In Memoriam

Orie L. Loucks
Professor Emeritus of Zoology
1931-2016

On September 10, 2016 the World lost one of its champions. Orie Loucks an internationally known ecologist and ardent conservationist died with his family at his side at his home in Waunakee, Wisconsin. Orie was born on October 2, 1931 near Minden, Ontario. He was the second son of Albert Vinton Loucks and Letitia (Hunter) Loucks. He grew up in the outdoors on the family cattle farm where maple syrup was produced. Much of the farm was covered by a dense, mature forest of Maple and Hemlock. This is where his love of forests was born and nurtured and would become a lifelong pursuit. Although Orie’s Lindsey high school years were interrupted by a bout with scarlet fever and then whooping cough he excelled academically graduating in 1949. He continued his education at The University of Toronto earning both his Bachelor of Science (1953) and Master of Science (1955) degrees in Forestry. While at the University of Toronto he participated in many campus activities including the Wrestling team and the university’s newspaper, The Varsity. An excellent writer, he rose through the ranks to become Managing Editor his senior year. The Layout Editor was an English major from Belleville named Elinor Jane Bernstein (Loucks). The resulting partnership would endure for more than 60 years.

In 1955, Orie was offered a research position with the Canada Department of Forestry. Orie and Elinor were married on October 7 and moved to Fredericton, New Brunswick. At the same time, in pursuit of new and stimulating research opportunities, he applied to study the emerging science of plant ecology under John T. Curtis at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. The Forestry Ministry, eager for the stature of employing a US trained scholar, would fund his education with the promise that he would return to resume his work mapping the biomes of the Maritimes once he got his degree. Orie attended classes in Madison and conducted his field research in New Brunswick while he and Elinor travelled back and forth between Wisconsin and New Brunswick collecting data in the summers and attending classes the rest of the year. Orie got his PhD degree in May 1960 having completed his dissertation on an “Environmental and Phytosociological Ordination of a Regional Forest Vegetation.”

The Loucks family now, numbering three, returned to Fredericton where Orie was contractually committed to seven years of service to the Canadian Government. However, In June 1961, John Curtis at the University of Wisconsin died of cancer. Curtis always maintained that Orie was the best student he ever had. The department wanted Orie and he was encouraged to apply for the vacant faculty position despite the fact that he was still under contract. When the government learned that he was the University’s top candidate, they vacated the agreement and allowed him to assume the faculty position with the condition that he complete two ongoing studies in the Maritimes. The family, now numbering four, emigrated from Fredericton, NB back to the United States in August of 1962. One of those studies led to the classic, often cited and reprinted 1961 paper, “A Classification System for the Maritime Forest” in the Proceedings of the Nova Scotia Institute of Science. The field work that culminated in this paper found the Loucks family encamped in many out-of-the-way places throughout the Maritimes.

At Wisconsin Orie quickly established a reputation as a skilled and creative researcher, winning several important grants and earning the rank of Associate Professor in 1964 and full Professor in 1967. Tom Wissing, emeritus professor of zoology at Miami University, was a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin and first met Orie in 1966 when he enrolled in his Advanced Plant Ecology course. He remembers that “Orie was a great teacher. His enthusiasm for his subject was contagious. He knew the literature in his field and expected you to immerse yourself in it while taking the course. His exams were legendary--short essay questions that required a good grasp of the literature.” Orie would later be reunited with Tom and another student from that same class, Paul Risser, a future president of Miami University.

On October 28, 1968, the Environmental Defense Fund and a local group, Citizens Natural Resources Association of Wisconsin, filed a petition with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to have the pesticide DDT declared a water pollutant effectively banning its use in the State. Orie worked with these groups and other UW scientists to present the petition at an administrative hearing that began on December 2. The case needed to be scientifically strong and complete in the face of a vigorous defense mounted by the agro-chemical industry. He was selected to testify the last of 27 PhD’s to summarize the petitioner’s case. His skillful testimony earned him a ‘Page One Citation’ from The Capital Times and he is credited with assembling the pieces linking DDT to reproductive failure in wild birds. Terms like persistence in the environment and bio-accumulation were introduced to the vernacular and this successful banning of DDT in Wisconsin in June 1969 was viewed as impetus for a nationwide ban three years later.

