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January 6, 2021 / societyforhumanecology

In Memory of Jonathan Taylor – Distinguished Human Ecologist and Founding Editor of Human Ecology Review

Part 1:  Contributed by Jeremy Pratt

Jonathan Taylor, a well-known and loved leader in human ecology for more than four decades, passed away July 3, 2020 after suffering a stroke. Jonathan had been in rapidly declining health. His wife of 52 years, Suzanne was with him, as were his children Brennan and Caitilin.

I first met Jonathan in 1976 when, visiting my sister at Washington State University, I asked if she could set up a meeting for me with the WSU Environmental Sciences graduate program. Jonathan was my contact. A big bear of a man with an infectious chortle and a smile for everyone, he walked in wearing a white 10-gallon hat and a turquoise belt buckle the size of a coaster. Within 10 minutes, I was committed – I would have walked across the state carrying all my possessions on my back to work with this man. At the time, I had been planning to go into environmental law, so Jonathan saved me from that life.

Over the next year I babysat his children, dated his niece, marveled at the mute button he rigged for his TV (to kill the ads), and began a lifelong friendship with one of the best human beings I’ve had the privilege to know on this planet.

Jonathan is among the people I most admired and learned from: not least, how to be a better person. There was no one like him. Whenever I told people who didn’t know him about this amazing man, I always said three things: (1) whenever he came into a room, the room always somehow felt bigger and more expansive; (2) whenever he met people, they almost always felt better about themselves after getting to know him; and (3) he was the only person I knew who could disagree in a way that made you feel more loved than you did before the disagreement.

Jonathan was a mainstay with the Society for Human Ecology for many years. He followed me as Executive Director for the Society in about 1990, staying on in that role until 1994 when he was succeeded by Mel Cote. He became deeply involved in planning the SHE IV conference at Michigan State University and after that served on conference planning committees for the Lake Tahoe, Jackson Hole, Snowbird and a number of other SHE conferences and events. With Scott Wright, he cofounded and coedited the Human Ecology Review in 1993, serving until the late 1990’s. Previously he served in editorial capacities and on the Editorial Board of Society and Natural Resources, Environmental and Behavior, and the Journal of Human Ecology.

Jonathan received SHE’s Distinguished Contribution Award in 1997 and became SHE President from 2000-2004 (this was the post-9/11 period when international conferences were not possible in the United States). Jonathan was instrumental in the return to the U.S. after Cozumel.

Past SHE presidents and original members sent these remembrances:

“He was a friend to everyone he met and a major energy in shaping SHE and creating HER. I think about the wonderful conversations with him over the years” Tom Dietz

“It is with great sadness that I received the message about the death of Jonathan Taylor. We had the opportunity to know his kindness and joy at each SHE meeting. I remember him playing the guitar wonderfully, and so many other happy and pleasant memories.” Alpina Begossi

 “I enjoyed interacting with Jon back in the day!” Pete Richerson

“Indeed, Jonathan was a dear friend and colleague. And he had a wonderful sense of humor. There are so many friendly memories. His passing is very sad.” Bernhard Glaeser

“Jonathan Taylor was a dedicated professional, a bona fide leader, and a kind soul.  We had many wonderful times working together on projects, conferences and building SHE’s international network of human ecologists.  A real partner and a great friend.” Richard Borden

Jonathan was also a mainstay with the Institute for Human Ecology, joining myself and Jerry Young on the founding Board in 1982 and serving until we closed the Institute in 2017. Jonathan was Principal Investigator for our Zion National Park Wilderness Carrying Capacity study in 1988-1990, inaugurating a series of carrying capacity, commons, and river basin management studies conducted by the Institute on major river basins throughout the West.

Jonathan received his B.A. in Anthropology with high honors from the University of Arizona in 1967, and went on to a M.S. in Environmental Science at Washington State University 1973 (with the founding class of the program), and his Ph.D. in Renewable Natural Resources at the University of Arizona 1982. Academic posts included Assistant Professor with the WSU Environmental Science Program and Assistant Professor, Geography and Recreation (specializing in Fire Ecology), at the University of Wyoming.

Jonathan’s research positions included Environmental Research Associate, Office of Arid Lands Studies, University of Arizona; Post-Doctoral Fellow with the Environmental and Societal Impacts Group at the National Center for Atmospheric Research; and as a Research Social Scientist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service National Ecology Research Center, and the U.S. Geological Survey Biological Research Division.

