siding on houses and in the fall helped build a wilderness lodge in the Brooks Range. Thus, began his lifelong love affair with Alaska. He decided he needed to go back to school to study wildlife and become a biologist.
In 1948 he started his undergraduate degree at the University of Connecticut in wildlife. He graduated in 1951 with a degree in Wildlife/Plant Science and headed back to Fairbanks to pursue a master’s degree through the newly formed Alaska Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit. As a student there, he had the opportunity to work in the Talkeetna, Chugach, and Kenai Mountains. He remembered in his memoir, The Making of an Ecologist, “It was like nirvana for me because of my fascination with alpine ecology.” He graduated in 1953, having written his thesis about mountain goats on the Kenai Peninsula, and was the third person to earn a Master’s in Wildlife Management at UAF.
Upon graduation, Dave was drafted into the U.S. Army for the Korean War. His one year in the Navy did not exempt him from the draft. During his service from 1953 to 1954, he was stationed at Fort Richardson in Anchorage and at Fort Wainwright in Fairbanks where he served as a platoon leader in a scouting unit. They had dog teams, and at one point mushed from Tanana to Fairbanks with stopovers at Tolovana and Old Minto. On the weekends he built a log cabin near Fairbanks, where he planned to live after discharge. However, he never lived there because after he got out of the Army he was hired as a technician for the Fish and Wildlife Service doing field work. In January of 1955, he accepted a job as a full-time permanent wildlife biologist in Petersburg. He was responsible for deer management for all of southeast Alaska.
In Petersburg, he met a schoolteacher, Arlayne Brown, whom he married in December of 1955. They had two children during their years there: Martin and Peggy Ellen. In 1959, Dave and his family moved to Vancouver, British Columbia, so that Dave could pursue a PhD in Zoology-Ecology. His dissertation work looked at the effects of habitat on deer size and productivity on three islands in southeast Alaska.
In 1961, when he was finished with his academic work, but still writing his dissertation, Dave took a job with the newly-formed Alaska Department of Fish and Game and moved the family to Juneau. He oversaw projects around the state funded by the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act. In 1962, he was offered a job as leader of the Alaska Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit that was funded by the US Fish and Wildlife Service and administered by the University of Alaska in Fairbanks. Dave decided to take advantage of this opportunity to influence future wildlife research and guide students and moved to Fairbanks. It was a stressful time to start a new and challenging job because he was still finishing his PhD dissertation, had a young family with two children, and his third, Laura, on the way, and for some reason was also building a house! In 1963, he finished his PhD, Arlayne gave birth to Laura, and the family moved into the basement of their half-finished house on Lawlor Road.
Dave was a leader in promoting the role of habitat in effective wildlife management of large hoofed mammals (ungulates), including deer, moose, caribou, mountain sheep, muskoxen and mountain goats. He was valued for his understanding of how ecosystems functioned and the importance of interconnectivity for the conservation of species. He taught and debated these principals with graduate students, post-doctoral students and faculty within the Coop Unit, the Institute of Arctic Biology (IAB), and the Department of Biology and Wildlife Management at UAF. Dave was extremely active and hands-on in fostering and mentoring almost 100 graduate students and their field research, as well as newly appointed biology faculty. He also was influential in the establishment and management of IAB through his membership on the IAB Research Advisory Committee and the board of the Institute’s Large Animal Research Station.
In 1967, Dave took his whole family to Denmark for six months to study roe deer habitat relationships. He was able to apply this knowledge of roe deer ecology to later work on caribou, muskoxen and moose in northern Alaska. Contacts he made with wildlife professionals in Norway led to a Fulbright grant and sabbatical with the family in Norway in 1971-72. The Fulbright grant also led to connections and collaborations in other parts of Scandinavia and Portugal that continued for many years.
