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James (Jim) Tate, Jr. (1940 - 2024)

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James L. Tate, Jr., of Washington, DC, died peacefully at his home on May 5, 2024, following a distinguished career in the environmental sciences.



Jim recently began a memoir, One Boy's Life. Reviewing his notes makes clear that, across 'careers 'in academia, industry and government, he never stopped teaching. His time in industry was spent educating energy producers about the complexities of ecology while balancing the realities of business. In government, he worked to bridge gaps between policy goals and industry needs, completing the circle. All of Jim's efforts reflect the phrase he had adopted: Ancora Imparo –"Still learning."

He wrote to a friend, "You know me well enough to realize that I will turn to the outdoors whenever I am faced with difficulties…. Perhaps this response comes from my youth, growing up as an only child, in a rural community. When the school bus dropped me off at our farmhouse, I released my dog from her kennel and disappeared with her into the glaciated prairie lands of north-central Illinois. My mother knew not to expect me back home most days until after dark, when my dog and I would return happy and tired, just in time for bed…. For me, the way to cope with life's changes is to observe and learn from the outdoors wherever I may be, in city, town, or open land."

Jim is survived by his wife, Lin Schmale-Tate, of Washington, DC, by his first wife, Jean (Ridinger) Tate, of Golden, Colorado, and by his son and family, Brant and Nicole Tate and their two children of Brisbane, Australia.

Born April 10, 1940, to Adeline Mae (Reetz) Tate and James Leroy Tate, Sr., Jim grew up in Aurora and Waterman, Illinois. After his freshman year at Northern Illinois University, he suffered a serious fall at a summer job. Although badly injured, he returned to campus, earning a Bachelor of Science (Biology) degree and meeting his future wife, Jean Ridinger. They married in 1963, spending summers at the University of Michigan Biological Station with Dr. Sewell Pettingill and, later, teaching at the Audubon Camp in Maine. Jim received a Master of Science degree from the University of the Pacific in 1964, and a Ph.D. from the University of Nebraska in 1969.

Jean and Jim moved to Ithaca, New York, where he was named Associate Director of the Cornell University Laboratory of Ornithology. They welcomed a son, Brant Matthew Tate, in 1972, and moved to Denver in 1973, for Jim's job at the Atlantic Richfield Company (ARCO). At ARCO, Jim developed a successful new method of moving Golden Eagle nests, enabling coal strip-mining to continue without endangering the birds and their young. He also led a Western Regional Council industry task force on reauthorization of the Endangered Species Act. When ARCO restructured, however, Jim became one of some 12,000 employees furloughed that decade.

Jim and Jean divorced in 1983, and Jim moved to Washington, DC, to join the U.S. Department of the Interior. In 1986, he married Lin Schmale. The couple bought a home in Washington, DC, and Brant joined them for vacations, sometimes along with his best friend, Erick Hohenegger.

Jim served as an Endangered Species Wildlife Biologist and Policy Analyst for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and in 1995 was invited to join the professional staff of the U.S. Senate Committee on Natural Resources. He took part in Congressional Sportsmen's Caucus fundraisers, bidding on –and sometimes winning –fishing trips to Alaska and Brazil, which also benefitted Jim and Brant's relationship. Jim moved to staff the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, managing legislative initiatives including reauthorization of the Endangered Species Act and the establishment of the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation.

After the election of President George W. Bush, Jim was named Science Advisor to Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton, who remains a valued friend. As Science Advisor, he also served on the National Invasive Species Council, and as Head of Delegation to the international Arctic Council's Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program. The latter required Top-Secret clearance and involved trips to St. Petersburg and Moscow, as well as to Yakutsk in Siberia.

After retiring, Jim served as Senior Fellow of the Potomac Institute for Policy Study and as a Research Associate for the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center. He also continued hands-on biology, advising on possible sightings of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, supporting the local City Wildlife chapter, and contributing to "Farmers & Hunters Feeding the Hungry." In 2019, Jim was elected to the presidency of the Baltimore-Chevy Chase Chapter of the Isaac Walton League of America (BCC-IWLA) and received the IWLA Endowment Judge John Tobin Service Award in 2020.

Jim considered himself always a student, but he had impact as an instructor, industry liaison, policymaker, scientific author, and as a parent, neighbor and volunteer. In every role, Jim worked to empower others to learn alongside him, seeking to make a difference for the natural world he so loved.

A Celebration of Life will be held at Saint John's Episcopal Church, Georgetown, at 11 a.m. on Friday, May 24, 2024. A reception will follow in the parish hall.

The family asks that gifts in memory be sent to the Ivory-billed Woodpecker Search Fund, or to the trust established for Jim's grandchildren, or to St. John's Episcopal Church.


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From Tim Gallagher's Facebook page, about Jim. 


The Man Who Rescued the Ivory-billed Woodpecker Film from a Dumpster

A good friend of mine passed away early last month, and I’ve been struggling to write a remembrance worthy of him. Jim Tate was a renowned endangered species biologist and a lifelong conservationist. He held several key positions in the span of his lengthy career, including serving as Science Advisor for Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton during the George W. Bush administration. I first got to know him at that time, during our Ivory-billed Woodpecker searches in 2004. He had an avid interest in the bird and greatly encouraged our efforts.

Jim had another remarkable connection with the Ivory-bill. During the 1970s, when he was Associate Director of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, someone decided to throw out all the old 16mm footage they had stored there, much of it filmed by Lab founder Arthur Allen in the early-to-mid-20th Century. Amazingly, this included all the footage he'd shot of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker in 1935. You see, this was all shot on nitrate film, which was an extreme fire hazard. But still—these were the only motion pictures of the species in existence and would have been a catastrophic loss.

Jim was aghast when he heard about it, and he immediately jumped into the dumpster and dug around till he’d recovered every cannister of film and then took it to Arthur Allen’s son, David, who kept it for years, finally returning it to the Lab of Ornithology decades later. I’m so grateful every time I view this footage. It’s an amazing treasure. The clip I posted here is just part of it. And we have Jim Tate to thank for it.

This past April, I was talking with Jim about the upcoming total solar eclipse and its possible effect on birds, and he seemed unusually quiet and subdued. He finally told me that he’d been diagnosed with bone marrow cancer. The doctors expected it to be terminal, even with treatment, he said. I was stunned. But he was going to be getting regular blood transfusions to help his condition.

My friend Bobby Harrison and I decided to visit him. We planned to meet in the Washington, D.C., area—me driving from Central New York and Bobby from Alabama. We wanted to spend a couple of days with him. He had been so important to both of us, and such a good friend. Sadly, the day before we planned to drive there, his wife Lin told us he had passed away the previous evening. He had seemed very tired, she said, and had gone to bed to take a nap, as she played the piano softly in another room. The next time she checked on him, he was gone.

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