R.I.P - Jack Ward Thomas

Big Fin

Staff member
Dec 27, 2000
Bozeman, MT
Some of you may know that Jack Ward Thomas had been fighting cancer for the last year. Last night, he passed on.

Though I've only met him a couple times, the books of Jack Ward Thomas on elk and elk ecology changed how I approach elk hunting. Most know Jack as former Chief of the US Forest Service. He was that and he was an elk hunter, for sure. Jack was an RMEF Board Member and former Chairman of the RMEF Board of Directors. His tracks are all over much of what I read on policy and process as a current RMEF Board Member.

Jack Ward Thomas and his writings are good stuff if you consider yourself an advocate for conservation. B&C currently has his three-book trilogy available in hard cover. I have them and the stories are fun to read.

In whatever role you knew Jack Ward Thomas, he was an elk hunter, for sure. Thanks to him for all he did to inspire those who love wild elk and wild places.


Well-known member
Jan 9, 2001
Laramie, WY
FS Chief Tidwell sent out a pretty good tribute to him today...

I want to take a moment to reflect on the recent passing of a former leader of the Forest Service team, Jack Ward Thomas. Jack passed May 26 after battling cancer the last few years. Jack took on his last challenge just like he did everything: using science, being optimistic, and accepting reality, and being straightforward. I will miss Jack, not only for his dedication to science and his conservation leadership, but also for his stories. Even when he and I were in a lively debate, Jack would have me laughing before we were done. In addition to his many individual accomplishments and recognitions, Jack will be remembered as a dedicated scientist for -- through his work-- science was elevated and took its’ rightful place, providing solutions to conservation challenges.

Jack was Forest Service Chief from 1993 to 1996. During his tenure and throughout the rest of his life, he provided invaluable contributions to forestry and conservation issues, leaving a lasting legacy of achievements. He was the epitome of leadership in “Caring for the land, and serving people” when he was with us.

Jack began his Forest Service career in 1966, in Morgantown, West Virginia as a research wildlife biologist. In the years that followed, he developed an amazing career as an agency scientist. He served in a variety of locations, culminating in his selection to lead the Forest Service.

During his tenure, Jack faced numerous challenges, including heavy conflict between the timber industry and the environmental community, particularly in the Pacific Northwest, and a controversial presidential forest plan for the spotted owl regions of the Pacific Northwest and northern California. Yet through it all, he managed to not only face those challenges, but also to develop a pioneering ecosystem management approach on the national forests and grasslands.

Throughout his life, Jack was a prolific writer, publishing over 250 books, chapters, and articles, primarily on elk, deer, and turkey biology, wildlife disease, wildlife habitat, songbird ecology, northern spotted owl management, and land use planning. He received multiple awards for his work including USDA Distinguished Service and Superior Service Awards; Elected Fellow, Society of American Foresters; National Wildlife Federation, Conservation Achievement Award for Science; The Aldo Leopold Medal, The Wildlife Society; General Chuck Yeager Award, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation; and USDA FS Chief's Award for Excellence in Technology Transfer. In addition, he served as president of The Wildlife Society from 1976 to 1977.

In short, Jack was an integral part of Forest Service and other forestry history. Not only did he shape our forest management philosophy, but he was also a mentor and friend to me and many of today’s environmental conservation leaders, both inside and outside the U.S. Forest Service. He will be greatly missed.

My thoughts and prayers are with the Thomas family.

Chief Tidwell


Well-known member
Jul 23, 2001
Gilbert, Arizona
I didn't know of Mr. Thomas until I ran across his work via Bugle magazine after RMEF got its start in 1984. I never became aware of all he accomplished and the depth of his studies until years later. He left some mighty impressive boot prints over the years --- we're all in his debt!

Brittany Chukarman

Well-known member
Dec 16, 2003
E. Oregon
Sorry to hear that. A former mayor of our town worked for Mr. Thomas on the Starkey project. Ground breaking research for elk management.


Well-known member
Dec 20, 2000
He was one of the folks works that I 'discovered' that led to my career path. RIP Jack.


Well-known member
Jan 8, 2015
He was a good man.
I met him in DC once years ago.
I was meeting with FS officials & Congressional members for a peer review thingy.
He offered me a cup of coffee at the meet & greet before a Congressional hearing and asked about the Tule elk where I lived....we never did discuss the Sierra Nevada Framework Plan much. LOL
We got the "Look" from his staff & Rep. Bill Thomas....it was funny.

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