Dave was recognized in Alaska and internationally for his expertise on caribou, reindeer and muskoxen. In particular, his six field trips to St. Matthew Island from 1957 to 2012 to study the islands reindeer, foxes, birds, ecology, and geology proved pivotal in his shifting views on animal-habitat relationships and the long-term nature of the work has been a major contribution to biological studies in Alaska. Early he saw how comparative studies across the circumpolar north, where ecosystems are similar in many ways, would allow basic science to be applied as important management tools. With this knowledge of arctic species and ecology, Dave was frequently asked to join or advise research projects across the circumpolar north. For example, in the 1970s he was a trusted advisor to graduate student research projects, agencies, and conservation groups associated with construction of the Trans-Alaska Oil Pipeline. And in the 1970s and 1980s, he participated in scientific exchange visits to the USSR and the Russian Far East as part of President Nixon and Premier Brezhnev’s US-Soviet Joint Commission on Scientific and Technical Cooperation. d. With several faculty at UAF, Dave proposed and helped organize the First International Reindeer/Caribou Symposium held in Fairbanks in 1972 and the First International Muskox Symposium in 1974. These symposia were extremely well attended and continue today as the International Arctic Ungulate Conference. His connections with scientists in Canada, Russia, Scandinavia, Iceland, Greenland, Portugal, and South Africa led to many fruitful exchanges, collaborations, and friendships over the years. These included proposing new wildlife management approaches in Portugal (1975), caribou, muskox and tundra plant research in Greenland (1982-2000), reviewing academic science programs at the University of Joensuu and Kuopio in Finland (1993) and the Mountain Mistra program in Sweden (1998-2000), and teaching a field course in Finland for the Circumpolar PhD Network in Arctic Environmental Studies (CAES) (2000). Dave also was one of the first officers of the Alaska chapter of the Wildlife Society and remained active in that organization throughout his life.
Dave remained Unit Leader for the Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit until 1991. At that point the Cooperative Fish Unit was combined with the Cooperative Wildlife Unit and Dave’s position changed to Senior Scientist with the Unit until he retired in 1997 as professor emeritus. Dave’s love for, and fascination with, Alaska and the Arctic led to prolific research and writing projects. He authored or co-authored over 130 papers, and as professor emeritus he continue to publish research and promote interdisciplinary projects through his friendships and mentorships for the next 23 years. In retirement, he volunteered for the Alaska chapter of The Nature Conservancy, first on their board, and later as an advisor and trustee, and helped produce the 2004 Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA) for the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program (AMAP).
He received the following honors and awards:
Dave spent his final years with a sense of urgency to compile stories from his career. His last literary endeavor was a book on his life and philosophy of ecology which he cowrote with Karen Brewster: The Making of an Ecologist: My Career in Alaska Wildlife Management and Conservation. https://www.alaska.edu/uapress/browse/search/index.xml
While he enjoyed a good debate and had his strong opinions, Dave was always willing to hear other sides of an issue. He was known for his generosity, humor, verbosity, and brilliance. Many have fond memories of the “philosophy” meetings at his home. He loved ideas and he loved creating. He built all manner of things; coalitions, structures, ski trails, traditions and many connections between people all over the world.
Dave was preceded in death by his mother Norma Peverly Klein, father Ferdinand Klein, sister Betty Prior, and brother Richard Klein. Dave is survived by his son Martin Klein (Laurie), daughter PeggyEllen Kleinleder (Rich), daughter Laura Klein (Paul Devlin), grandchildren: Bethany, Angela, Carley, Crystal, Jonathan, and Ryan and great-grandchildren: Abby, Gabe, Logan, Coralie, Tristan, Dominic, Jakodi, and Kyrie-Rae, as well as by former wives Arlayne Knox & Lou Anne Maxwell. Dave is also survived by the numerous friends, colleagues, students, nieces/nephews, neighbors and “adopted” children and grandchildren that he positively impacted during his long life. He made friends easily and kept them forever.
From his children and grandchildren: Thank you for your example of pursuing your passion and inspiring those around you to keep learning, keep exploring and keep sharing what you've discovered with the world.—Your value of education and support of us going to college is a gift I will always be incredibly grateful for. I know you touched so many people’s lives it is hard to measure how much you help shape our world.
Dave will be remembered for his willingness to get involved in complicated and far-reaching projects, his saunas, ski trips, badminton and ping pong games, and his amazing smile. We will miss him. In the words of one of his close friends, “He was a magnificent man!”
Quote from one of Dave’s poems:
“A leaf falls on still waters, breaking the mirrored surface and radiating concentric ripples.
Lives that touch radiate waves that span the waters of life through chains of friendships.”
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