Rigor Vitae: Life Unyielding

Monday, October 16, 2006

BILL BURNHAM 1947-2006

Bill Burnham, long-time president of the Peregrine Fund, died today of brain cancer. Bill's experience with birds of prey extended over 44 years, and led him around the world. He authored more than 90 scientific papers and articles, and one book, A Fascination with Falcons. Together, these various publications reflect his diverse interests in raptors, general science, and conservation, from captive breeding and egg physiology to raptor ecology and species restoration. In addition, Bill edited The Peregrine Fund's publications and web site, and co-edited the book Return of the Peregrine which chronicled the restoration of the Peregrine Falcon in North America and its de-listing from the Endangered Species List in 1999.
During Bill's tenure as President of The Peregrine Fund, he focused on the continued expansion and evolution of the organization both nationally and internationally, beginning with construction of the World Center for Birds of Prey in Boise, Idaho, followed in 1986 by the establishment of The Archives of Falconry and the construction of a building specifically designed to house and breed tropical raptors (Tropical Raptor Building). Two years later, he co-founded the Maya Project in Guatemala and Belize which worked with more than 24 different raptors over a 10-year period of field work. In 1990 a field station was built in Madagascar and work began on endangered birds there; the following year the program expanded to the African mainland. Bill oversaw expansion of the education program with the construction of the Velma Morrison Interpretive Center in 1992, greatly increasing the number of annual visitors. Starting in 1993, a major program was initiated to breed in captivity and then release California Condors into the Grand Canyon, Arizona, in order to establish a wild population. This program required the construction of three buildings in Boise, as well as a field station in Arizona over the following 13 years. Additionally, large scale releases of Aplomado Falcons began in south Texas, with further releases in west Texas and New Mexico in later years. Facilities were constructed on two islands in Hawaii to work with rare and endangered Hawaiian birds; a program which was later passed to the Zoological Society of San Diego. In 1997 the High Arctic Institute was established and a field station opened at Thule Air Base, northwest Greenland, to provide a more secure base for the work Bill had been doing in Greenland since 1972. Work in the Neotropics was formalized with the establishment of Fondo Peregrino-Panama in 2000, and the construction of the Neotropical Raptor Center followed shortly after in 2001. In 2002 a long-term goal was realized with the construction of the Gerald D. and Kathryn S. Herrick Collections Building at the World Center in Boise, providing a long-term home for an extensive and ever growing library, egg and specimen collection, and The Archives of Falconry.
In addition to his work with The Peregrine Fund, Bill also attempted to influence conservation and government policy regarding the environment whenever possible. He was appointed by Secretary of the Interior Lujan to the National Public Lands Advisory Council, served as a trustee on the Boise State University Foundation, as a conflict mediator and then member of the Bureau of Land Management's Oversight Committee for the Snake River Birds of Prey Area, on the council for the multi-agency and university Raptor Research and Technical Assistance Center, on the Board of the North American Raptor Breeders' Association, on the Advisory Board of the Walt Disney Company's Animal Kingdom, as an advisor to the Philippine Government on science and conservation for the Philippine Eagle, and as a Board member of the Philippine Eagle Foundation, Inc. Additionally, Bill advised on birds of prey and conservation in various other functions nationally and internationally. He was a fellow member of The Arctic Institute of North America and of The Explorers Club. He received the Explorers Club's Champion of Conservation Award in 2004 and was awarded the Zoological Society of San Diego's prestigious Conservation Medal in 2006. In the several years before his death, Bill dedicated a significant amount of his time to the re-writing of the Endangered Species Act, working with lawmakers and testifying before both House and Senate subcommittees in an attempt to add language to make the Act more user-friendly and effective for conservation organizations.
The long-term effects of Bill's influence on conservation through the activities of The Peregrine Fund have yet to be felt. Bill strongly believed that education of local individuals in the countries in which The Peregrine Fund worked was a critical component of conservation, leading to The Peregrine Fund supporting students from Mongolia to Madagascar, with more than 20 PhDs, 53 MScs, and countless other BS and high school diplomas earned. During his tenure over 2,000 Peregrine Falcons, 1,250 Aplomado Falcons, 93 California Condors, and 47 Harpy Eagles were produced in captivity and released into the wild. Highlights included the de-listing of the Peregrine Falcon from the Endangered Species List in 1999 and the first wild-produced California Condor fledging in the Grand Canyon in November 2003. What was perhaps Bill's greatest accomplishment, and the one he was the most proud of, was the bringing together of the world-changing staff, Board of Directors, collaborators, and members that make The Peregrine Fund what it is today and have made all of the before-mentioned results possible. Bill is survived by his wife Pat and son Kurt, a PhD candidate in ornithology at Oxford.

A memorial service will be held at the World Center for Birds of Prey in an outdoor tented structure on 21 October 2006 at 2:00 in the afternoon, followed by a reception inside the Velma Morrison Interpretive Center. Those wishing may contribute to The Peregrine Fund's endowment so that Bill's efforts can be continued in perpetuity. Donations should be made directly to The Peregrine Fund and will be split equally between the general endowment for The Peregrine Fund and the endowment for The Archives of Falconry.


Blogger Matt Mullenix said...

A wonderful tribute to a great man---- thanks!

6:41 AM  
Anonymous Ricardo Padilla Borja said...

Bill was a wonderful man with a wonderful life...He`s always in our minds and in our falconry...Thank you for all your work and support Bill! We miss you!

11:58 AM  
Anonymous Clare said...

Sounds like an incredible loss to the world. So much good work.

3:49 PM  

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