It was Orie’s vision that ecological studies were inherently multidisciplinary and that comprehensive research programs would necessarily reach into many departments across the campus. As an example of this, he conceived the Lake Wingra Study in 1969. With funding from the International Biological Program this study considered hydrology, meteorology, chemical transport and fate along with a dozen biologists representing biota from benthos to fish to obtain a complete picture of the inner workings of a lake ecosystem and the impact of human activity. Eutrophication entered the Madison consciousness.

Orie worked with the US EPA and the International Joint Commission to negotiate the first Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement between the US and Canada in 1972. He continued to help shape the agreement and managed to get a section on persistent and toxic substances added to the agreement when it was amended in 1978.

In 1978 Orie moved to the Holcomb Research Institute at Butler University in Indianapolis to pursue his research vision. Initially, he served as the Science Director of The Institute of Ecology but became Institute Director in 1983. Joining HRI in only the fourth year of its existence, he guided the development of its programs in Water Sciences, Biotic Resources and Environmental Economics and Policy.

The excitement of field research, the kind that required the drive and initiative of graduate students, drew Orie back to a faculty position at a major university. In 1989 he joined the Miami University Department of Zoology, as Miami University’s first Ohio Eminent Scholar. Here, he was given generous latitude across the campus to form multidisciplinary teams. He worked with faculty from the College of Arts and Science and the School of Business develop a landmark course in Sustainability, a course that brought world class leaders to Miami e.g. John Sawhill and John Smale. Orie used the course to co-write the text book Sustainability Perspectives for Resources and Business with his colleagues Homer Erekson, Jan Willem Bol, Raymond F. Gorman, Pamela M. Johnson, and Timothy C. Krebiel. He continued a program of groundbreaking research on forest decline in the Appalachians and southern Ohio until his retirement from academia in 2002

Orie loved working with graduate students and they loved him. One of his students, Jianguo (Jingle) Wu, now a distinguished professor at Arizona State University says “I first met Dr. Loucks in 1989, at Miami University, where I was a graduate student. He soon became my role model because of his enormous knowledge, intellectual prowess, and professional charisma. I learned a great deal from his classes, academic advice, and research collaborations with me. His Ecosystem Ecology course (co-taught with Dr. Gary Barrett) and Ecosystem Theory and Problem Solving course were extremely comprehensive and thought-provocative. Between 1990 and 1991 I worked with him on the project, “Grasslands and Grassland Sciences in Northern China”, organized by the Office of International Affairs, National Research Council. We traveled together twice to the project meetings at Wingspread, Racine, Wisconsin where he told me fascinating stories of the great American architect, Frank Lloyd Wright and pioneering Wisconsin ecologists. Orie was instrumental to the development of the “hierarchical patch dynamics paradigm”, a topic on which we worked closely for more than a decade since 1990. As a continuation of our work on hierarchical patch dynamics, we along with K. B. Jones edited a book on Scaling and Uncertainty Analysis in Ecology in 2006.

A great mentor inspires. Orie was a major source of inspiration and encouragement to me for more than two decades He was the epitome of a trans-disciplinary scholar. Orie made important contributions to a number of scientific fields, including plant ecology/vegetation science, ecosystem modeling, watershed/regional ecology, air pollution, agricultural and urban systems, and sustainability. His articles, book chapters, and research reports cut across traditional disciplinary silos and articulated their connections in theory and practice. Orie was an ecologist who “thinks like a mountain” (to borrow Aldo Leopold’s phrase). Many of his scientific ideas and ideals should and will be carried on into the future. His legacy continues, and he will be dearly missed. Farewell, Orie, and thank you.”