Among 34 research works are attributed to Jonathan between 1981 and 2013 at, including publications on the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park; multiple articles on fire ecology, wildfire communications and community responses, fire hazards and risk-taking behavior by fire managers; multiple articles on multi-party natural resources negotiations including a policy model to initiate environmental negotiations and techniques to resolve Western water disputes; and multiple articles on the values and valuation of natural resources including visitor responses to fees at National Wildlife Refuges, eco-tourism and the economic value of Trinity River water; evaluation of the Instream Flow Incremental Methodology and other models.

Jonathan also served as a delegate and recorder for several international events including the U.S.-USSR Joint Agreement on Protection Arid Ecosystems, the Bi-National American Assembly on United-Mexico Borderlands, the Third International Conference of the US-Mexico Border Governors among others.

Part 2: Contributed by Gerald L. Young  

Two (of my former) graduate students, Jonathan Taylor and Jeremy Pratt were executive directors for SHE; both organized highly successful SHE Conferences.  One of the prized memories of Jonathan’s event was a “SHE Who Must Be Obeyed” Tee-shirt. 

Jonathan was also instrumental in the launching of the Human Ecology Review, or HER (goes well with SHE, and not accidentally, a connection attributable in no small part to Jonathan).  That is a notable legacy, now in its 26th volume. 

Jonathan was viewed as a bear of a man; he and Suzanne even used bears in their email address.  I’ve actually thought about that quite a bit.  He was not a large man, but he had a large personality—in every positive sense you can think of in that expression.  He was Gentle Ben—gentle Jonathan speaks for itself; He had a bit of Baloo in him—playful and a natural teacher; and yes, even some Yogi—sheer joie de vivre!  Though to my knowledge he never stole a single lunch basket.   

Jonathan could be a bit of a prankster.  One of the major classes in the Environmental Science Program at WSU was ES 101, a hugely enrolled survey course on environmental issues.  In one of the first lectures, a biology colleague and I shared a skit on stage titled “God and Gabriel’ in which, dressed in modified white sheet costumes, the two discussed where ‘we’ went wrong in turning humans loose on Creation.  Sometime during the session, Jonathan and another student slipped into the projector and sound room high on the wall at the back of the auditorium.  At precisely the point when our discussion most roundly damned human actions, the auditorium went dark, with horrendous flashes of lightning and the awesome pounding of thunder.  Everyone in that large room was startled and stunned, the two on stage perhaps the most: we stopped the story, dropped our sheets and, already standing, jumped into the air.   The God character came down from his brief flight within an inch or so from the edge of the stage, which could have caused a severe drop and probably injury. But he didn’t!  And Jonathan’s interruption of God in mid-speech was a long-remembered event. 

Most obvious:  we were both interested in human ecology, but with differences.  I’m a concept and theory guy and Jonathan was applied and “all-around good at things.”  Jonathan did try to follow a clearly identified path to academic human ecology—spent part of a year at UNC in the sociology department; didn’t think it a good fit.  He ended up working with Ervin H. Zube at the University of Arizona, where he earned his doctorate.  Oddly, Zube was one of our connections; Jonathan knew Zube well and, though I never met him, Zube co-authored articles with both of us. 

Jonathan spent most of his career in the Biological Research Division of the USGS in Fort Collins, Colorado.  For several decades, he was a serious researcher in what can be called, most appropriately, applied human ecology.  Look at the following words, extracted from the titles of some of his publications.  A lot of his work involved humans and their interactions, especially with the varied environments managed by the federal government:  landscape and environmental perception—perceptions of drought and of fire, etc.; importance of [you name the resource] to NP visitors; public education in natural resource management; public expectations; community collaboration; public information programs; interface communities; resolving complex resource issues;  public support for resource policies;  public concerns, attitudes and perception;  evaluation of resource ‘user’ concerns.

I loved Jonathan.  I regret that, after the first couple of years, we never again lived in the same place, in fact usually lived quite a long distance apart.  I regret we never collaborated on a research project or co-wrote an article.  I regret that I was not a more consistent friend.  We did stay in touch, but with too many gaps.  We did swap visits, but not frequently enough.  We did see each other at SHE conferences, and others, but there we were each one among many.  And, finally, I regret that I never got a ‘SHE Who Must Be Obeyed’ tee shirt. 

In an abandoned pioneer cemetery somewhere on the Great Plains, there is a broken headstone, the name is gone, but the ringing claim remains that “He did what he could.”  And Jonathan did.  Rest in peace my friend. 

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