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Wildlife Society honors professor

May 30, 2014 |

By Carley Dangona

WESTFIELD – His love of wildlife and passion for the outdoors has earned Dr. John McDonald prestigious recognition from the Northeast section of the Wildlife Society.

McDonald, a Westfield State University (WSU) professor, is the 2014 recipient of the John Pearce Memorial Award that was established in 1951, in honor of John Pearce, former Regional Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The award is given to a candidate who has exhibited outstanding professional accomplishments in wildlife conservation in the Northeast. Criteria for judging professional accomplishment of nominees is contribution of knowledge and leadership over a period of several years in any areas of wildlife work including research, management, administration, or education.

“I was surprised – it’s kind of a big deal,” McDonald said. “I was sitting in the back of the room [during the society’s banquet] and didn’t expect to be called to accept an award. It’s nice to be recognized by my peers.”

McDonald has taught at WSU since 2012. “I wanted to be in a position to influence students and share what I have learned in the course of working with practicing natural resource managers over the past 20 years. Our location and ability to access a wide variety of field sites in just a short drive or walk from campus allows me to do a lot of hands-on, or boots on, labs with my courses,” he said.

Previously, McDonald worked for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for nine years, where he worked in the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program administering more than $30 million in grants each year to state fish and wildlife agencies and serving as acting division chief.

He was also a Bullard Fellow in Forest Conservation at Harvard Forest, worked for the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, was a Wildlife Ecologist and adjunct professor at Southern Illinois University and worked as the Deer and Moose Project leader for Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife.

McDonald, 47, loves the outdoors. His undergraduate degree is in forestry because “all the critters I like live in the forest.” His doctorate is in wildlife studies.

McDonald had trouble choosing a favorite type of animal. He finally said black bears because they are “amazing creatures.” He spent more than six years studying the species as part of an ongoing long-term field study that focused on researching factors that effect the survival of black bear populations.

The study required McDonald to analyze milk production, sift through scat samples, crawl into bear dens and come face to face with the creatures – young and old.

McDonald cited his main concern as a wildlife biologist as “how we [humans] can co-exist with and sustain wildlife.”  

As an instructor, McDonald wants to teach his students “to appreciate the natural history [of the world], to be able to ask good questions and to understand the research process [and its importance].”

He stated that observations of the environment are a vital step in the research process and has students spend an hour observing the environment as one of their first labs for class.

When asked his opinion about global warming, McDonald responded, “Global warming is not as dire a situation [as it’s portrayed]. The species people deal with most are pretty incredibly adaptable. Given the chance, they’ve come back.” He named white-tailed deer as an example.

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