Another PhD student, Donna McCollum, reminisced “I remember walking into Orie’s office on my journey to find a professor to work with after being accepted into Miami’s MS program in Zoology. As a “non-traditional” student – I had spent 11 years teaching in public classrooms, several years at home with small children, and was a life-long lover of nature but not a scientist – I was advised to just “walk in” to the offices of everybody in the ecology program and spend ten minutes talking with them to see if it was someone I could work with for 2 years. When I walked into Orie’s office, without an appointment, I walked out almost 2 hours later, knowing that Orie’s broad ecological view is where I would fit in the often tightly-focused world of Pearson Hall. Orie was such an important person in my life that it’s difficult to know where to begin. As a mentor he was exactly right for where I was in my life, as a conservationist he was terribly influential, and as a person he was exceptional in every way.”

“I thank my lucky stars that I found Orie as a mentor. He is the only person in Pearson Hall who would have allowed me to find my own way and do what I wanted to do. I cannot imagine any other major professor who would not only allow me to go on several international field courses, but encourage me, and then support me teaching the Belize field course when the opportunity arose. All those courses were in the summer … during field season …. By encouraging me to do these courses that developed my naturalist, management and in-the-field teaching-science skills, he let me go down the path to what I have realized is my true passion, teaching in the facilitating style required in the field. I never wanted to be a professional research scientist or tenure track professor. But I do consider myself a scientist and think I have helped students understand ecology, science as a process, and themselves with some life-changing experiences in the field. I truly believe that Orie was the only mentor who would have facilitated that life path. Orie was one of the most intelligent people I have ever known, often instantly putting together, in his head, the “patterns” shown in a complex set of facts or data. He thought on large scales – always willing to think about new data from outside the box, relating new data to big ideas without batting an eye.”

“Orie saw the world in a different way. For example on a Boundary Waters Canoe Area / Quetico National Park trip he, I , Stacey Edmunds (another of Orie’s grad students) and a few others did when he was 70 (just a year after his bypass surgery I seem to recall - Elinor made me promise to not let him carry a canoe!). I remember a conversation about the abundance of bald eagles. The advised practice for disposing of fish skeletons and scraps at that time was to place them on a rock near the water. Of course, for a wilderness traveler like me, the battle that ensues over those scraps is fun to watch and gives a look at wildlife seldom seen, otters and mink as well as birds. But Orie recalled rarely seeing eagles when he was working there in the 1950s and reflected on the impact of 250,000 canoeists leaving their fish guts on the shoreline. He wrapped up with the comment that even in a wilderness area, where humans are expected to have as little impact as possible; they are still undoubtedly changing the ecology of the whole area. Just a note – today the recommendations have changed; instead of putting scraps on rock, they recommend burying them far away from camp (so as not to attract bears). I don’t know if Orie wrote to the park service, he never said he did, but the timing - change occurring just a few years after our discussion, seems suspicious.”

“Another memory from that trip is the three of us exploring the shoreline of Basswood Lake in Canada, where he had done research on red pines 50 years before. Orie was sitting on a downed tree, likely one he had measured years ago, talking about his own research to two of his grad students! It is a precious memory – he was our science father! Also on that trip Orie kept a journal – I shouldn’t have been surprised, as he took notes at every presentation, meeting, and discussion at which I ever saw him. He had stacks and stacks of notes, articles and other “papers” on his desk, which anyone walking into his office would be sure to call disorganized, yet I can’t count the number of times we were talking and he would refer to this note or that article he had copied and then reach over to the stack where it resided, sometimes in the middle, and unerringly retrieve it. Elinor was the keeper of that stack throughout Orie’s career.”

After his retirement form Miami, Orie started his own business, IC Value Inc. in an effort to provide pension funds, mutual funds, and other investment company’s information about the environmental performance of resource intensive companies. While this endeavor was not a financial success, it did raise awareness of the importance of environmental performance to the success of corporations which has led to many other investment analysts including measures of environmental performance in their product mix.

