Acclaimed black bear researcher Michael Pelton has been honored by the Wildlife Society, an international nonprofit scientific and educational association dedicated to excellence in wildlife stewardship through science and education.
Pelton is professor emeritus of the Department of Forestry, Wildlife and Fisheries at the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture. There he supervised the programs of 93 graduate students, 55 of whom conducted research on black bears on 16 study areas in eight southeastern states. His 32-year study in Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the longest continuous study of any bear species in the world.
In recognition of his career impacts, the Wildlife Society has honored Pelton with its 2012 Caesar Kleberg Award. The award is bestowed for a body of work in applied wildlife that responds to or has potential application to high-priority needs in wildlife management and conservation. The society specifies that this research must have resulted in application of management and conservation “on the ground.”
The research Pelton and his students conducted at UT has had direct impacts on wildlife management in southeastern states, including Tennessee.
His leadership in applying research findings to management and establishing effective collaborations at the local (Great Smoky Mountains National Park), sub-regional (southern Appalachians), and regional scale (southeastern U.S.) became recognized internationally.
His standing in his field led him to be invited to help orchestrate the first field studies on giant pandas in China. Other international research projects include the first brown bear study in Spain, collaborations with renowned bear researchers in Norway and Russia, as well as surveys of Andean bears in South America and Asiatic black bears in Japan.
Pelton’s widely published findings along with his relentless efforts to educate not only professionals but also the public by forming collaborative partnerships and organizations, locally, regionally and internationally, led to recovery and improved management of imperiled species, those in need of management, as well as more common species.
Although he and his graduate students are best known for their contributions to the ecology and management of bears, they also made far-reaching contributions to the management of several other species, most notably raccoons and river otters.
While Pelton is now retired, he continues many of his conservation efforts today while scores of his students carry on the science-based management that he helped instill in them.
Reflective of the span of impacts Pelton had as a professor, he held joint appointments in research and teaching in UT AgResearch and the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources. He had additional faculty appointments in the UT graduate program of ecology and ethology and adjunct appointments at the universities of Arkansas, Clemson and Mississippi State.
Pelton has had an enormous impact on our departmental programs in wildlife management,”
says Keith Belli, head of the Department of Wildlife, Forestry and Fisheries. “His
dedication to research, teaching and outreach have left a legacy, both in terms
of careers launched, and the direction of our activities. He is one of the true giants in his field.”
The UT Institute of Agriculture provides teaching, research and outreach through the colleges of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources and Veterinary Medicine; AgResearch, including its system of 10 research and education centers; and UT Extension with offices in every Tennessee county.