Robin's Reviews > Raymond F. Dasmann: A Life in Conservation Biology

Raymond F. Dasmann by Randall Jarrell
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Dec 14, 10

bookshelves: biography, history-california, ecology, environmentalist, nature, politics, cultural-studies
Read in December, 2010

This book is part of the UCSC Library’s Regional History Project, in which historians and people who have directed the course of history in the central California coastal region are interviewed and their remarks published as an oral history. Interviewer/editor Randall Jarrell recorded and edited many such interviews while director of this project. She is well-informed and asks pertinent questions.

Ray Dasmann is one of the world’s first conservation biologists, beginning shortly after WWII. His first book “The Destruction of California” was published three years after Rachel Carson’s classic “Silent Spring.” After doing field work in Africa, helping start the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), studying at UC Berkeley, working for UNESCO, studying deer populations in California, and developing the Man and Biosphere (MAB) project, he came to UC Santa Cruz as a professor, and later Department Chair and Provost. My biggest claim to employment fame is that I was once his Teaching Assistant.

Reading someone’s own words acquaints us with a person quickly if that person is honest. This book is a wonderful way to remember Ray, who passed away in 2002. A native San Franciscan, Ray was no mild-mannered ecologist. While practical and down-to-earth, he was not afraid to eschew political correctness or to state what he believed frankly despite the consequences. His take on the University was not always rosy, and in particular he criticizes the academic system because writing papers read by a few elite colleagues is rewarded but reaching out to educate the public masses, thus having a bigger educational impact, is career suicide. He speaks of the time that administrators attempted to get rid of the Environmental Studies Department (Ray was Chair at the time), despite the California Secretary of Resources advising the governor that this department was a role model for universities throughout the world and should be supported. Interesting reading.

Ray also talks about many people and organizations in the ecological movement throughout the decades, integrating social science with environmental science, economics and the environment, native people and environmental preservation, and the love between him and his Australian war bride Elizabeth throughout their many years together. It is a nice touch that the book’s cover features Elizabeth’s renderings of ancient cave paintings from Zimbabwe, which she made onsite while he studied African wildlife.

At the end of the interview, there are four appendices: Q & A with ecology students, a 1982 talk, “Ending the War Against the Planet,” a 1976 lecture, “The Threatened World of Nature,” and concluding remarks at a 1995 symposium, “Biodiversity of the Central California Coast.”

Ray was a unique, candid, and deeply intelligent, if sometimes pessimistic, individual. His honest look at the environment is not always pretty. The book portrays him much as I remember him.

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