June 27, 2003, Friday
Richard Pough, 99, Founder Of the Nature Conservancy
By STUART LAVIETES ( Obituary (Obit); Biography ) 1281 words
Richard H. Pough, a founder of the Nature Conservancy whose many decades of conservation efforts, initially undertaken as a concerned individual, led to the establishment of nature preserves from Florida to Maine and as far west as Arizona, died on Tuesday at his home in Chilmark, Mass. He was 99.
Through his long career, which included stints at the National Audubon Society and the American Museum of Natural History, Mr. Pough (pronounced poe) also wrote a series of Audubon guides on birds; helped to get a law banning the sale of wild-bird feathers; became one of the first to warn of the dangers of DDT; established several important preservation groups; and inadvertently established the house finch population of the eastern United States.
A graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he began his career in conservation in 1932 while living in Philadelphia, where he owned a camera shop. Hearing about a hunting spot near Reading called Hawk Mountain, he went to investigate. What he found appalled him: hundreds of dead hawks.
Returning the next weekend with friends, he lined up the carcasses and took pictures and set out to publicize what he called a massacre.
Two years later, he put an end to the hunting when he persuaded a New York philanthropist to buy almost 1,400 acres of the mountain, establishing the country's first sanctuary for birds of prey. His success using private money to protect wildlife by buying habitats became a model for his campaigns.
In 1936, Mr. Pough was hired by the National Audubon Society to continue his work protecting threatened species. Moving to New York, he found the city in the middle of a fashion craze, with women's hats and dresses decorated with feathers. When his wife came home wearing a new plumed hat, he recognized the feather as that of a golden eagle.
He found stores across the city selling items adorned with feathers of 40 other protected wild birds. He notified federal agents, who confiscated the illegal articles, and helped to win stronger regulations.
Mr. Pough's efforts on behalf of a less exotic wild bird had unforeseen and wide-ranging consequences.
Noticing a Macy's advertisement offering ''California linnets,'' he went to Macy's and recognized the birds as house finches, natives of the West Coast protected by federal law. He again alerted federal agents, who began shutting down dealers who supplied the birds to Macy's and pet stores. But agents could not act quickly enough; some dealers, hoping to avoid fines, simply opened their windows and shooed the birds out. By 1941, the birds had spread across Long Island and today inhabits areas from Mississippi to Canada.
While Mr. Pough was protecting birds, he was also writing about them. His Audubon Bird Guide was published in 1946. Unlike the Audubon field guides by Roger Tory Peterson, which bird-watchers use to identify birds in the wild, Mr. Pough's guide provided information about behavior and arguments supporting species protection.
The Audubon Bird Guide, which focused on small land birds of the East Coast and Midwest, was followed by his Audubon Water Bird Guide in 1951 and Audubon Western Bird Guide in 1957.
While at Audubon, he spoke out against DDT, a pesticide then considered a miraculous agent capable of wiping out typhus and malaria by killing their carriers and of ridding farms and woodlands of destructive insects. In 1945, he reported on tests by the Audubon Society and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service showing that forests in Pennsylvania had lost their birds after being sprayed with DDT.
''If DDT should ever be used widely and without care,'' he told The New Yorker, ''we would have a country without freshwater fish, serpents, frogs and most of the birds we have now.'' Rachel Carson's more widely heeded warning, ''Silent Spring,'' was published in 1962.
Mr. Pough left Audubon in 1948 to join the American Museum of Natural History as the chairman of conservation and general ecology. He oversaw creation of the Hall of North American Forests, with its realistic dioramas depicting the habitats of birds, mammals and reptiles.
The experience led him to join the Ecologists Union, which was dedicated to saving threatened habitats. Believing that most people at the time had no idea what an ecologist was, he urged the group to adopt the name of a similar organization in England, the Nature Conservancy. He also persuaded Lila A. Wallace, a founder of Reader's Digest, to set up the Land Preservation Fund, which remains the organization's foremost conservation arm.
Mr. Pough was elected the Nature Conservancy's first president and served until 1956.
He also increased the preservation activities of the museum, urging it to buy Great Gull Island near New London, Conn., a major seabird study area and refuge.
To encourage greater awareness of the need for preservation, he set up a series of round-table discussions, sponsored by the museum, for leaders of Garden Clubs in the New York area. This outreach led to some unexpected successes. When Mr. Pough wanted the state of New Jersey to buy unspoiled Island Beach, he reached the governor through his mother, a Garden Club member. The purchase went through.
His preservation activities -- including fights to stop the Echo Park Dam on the Colorado River and Robert Moses' plans to extend an expressway through Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx -- eventually led to his leaving the museum in 1956.
He established the Natural Areas Council and the Open Space Institute, financed by a donation from Katharine Ordway, a Garden Club member and an heiress to the 3M fortune. Using a book titled ''Stewardship,'' written for the institute, he urged landowners around New York to donate property to the public.
He also became the president of Ms. Ordway's Goodhill Foundation, serving through 1984 and dispensing $55 million toward the purchase of land across the nation.
Mr. Pough helped preserve numerous areas of ecological importance, including Corkscrew Swamp in Florida, Congaree Swamp in South Carolina, Little Cumberland Island in Georgia, Aravaipa Canyon in Arizona, Troy Meadows in New Jersey and Devil's Den in Connecticut.
In 1981, he received the Audubon Medal in recognition of his achievement in the field of conservation and environmental protection.
Richard Hooper Pough was born in Brooklyn on April 19, 1904. His father was a geologist and his mother, an M.I.T. graduate. He is survived by a son, Tristram, of Larchmont, N.Y.; two brothers, Frederick, of Reno, Nev., and Harold, of Wynnewood, Pa.; and two grandchildren. His wife, Moira, died in 1986, and their son Edward died in 2000.
On his 94th birthday, Mr. Pough told The New York Times about his first experience as a preservation advocate, when, at age 18, he set out to save the largest Indian mounds in the Mississippi Valley from being plundered by souvenir hunters. Taking an Illinois legislator to the site, he extracted a promise to save the mounds, but faced the obvious question: ''What's in it for you?''
''I said, 'Nothing,' '' Mr. Pough recalled. ''But it taught me a lesson I never forgot. There was never going to be anything in it for me in any civic activity I undertook, a principle I have adhered to all my life.''
Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company