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Remembering John Craighead

Lifelong conservationist John Craighead leaves a legacy of unparalleled wildlands and wildlife conservation

John Craighead, a great legend of wildlife and wilderness conservation, died a few weeks ago shortly after his 100th birthday. Margaret, his beloved wife and equally skilled outdoors woman, died a few days later. A wonderful story about them appeared in the New Yorker this week.

While I was growing up in Portland, John and his twin brother Frank were my heroes — I practiced falconry and dreamt of following their footsteps into the wilderness. Decades later, I spent time with John helping to create the Pine Butte Swamp Preserve of The Nature Conservancy on the Rocky Mountain Front near Choteau, Montana. I served on John’s board when he created the Craighead Wildlife Wildlands Institute in the late 1970s. And we traveled together most winters in Latin America when I was president of The Nature Conservancy International.

My son Sam and I shared some of these stories in our book, Cache: Creating Natural Economies.

On one memorable trip to Costa Rica with John, my wife Janie and our friend Sophie Engelhard came along. Not long after, Sophie joined us again along with John, Margaret, and their son, Derek, and others on a float trip down the Colorado River. Sophie and Derek were married not long thereafter, and are lifelong friends. A founding board member of Ecotrust, Sophie has made much of my work at The Nature Conservancy, Conservation International and Ecotrust possible through the generous support of her family’s foundation for over thirty years.

All of us at Ecotrust are saddened by the passing of John and Margaret and the Craighead family’s loss, while buoyed by their remarkable life-long contributions to science and conservation.

John Craighead, age 93, reads his poem entitled Listening:

Whoo whooooo whooo whoooo
Calls the great owl in the tree
Wish that I could fathom the woots that erupt from thee
They speak to other owls, I know
Telling them thus far, only can you go
But pose questions beyond boundaries, land and mate
Listening with heart and mind, they ask
What is our fate?