A Deer is a Deer and an Elk is an Elk

this is an essay entry in:

Stories of the Working West   Return to contest page »

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by Ilona — Jun 03, 2010
118
8

The true story of a humble, brilliant and humorous game biologist

Jeffrey Grandison. Height: 6 ft. Size of heart for the wilderness and its creatures: immeasurable.

West comes a young man, Jeffrey, awarded a position with the Utah Fish and Game. Driving, he marveled at the endless blue skies, nights filled with stars seldom visible in the east, and landscapes blessed with a scarcity of civilization. Vernal, Utah, lying at the foothills of the Uintas, which would become his second home, was his assignment. The fire of a love for the outdoors and a burning desire to know, partake, and conserve the spirit of the West, its land and its creatures, was ignited.

Setting out as a law enforcement officer, Jeff worked in the Vernal region for 5 years. During those years, he spent a tremendous amount of time in the Uinta Mountains, in its carved out cirques, lakes mirroring the skies, high boulder- strewn passes and lush meadows. Signing his name in the register on King’s Peak, at 13, 528 ft, he offered his soul and being to the wilderness. In the early years he backpacked miles and miles to learn, first hand, the habitats of the wild game. He sure did his law enforcement out there on the trails! There were lots of folks fishing the endless string of high Uinta Mountain lakes never buying licenses because wardens were virtually never there. Then came Jeff! Who knew that some game warden would be hiking around with his backpack, checking for licenses? This “surprise” caused a noticeable shift in perception. “Interestingly” licenses purchased by those fishermen increased.

Working in the field -- Jeff yearned for more. He seized the opportunity to transplant and monitor ptarmigan in the Uintas. Jeff, “Mr. Ptarmigan”, spent endless days banding birds, determining their successful establishment, range expansion, nurturing, conserving and increasing the ptarmigan. His passion for being out in the field became his life; his vision for the Uintas and wildlife fulfilled. Ptarmigan thrived.

Jeffrey, game biologist, sure got things done for wildlife on the North Slope of the Uintas. Jim Cole wrote: "Your approach was based on being on the ground, applying your knowledge rather than extending theories with computer based models at your desk (I guess you DID have a desk)." Jeff’s idea of the reliability of computer models for predicting big game population numbers was: “Modeling can give you a fair idea of reality out one year. Out two years is shaky, and anything beyond that is just mental masturbation.” Jeffrey’s office ranged from ptarmigan habitat at the alpine crown of the Uintas to deer, elk and sheep at lower elevations in winter. His first hand knowledge of game and habitat was never used to “power over” people. He just wanted to share so others could learn and carry on. Unknowingly, he became a wise, respected and sought after mentor for many newly aspiring biologists and many old timers. His humor always carried him through and brought along many nay-sayers. At one large and lengthy meeting about deer and elk all being ungulates with not so many differences, Jeff brought an end to some gross misconceptions stating,” A deer is a deer and an elk is an elk”.

Jeffrey spear-headed an elk management program that is still in place today on the North Slope, Uintas. STILL working! This program has been time-tested for 25 years now. In 1976 there were approximately 12,000 elk in Utah. Now there are over 65,000. This as a result of Jeff’s efforts and game management. In 1976 -- NO mountain goats in Utah. Today -- over 3,000 goats. Jeff’s goat management plan provided the catalytic energy and spirit for this to happen. In 1976 -- virtually no Rocky Mountain bighorns and less than 1,500 desert bighorns in Utah. Now, over 5,000 bighorn sheep have their range in Utah. Results of the plan of a man who cared about wildlife, had the vision, saw the potential and filled the Utah Mountains, meadows, and high deserts with his dream.

Hey, what about moose and wild turkey? 1976 -- moose were barely getting established; you were lucky if you saw a wild turkey. The pioneering efforts of Jeffrey in transplanting moose, his persistence and dedication in the wild turkey management EQUALS over 4,000 moose today and thousands of wild turkeys ALL OVER the state.

Who can capture the wind? Who can capture in mere words the essence of Jeffrey Grandison’s spirit? A man in love with the mountains, the wildlife. A man who saw humor where others complained. A man who could win over the nay-sayers with knowledge gained from “being right out there in the field”. A man whose desk was the wilderness, who asked to go back out in the field even though he had the position of the Regional Southern Wildlife Manager. A friend remarked, “I consider Jeff to be the quintessential wildlife biologist”. Recognition was not his desire; preserving what was of the west in Utah was his only desire.

Jeff passed on early this spring. He leaves behind a legacy in the people with whom he worked but, more than that, in the land and the wildlife that live in the wilderness of Utah. His spirit will forever soar over the high Uintas, where “A deer is a deer and an elk is an elk”.