Chapter 2

You get a feel for these creatures and you feel like these creatures.

Vancouver 1913–1919

Mount Gardiner, 1923

Mount Gardiner, 1923

Patrick, Joan and Ian McTaggart Cowan, 1923, Mount Gardiner, BC. Photograph by McTaggart Cowan [Sr.] Image Cowan_PP_214 courtesy of University of Victoria Special Collections.
Dusky Grouse

Dusky Grouse

Dendragapus obscurus Jasper, 1945. Photograph by Cowan. Image Cowan_PH_078 courtesy of University of Victoria Special Collections
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On his 12th birthday, his mother gave him a .22 rifle and taught him to use it… He started off shooting grouse for the pot. His choice spot was an inactive quarry two streets down from the Cowan’s where 23rd Street ended. It had become a booming ground, or lek, for Blue Grouse in the spring. If there was one thing a young male Scotsman was trained to do was shoot grouse.

Grouse were one of the first birds Cowan studied in depth, in 1940.5 A half century later, when Birds of BC was written, the research had advanced on every level: genetic, behavioural and ecological. Where Cowan left off, his students picked up – from his first grad student, Jim Hatter, who became BC’s first game biologist,6 to Fred Zwickel and James Bendell, who wrote the definitive tome on the Blue Grouse. In the 70 years that Cowan had observed grouse, he had seen them go from an expanding population to a species at risk in the province (Blue Listed). In 1947 he wrote, “Following removal of the conifer forest… Perhaps the most spectacular change as viewed by the layman has been the increase in the blue grouse accompanying this floral revolution. From a primitive population close to nil, this bird now exists in uncountable numbers…” Vancouver Sun outdoor columnist Lee Straight cited him in his column (as he did frequently over the years) with the headline “Game likes its logging patchy.” However, Cowan’s 70 years of observation and research also represented one industrial timber harvest cycle. He lived long enough to observe first-hand that the fortunes of grouse and logging were inextricably and inversely linked.

By the 1950s it was obvious that opening up “patches” of old-growth forest only offered temporary benefits to grouse, and that the loss of old-growth coastal Douglas fir as winter habitat was lethal. Cowan witnessed the closing in of the even-aged forests and the subsequent declines – in some cases complete crashes – of many populations of birds and mammals. At an international congress of zoology in 1963, he told the audience that ”almost none of the threatened species is being menaced through direct killing by man (our earlier problem) [i.e., hunting]. Almost all that are presently in danger of extinction are now experiencing the consequences of alteration in their habitats arising from human activity.” “Lumbering” was the first activity on his list.

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5 Ian McTaggart Cowan. “Two Apparently Fatal Grouse Diseases,” Journal of Wildlife Management 4, no. 3 (July 1940): 311–312.

6 James Hatter, Politically Incorrect: The Life and Times of British Columbia's First Game Biologist, An Autobiography (Victoria, BC: O & J Enterprises, 1997).

7 Fred C. Zwickel and James F. Bendell, Blue Grouse: Their Biology and Natural History (Ottawa: NRC Research Press, 2004).

8 Munro and Cowan, Bird Fauna of BC, 90.

9 Lee Straight, “Game likes its logging patchy,” BC Outdoors column, Vancouver Sun, n.d. [ca. 1955].

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