People passionate about nature

Dr. William O. Pruitt

Crocus Award Recipient 2000

Ernest Thompson Seton Medal Recipient 1984

Honorary Life Membership 1980

Dr. William O. Pruitt received his Ph.D. from the University of Michigan in 1952 and his research resulting in over 65 publications, 31 unpublished research reports, and three films and videos provide great insights into subarctic northern forest ecology.

Dr. Pruitt's prolific career began in the 1950s when he moved to Alaska, there becoming fascinated with snow ecology - so much so that he is known as the Father of North American boreal ecology. In the 1960s he moved to Canada to conduct further research into snow and its impact on our environment at a time when there was little scientific data or interest in the subject.

Over 30 years of his career have been spent in the snows of Newfoundland, Alaska and Manitoba, and many of his studies centred on the thermal qualities of snow and the impact of snow on wildlife. He spent many years following caribou herds to garner enough data to develop a "snow index", to give meaning to their seemingly erratic migration patterns. He reasoned that with indexes for other species as well, ranges of boreal mammals such as moose, elk and deer could be mapped - an important tool in future wildlife management decisions.

As important as Dr. Pruitt's research is his role as educator, sharing his wealth of knowledge and inspiring others to study and experience the north. Believing that biological research was best conducted "on the ground" and that research on the preservation of a species yields more accurate results if conducted in its natural environment, he established the Taiga Biological Research Station in the 1970s. Located at Wallace Lake - 260 km. northeast of Winnipeg - and having the highest snow accumulation in Manitoba, this is Precambrian Shield country containing a diversity of habitats, from boreal forest to glacial sand flats to bogs. The resulting data can be extrapolated to other parts of the country.

The field station is the learning centre for many graduate and undergraduate students. A primitive facility, the students live in conditions comparable to those of the subjects they are studying. They gain not only a knowledge of field research techniques, but also learn how to survive in the wild, as well as gaining an enhanced appreciation of nature. Because the station is in an area threatened by fire, subsequent fields of study have included renewal and recovery of habitat after a fire which affected the station and the surrounding area in 1976. Dr. Pruitt has supervised over 16 thesis subjects and the station has had a tremendous impact on boreal studies, resulting in an excellent library of research publications on caribou, marten, wolves, small mammals and the environmental conditions in which they live.

A Professor of Zoology at the University of Manitoba since 1970, Dr. Pruitt is generous with his time despite a demanding work schedule, teaching courses in mammology and boreal ecology. He has conducted many field trips, demonstrated winter ecology to schools (qhuinzhee building workshops are especially popular), teachers' groups, naturalist organizations and clubs in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Ontario and countries abroad. He is the recipient of many awards, including the Manitoba Naturalists Society's Seton Award, the University of Manitoba's Outreach Award, and in 1989 the Government of Canada conferred upon Dr. Pruitt the Centenary Medal for the Northern Science Award. In 1989 Dr. Pruitt served on Manitoba's Environmental Task Force for wildlife habitat protection.

In recent years there has been an ever-increasing interest in development in the north. No longer viewed as a barren landscape, Canada's north is now being explored for its potential economic opportunities. Dr. Pruitt's extensive studies and the bodies of research that he inspired are valuable sources of reference to the boreal environment which can be used in management and preservation decisions for the benefit of present and future generations.