National Park Service
Person of the Month


This article first appeared in the Vol. 5 No. 2 (February 1982) edition of the Courier.

Adolph Murie — extraordinary naturalist

Adolph (Ade) Murie was born of Norwegian immigrant parents in 1899 at Moorhead, Minn. His father died when he was but 6-weeks-old, leaving his mother to support him, his two brothers, and an adopted sister. As the brothers grew older they obtained jobs to keep the family going. When Ade, the youngest, was about 10-years-old he peddled milk from the family cow to many of their neighbors. Every summer after the age of 13 he worked in a truck garden to add food to the family larder. During his formative years he and his brothers camped, fished, swam, and canoed on the Red River and acquired a vital interest in the natural world.

After high school, Ade spent 3 years at Fargo College, across the river from Moorhead.

Adolph Murie

In 1920, Ade's brother Olaus had begun a study of caribou in Alaska for the Biological Survey, predecessor of the Fish and Wildlife Service, and had arranged to hire his other brother, Martin, as his assistant. But, Martin died in 1921 and the Survey hired Ade to be Olaus' assistant, and in the fall of 1922 he joined his brother in Fairbanks. While they were waiting for enough snow for dog-team travel, they were often visitors at my family home. Olaus was then courting my sister Margaret, whom he married in 1923.

In November, the brothers traveled by train with their dogs and sleds to Nenana. There they unloaded and set off for Tanana, on the Yukon, and north to the Brooks Range.

The following summer Olaus and Ade began experimental live-trapping of caribou in Mount McKinley National Park (now Denali). Though this was not especially successful, they were making observations of other species as well.

Back again in Moorhead, Ade entered Concordia College—Fargo College having closed—and he was graduated in 1924. Service as ranger on the gate at Glacier National Park, Mont., the following summer marked the start of his 32-year career with the National Park Service. In the fall of 1926 he entered the University of Michigan graduate school and received his Doctorate in the spring of 1929.

It was in the summers of 1929 and 1930 that he and his assistant, Paul Hickie, made a study of the moose of Isle Royale, which had so increased in numbers that they were exhausting their forage and starving. In his report, The Moose of Isle Royale, he recommended that the moose population be reduced either by controlled hunting or by the introduction of predators. He expressed the conviction that the most significant value of the island was its wilderness and that it was eminently qualified for national park status. In Sept. 1932, he and I were married. Our children are a daughter, Gail, born in 1935, and a son Jan, born in 1939.

While Ade was still employed at the George Reserve, where he was making a study of captive deer for the University of Michigan, the National Park Service offered him the job of investigating wildlife programs in western parks.

Louise and Adolph Murie

In 1936 he became regional biologist, stationed at the regional office in Omaha. The next year he went to Yellowstone to begin his famous study of the coyotes.

This study culminated in the publications of The Ecology of the Coyote in Yellowstone. In the conclusion, he wrote: "The National Park System is charged with the responsibility of preserving designated areas, selected samples of primitive America, in their natural condition for the enjoyment and study of present and future Americans. In line with high purpose, the fauna and flora should be subjected to a minimum of disturbance." In all his subsequent writings he stressed this philosophy for national parks.

In 1939, at the instigation of the Campfire Club of America, the National Park Service began a wolf-dall sheep study in Mount McKinley National Park. Ade was chosen to undertake this wide-ranging research. There followed 7 months of concentrated field work, followed by a period of duty in the Park Service's Washington office. In the spring, it was back again to Alaska with his family for further field studies. The winter was spent writing up the results, published in 1944, under the title, The Wolves of Mount McKinley.

The Park Service's funds were drastically reduced in 1943 and Ade's biologist position was abolished, but the Bureau of Indian Affairs then asked him to undertake a study of coyotes and cattle on the San Carlos Reservation in Arizona. Becoming ill after 15 months of work in the desert heat, Ade was advised to move to a cooler climate, so he returned to Wyoming to recover.

The two Murie families purchased a ranch on the border of Grand Teton National Park, Ade and I and our two children moved into the existing ranch house in the fall of 1945. The children attended school at park headquarters, then located at Beaver Creek. Ade was then engaged in elk migration studies.

Olaus Murie, Howard Zahniser and Adolph Murie

In 1947 the Park Service instituted a program of wolf control at Mount McKinley. Ade was sent up to monitor it and there the family remained until late 1950. After Mount McKinley, Ade was asked to make a study of the impact of grizzlies in the Teton National Forest.

An important part of the Alaska studies was the taking of pictures, both movies and stills, of the animals. The movies were shown to tourists each season by the naturalists at McKinley. Copies were distributed to many foreign countries and they were also widely shown in the lower 48 states. Some of his many articles on the wildlife of Mount McKinley appeared in The Living Wilderness, with illustrations by his brother Olaus. These short pieces were collected and published in 1961 in a popular book, Naturalist in Alaska.

From the fall of 1958 to January 1965, when he retired, Ade was stationed at Crater Lake National Park headquarters in Medford, Oreg. Every summer was spent at Mount McKinley on wildlife studies and the winters at Medford writing up his research findings. On retirement he returned to the ranch but continued to travel north each spring until 1970 when poor health forced him to stay at home. He continued to work on his grizzly monograph until his sudden death in August 1974.

Selected Books by Adolph Murie
Ecology of the Coyote in the Yellowstone, Fauna of the National Parks of the United States No. 4, U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Washington, DC, 1940.
The Grizzlies of Mount McKinley, Scientific Monograph No. 14, U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Washington, DC, 1981.
The Moose of Isle Royale University of Michigan Museum of Zoology Miscellaneous Publications No. 25, 1934.
The Wolves of Mount McKinley, Fauna of the National Parks of the United States No. 5, U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Washington, DC, 1944.
A Naturalist in Alaska, The Devin-Adair Company, New York, 1963.
Birds of Mount McKinley Alaska, Mount McKinley Natural History Association, 1963.
Mammals of Mount McKinley National Park, Alaska, Mount McKinley Natural History Association, 1962.

Because most of it is above timberline, the terrain of McKinley Park lends itself to the observation of animal life. Thus Ade spent many hours with telescope and binoculars watching and recording the interactions of the various species of wildlife. At the same time, he was interacting with visitors to the park, and discussing with them the values inherent in parks. His philosophy was best expressed in the foreword to his little booklet, The Mammals of Mount McKinley National Park.

"The national park idea represents a far-reaching cultural achievement, for here we raise our thoughts above the average and enter a sphere in which the tangible values of the human heart and spirit take precedence . . .

"No species of plant is favored above the rest, and they grow together, quietly competing, or living in adjusted composure. Our task is to perpetuate this freedom and purity of nature, this ebb and flow of life—first, by ensuring ample park boundaries so that the region is large enough to maintain the natural relationships, and secondly, to hold man's intrusions to the minimum." In his Foreword to Naturalist in Alaska Olaus wrote:

"I believe many biologists approve of the methods used in this diverse investigative research on wolves. It is true basic research. It means living with the animals, trying to think as they do, establishing an intimate relationship with the creatures that reveal their motivation in all that they do. Such intimate on-the-ground contact . . . understanding of nature which is desperately lacking in the age of human exploitation of the planet."

—Louise Murie MacLeod.

Last Updated: 17-Dec-2014