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Forrest Lee, "Father Goose" for giant and Aleutian Canada geese

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Forrest B Lee (July 7, 1919 - February 1, 2013)


Waterfowl professionals have said that if you were to take any giant Canada goose in
existence today, you could trace it's bloodlines back to an egg Forrest placed in an incubator, or a gosling Forrest held in his hand....


Forrest B. Lee (Father Goose), world renowned for his dedicated work with two nearly extinct Canada goose species, 93, Jamestown, passed away peacefully on February 1, 2013 at Jamestown Regional Medical Center. A full rites military burial will take place in the spring at Bethlehem Cemetery, Pettibone, North Dakota.


Forrest Byron Lee was born July 7, 1919 near Pettibone, North Dakota to Raymond and Irene (Bourassa) Lee. Dr. S. W. Melzer, country doctor and devoted canvasback hunter, delivered him into this world. Childhood experiences on the Pettibone prairie would stay with young Forrest his entire life. With younger brother Wesley, they rode to school each day on horseback and kept their horse in a rented town stable. Winter storms were sometimes so blinding they relied on their horse to know the way back home. Their farm bordered a large lake where young Forrest enjoyed the migrant ducks, geese, swans, and crane and soon took to hunting and trapping. Skunk pelts were worth a lot back then when a hamburger cost a nickel, and no skunk in the area would be safe from Forrest. He was especially efficient in snaking them out of their dens and culverts with barbed wire. A .22 rifle came one Christmas, and the following year he bought his parents their first radio with fur money.


In late 1936, the family sold their farmland and moved to Minnesota. The train box cars were opened at Verndale releasing the many head of cattle they then herded the 6 miles overland to their new wooded place along the Leaf River. Forrest would begin his senior year of high school at Verndale, graduating in 1938. Forrest attended Crosby-Ironton Jr. College from 1938-39, and St. Cloud State Teachers College from 1939-1942, earning a Bachelor's degree in biological sciences in 1942. From 1942-43 he taught high school biology and physics at East Chain School, Guckeen Minnesota.

 

In July of 1943, he was inducted into the military with the 37th Infantry Div. reporting at Fort Snelling. Over the next three years Forrest would see combat in New Guinea, Northern Solomons, and Luzon (Philippine Liberation). In January of 1946 he received an honorable discharge but soon became hospitalized with delayed jungle fever (Malaria). The GI Bill allowed Forrest to further his education and by July of 1946 he was enrolled at the University of Minnesota. Graduate work included studies at Itasca and Isle Royale. Lecture studies included hearing from a gentleman named Aldo Leopold. In August of 1948, Forrest graduated from the University of Minnesota with a Masters degree in
wildlife management and botany.

 

He spent the rest of 1948 at his parent's farm near Verndale, and then caught the Greyhound bus for St. Paul in January of 1949 becoming a game biologist with the Minnesota Conservation Department. In 1950 he became a waterfowl research supervisor, in 1956 he became supervisor of the state's waterfowl research program, and in 1962 he became supervisor of all game research for the state of Minnesota.


On November 8, 1952, Forrest married Janet Marion Buscho in Blue Earth, Minnesota. They resided in St. Paul and White Bear Lake, Minnesota where two sons were born (Forrest Jr. 'Chip', and George).

 

In January of 1962, Forrest had been studying a flock of large Canada geese on Silver Lake at Rochester, Minnesota and invited waterfowl experts in for trapping and further examination. The Silver Lake flock turned out to be Branta canadensis maxima, a species long thought to be extinct. As it turned out, the species was not extinct and additional remnant populations would also surface
later.


In 1964, the Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center was built near Jamestown, North Dakota. Its first director, Harvey K Nelson, talked Forrest into leaving Minnesota and in 1965 the family moved to Jamestown. Forrest would head the center's Canada goose production and restoration program. Forrest soon had 64 pens with 64 breeding pairs of screened, high quality birds. The project involved private, state, and federal resources and relied on the expertise and cooperation of many individuals. By the end of 1981, more than 6,000 giant Canada geese had been released at 83 sites in 26 counties in North Dakota.


As the giant Canada goose restoration effort was in full swing, another crusade, far away, was just beginning. The Aleutian Canada goose had once wintered in Japan and nested in Russia and dwindling numbers (estimated at 800 worldwide) led to a full blown biological and diplomatic relationship amongst the three countries. By 1970, Forrest was right in the middle of it. The Japanese Association for Wild Geese Protection was formed and eventually the USFWS created the Aleutian Canada Goose Recovery Team, of which Forrest was one of six members. Forrest officially retired from the USFWS in 1983 and threw himself into the ACG cause. This continued for years with many trips to the Aleutian Islands and to the Russian facility at Kamchatka. He headed up restoration efforts on Amchitka Island in the late 1970's and in 1995, at age 76; found himself aboard the USFWS vessel (TIGLAX), tube feeding hundreds of relocated Aleutian geese to a fox free island along the Aleutian chain. Not a single bird was lost in the mission and ACG numbers have significantly risen over the years. Forrest Lee's expertise with geese was known worldwide. He also worked with Russian and Japanese biologists to restore snow geese to Japan, and with biologists using ultralight aircraft to lead young geese from nesting areas to wintering areas.


Over the years, Forrest developed very close family like relationships with everyone he worked with. He was affectionately called 'Father Goose' by the Japanese and Russian biologists. They treated him like family and visited him at his home in Jamestown. Anyone who ever met Forrest quickly realized how humble and gentle of a man he was. As taken from an article in the July 1998 ND  Outdoors - 'Sitting with Forrest is like sitting with your warmest professor, hardly absent minded, but clearly a bit rumpled in baggy pants, one shoe tied the other loose, a disarming, almost profound grace working its charm and pleasantly stripping you of the need for any appearances'.


Throughout his career, Forrest published over sixty-five articles and publications. He received numerous honors and awards at the state, federal, and international level. In 1999, he also received the distinguished alumni award for science and engineering leadership from St. Cloud State University. An avid photographer, his photos appeared in National Geographic and other well known publications. Forrest was also featured in many publications and articles. He was also a
lifelong member of many professional and military organizations.

 

Forrest worked long days, seven days a week and oftentimes stayed overnight at the propagation building if the situation warranted it. When he wasn't turning eggs or tending to goslings, he enjoyed reading, writing, and family trips to Minnesota. He liked to fish and hunt. As far as anyone knew, he never fired at a giant Canada goose. Forrest was a great father and very kind to his family.


Forrest is survived by two sons, Forrest Jr. 'Chip' (Joan) Lee, Eden Prairie, Minn., and George (Virginia) Lee, Bismarck, ND; four grandchildren include Jami (Jeff) Gunville, Minot, ND, Carina (Chris) Taylor, Fargo, ND, Amber (Brent) Spooner, Bismarck, ND, and Tim (Jenny) Baumann, Duvall, WA; and ten great grandchildren. He is also survived by his nephews Michael (Rita) Rosen, Danville, CA, and Larry (Deb) Lee, Dillard, OR. Forrest was just recently preceded in death by his wife, Janet; and also preceded in death by one infant brother Lawrence Lee, his parents Raymond and Irene Lee, one brother Wesley Lee, one niece Patricia Lee, and one nephew Tom Lee.


[This obituary was written by his son, George Lee, and published in the Jamestown Sun newspaper]
 

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