The AOU Conservation Award was established in 2005 to honor those who have made extraordinary scientific contributions to the conservation, restoration, or preservation of birds and their habitats. No group of North American birds is more threatened by degradation and loss of habitat than that associated with grasslands, and no two individuals have contributed more to the conservation and understanding of their plight in the American West than Carl and Jane Bock. Through 40 years of field research, extending from the high plains of eastern Montana through the savannas of southeastern Arizona, the Bocks have made major contributions to our understanding of the habitat and landscape requirements of grassland birds. Their published works have provided critical insights into the impacts that humans have had on western grasslands and their avifaunas, including the results of fire suppression, livestock grazing, introduction of non-native vegetation, and the effects of suburban and exurban development. They have contributed to the conservation and protection of grassland habitats through their involvement with organizations and land-management agencies. Through writing and by mentoring scores of graduate and undergraduate students, they have helped to inspire future generations of ornithologists and the general public to make conserving grassland birds and their habitats a priority issue.
Jane and Carl Bock graduated from the University of California at Berkeley, where Jane studied plant ecology with Herbert Baker and Carl worked in the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology as Alden H. Miller's last graduate student. The eminent wildlife biologist A. Starker Leopold played a critical role in leading the Bocks to careers in conservation biology, encouraging them to purposefully blur the distinction between basic and applied research at a time when this was not the norm. Leopold also guided the Bocks into their first collaborative research project—a pioneering study of the avian and vegetative responses to stand-replacement fire in the Sierra Nevada. Following graduate school, the Bocks joined the faculty of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado at Boulder in 1968, where they have taught and conducted field research for their entire academic careers. Jane retired in 1999, and Carl in 2005, but both remain active field scientists.
A seminal and serendipitous event in the Bocks' life was their discovery in 1972 of an 8000-acre property in the grasslands of southeastern Arizona from which all livestock had been permanently excluded, and that had been dedicated by the owners to conservation and research. The Bocks recognized this as a highly unusual opportunity to study southwestern grasslands and bird conservation, using this relatively undisturbed site as an ecological control against which to compare adjacent areas where livestock grazing, fire suppression, and exurban development were affecting the flora and fauna. Working with the owners, they helped to secure funding and shepherded the dedication of the site in 1980 as a sanctuary of the National Audubon Society—and the “Research Ranch” became the only Audubon property whose primary purpose is scientific study. The Bocks have conducted more than 30 summers of field work there, involving numerous students and colleagues and leading to more than 50 publications that address the conservation and management of southwestern birds and their habitats. Their work was critical in demonstrating the frequently negative effects of livestock grazing on the abundance and demography of southwestern grassland birds, the impacts of wildfire on grassland habitats, and the unexpectedly complex effects of converting former ranchlands into low-density exurban developments. Results of this recent work led the Bocks to develop and advocate an exurban land ethic, whereby the ever-increasing numbers of rural residents in the American West can improve the conservation value of their properties by the way they design developments and care for the land. The Bocks have written two books for general audiences that summarize their studies in Arizona (The View from Bald Hill and Sonoita Plain). These works have received acclaim as “a successful blend of storytelling and scientific reporting,” written “precisely as well as lovingly,” that “refute conventional myths about some causes of grassland change,” that “will go a long way toward healing and restoring” southwestern grasslands, and that “every naturalist or ecologist should read.”
The Bocks have been active in conservation and study of grasslands and grassland birds in the Rocky Mountains and Great Plains as well as in Arizona. They were Trustees of the Colorado Nature Conservancy at a time when this organization purchased and otherwise protected hundreds of thousands of acres of grassland and riparian ecosystems in the state. They assisted the National Park Service in developing management plans related to fire in grasslands of South Dakota and Montana. The City and County of Boulder own and manage one of the largest municipal open-space systems in the United States, most of it grassland. The Bocks were instrumental in development of management plans for these grasslands, and they conducted original and essential research demonstrating the effects of suburban edges on birds and other wildlife living in open grasslands.
Together the Bocks mentored more than 50 M.S. and Ph.D. students, most working in the fields of ornithology and grassland ecology. In addition to her work in grassland ecology, Jane is an international authority in forensic botany and was one of the first female ecologists to conduct field research in the Soviet Union. She received the Hazel Barnes Prize in 1997, the highest award given by the University of Colorado, for a career combining teaching and research. Carl is past President of the Cooper Ornithological Society and a Fellow of the AOU In 1989, he received the Boulder Faculty Assembly Teaching Award. He was the first to computerize data from the Audubon Society's Christmas Bird Count and to demonstrate, through numerous publications and presentations, the value of this unique data set in describing and understanding patterns of winter distribution and abundance of North American birds.
Throughout their careers, Jane and Carl's work has influenced policy decisions regarding the conservation and protection of birds locally, nationally, and on an international scale. In recognition of their extraordinary scientific contributions to the conservation of avian species throughout the world, the AOU is honored to present its third annual Conservation Award to Drs. Carl and Jane Bock.
Award criteria.—The AOU Conservation Award recognizes extraordinary scientific contributions to the conservation, restoration, and/or preservation of birds or their habitats by an individual or small team (usually fewer than 10 people). Contributions from throughout the world and during any period are eligible. Appropriate activities include (1) applied research, restoration, and educational actions that conserve birds or preserve significant habitats; (2) scientific examination of the principles of avian conservation and application of new insights into species restoration; and (3) scientific evaluation, guidance, creation, and oversight of avian recovery programs or habitat-reserve restoration programs. The award consists of a framed certificate and an honorarium.