Orie was a prolific writer all his life and was invited to write chapters and essays in more than 80 books. He wrote more than 200 papers both scientific and popular. Many are not as technical as one might presume; one of his best is “In Changing Forests, A Search for Answers” in An Appalachian Tragedy: Air Pollution and Tree Death in the Eastern Forest of North America. But perhaps his greatest work was the one that took the longest to write. Working with Elinor and his sister Barbara for more than ten years, he produced Surviving Four Migrations, The Loucks of Haliburton; a comprehensive genealogical history of his family covering seven centuries that is surprisingly readable and entertaining. Another gem, Orie’s own account of the DDT trial, is presented in Chapter 7 of Patient Earth.

Orie was bestowed with many Honors and Awards during his long career. Among his most cherished were the National Conservation Achievement Award from the National Wildlife Federation, the aforementioned, Page One Citation, and the Hopedale Unitarian Universalist Community Service Award presented to Orie and Elinor in 2013. He was the recipient of the Ecological Society of America’s Mercer Award in 1964 for the best paper by a young researcher. He was a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Doug Taylor notes that “during his many years at Miami University Orie continued his strong interest in environmental biology and conservation of our natural resources. He was a strong advocate of preserving the green space around Oxford and in the Miami River basin.” While on the Board of the Three Valley Conservation Trust he became an outspoken advocate for the hiring of an executive director that ultimately led to the organizations extraordinary success in developing easements and conservation agreements with landowners to protect lands along streams in the Miami River Valley.“In a similar vein he served on the Miami University Bachelor Reserve and Other Natural Areas Committee from 1992 to 2015 where he played a key role in helping to set up easements with landowners for hiking trails in the Hefner Silvoor Biological Sanctuary. He was a valuable member of this university committee whose responsibility is to conserve and protect the natural areas that have been entrusted to Miami University. His input on environmental affairs will be missed." Yes, Orie was a scientist and a remarkable one. But he was not content in the “Ivory Tower” of academia. Above all he wanted to make a difference and saw that possibility through conservation. Orie made many contributions to The Nature Conservancy both locally and nationally. He served as a trustee of the Wisconsin program in the 1970s and of the Ohio program in the 1990s. He also served on the Conservancy’s national Board of Governors from 1984 to 1994. Orie was a strong supporter of scaling up the Nature Conservancy’s work and encouraged the staff to think across landscapes. Ohio staff recall how easily his mind could move from the past to the present in terms of the geological history of an area. Importantly, he never accepted that poor ecological conditions in the present were what we as a society had to accept in the future. He believed that the Conservancy could play a major role in determining that future.

Orie was also an artist but didn’t know it. Anyone who visited Adams County Ohio with Orie was treated to a “lecture” or a “painting” revealing the landscape as seen through his eyes and with his knowledge. He would comment on the topography. He would note that a cloudy stream was the result of aluminum precipitate being released. He would talk about the river drainages we were passing through, where the glacial moraines started and ended, not only on a large scale but at finer detailed level. Trees have a special place in these “paintings” and he knew all the details of each species, not only from the perspective of a scientist but especially from that of the naturalist. He loved trees and everything about them. Tress were to be revered

Orie and Elinor Loucks always were a team and made an impact in every community in which they lived. They did this in Fredericton, NB, Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio and back in Haliburton County, Ontario where they established a second home in 1985. This was true even in Texas where they lived just one year. Their contributions of time and energy to The Nature Conservancy in Wisconsin and the Three Valley Conservation Trust in Ohio were enormous. They were founding members of the Unitarian Fellowship in Fredericton and were nearly indispensable pillars of the Prairie Society in Madison and the Hopedale Unitarian Universalist Community of Oxford, Ohio.


Respectfully submitted by the Memorial Committee: W. Hardy Eshbaugh, Raymond Gorman, Douglas Taylor with contributions from Donna McCollum, Tom Wissing, Jianguo Wu, and anonymous.

In Memoriam