Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Theodore Sherman Palmer (January 26, 1868 - July 24, 1955) Audobon Society Co-founder; Famed Ornithologist; Conservationist

Theodore Sherman Palmer

East end of the endowed portion of Plot 5

Theodore Sherman Palmer was born in Oakland, California on January 26, 1868. In 1886, his family moved to Pomona, California where his father started a bank.

He studied at the University of California at Berkeley where he took an interest in the flora and fauna of the California mountains. A year after graduating in 1888, he joined the Division of Economic Ornithology and Mammalogy of the United States Department of Agriculture under Clinton Hart Merriam. In 1891, he led an expedition to study the biology of Death Valley and adjacent territories. He edited and published "Place Names of the Death Valley Region in California and Nevada” and “Chronology of the Death Valley Region in California, 1849-1949.”

Theodore Palmer's grave
After successfully helping organize exhibits for the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, he was named the Assistant Chief of the Department, where he served from 1896 to 1902, and again from 1910 to 1914.

He seemed to have a penchant for compiling information into books and during these years he published books about the history of hunting licenses, private game preserves, game protection, bird legislation, jack rabbits, economic ornithology and the benefits of game protection. An 1899 publication on “noxious animals” led to the Lacey Act of 1900, which protects both plants and wildlife by creating civil and criminal penalties for a wide array of violations. The Federal act prohibits trade in wildlife, fish, and plants that have been illegally taken, transported or sold. The law is still in effect.

Palmer became interested in legislation affecting all wildlife, but especially birds. This led to an association with George Grinnell and William Dutcher who co-founded the National Audobon Society. Palmer served as a vice-president of the organization from 1905-1936.  He also helped found the Washington D.C. chapter of the Audobon Society and served as its president from 1924-1941.

Pelican Island
In 1916, he wrote the preliminary draft of the treaty which protected birds migrating between Canada and the United States. In 1918 he was the Chairman of the Committee that prepared the first regulations under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. He played a key role in creating Pelican Island in Florida, the first federal bird sanctuary, which was set up to prevent the slaughter of pelicans by fisherman.  

He also became interested in publishing the obituaries of ornithologists and chaired a Committee on Biography for the American Ornithologists’ Union from 1915-1919. Palmer was so dedicated to the work that he made pilgrimages to the burial places of ornithologists and recorded them. Much of our historical knowledge of ornithologists comes from Palmer’s published works. He published the compilations at his own expense.

Palmer spent the last 2 ½ years of his life confined to his house after breaking his hip.

Connecticut Governor Jonathan Trumbull and wife Faith
Palmer was the great-great-great grandson of American founding father Roger Sherman. His uncle, Ira Hart Palmer, married Harriet Trumbull; who was the daughter of Connecticut Governor Jonathan Trumbull, Jr., who was the son of Roger Sherman's fellow judge on the Connecticut Superior Court, and who was also the son of Connecticut Governor Jonathan Trumbull, Sr..

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