James D. Yoakum Papers

Identifier: 2013-27

Scope and Contents

The James D. Yoakum Papers span the years 1816-2012, however the bulk of the materials date from 1949-2012. The earliest materials dated from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were acquired by Yoakum to be used as part of his book, Pronghorn: Ecology and Management (2004) and/or the pronghorn bibliography published after his 2012 death.

Materials consist of Yoakum’s personal papers including items from his college years, personal and professional correspondence, daily diaries from 1970-2012, scrapbooks, various types of articles, reports, theses and dissertations, book chapter drafts, bibliographies, and technical papers. Yoakum spent considerable time writing letters to other professionals requesting copies of articles, books, technical papers, and other publications and literature on pronghorn and pronghorn-related issues. As a result, he assembled a wealth of sources for his own research and publication, which he also loaned out to other interested professionals in the field.

The materials in this collection offer considerable insight into Yoakum’s life and career beginning with his discharge from the U.S. Navy in the late 1940s and his entrance into Humboldt State University in Arcata, California (1949-1953). Following this same trajectory, these materials document Yoakum’s activities as a graduate student at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon (1954-1957). From there, materials chronicle Yoakum’s career with the Bureau of Land Management (1957-1986), including information regarding his initiatives as the agency’s first wildlife biologist, and documentation from his lengthy membership in The Wildlife Society. A large portion of the materials in this collection pertain specifically to the pronghorn and its habitat, which was Yoakum’s life work and passion.

Series 1: Personal, consists of a variety of materials accumulated by Jim Yoakum throughout his personal and professional life. This group contains materials mostly related to aspects of Yoakum’s personal life, but it is intermingled with other materials that pertain to his profession as a wildlife biologist too. It would have been nearly impossible to entirely separate the two because Yoakum’s profession attributed so greatly to his lifestyle and identity. While many of these materials were gathered and saved for personal reasons, most have significance that relate to his professional career. One example of this is the “general” correspondence, which appears in this group. Many of Yoakum’s letters begin with cordialities but eventually go on to discuss pertinent rangeland or wildlife management issues. His teaching materials are another example of the personal and professional sides mixing. Although teaching university courses were part of special assignments allowed by the BLM, Yoakum enjoyed the satisfaction that came with teaching college-age students.

Series 2: The Wildlife Society (TWS) is comprised of materials relating to Yoakum’s membership and close involvement in this organization on the local and national levels; materials date from 1953-2011. Yoakum joined TWS in 1955 and later became a life member. He was actively involved in the organization from the beginning including efforts to create TWS Western Section, serving as the president from 1970-1971.

Yoakum was also integral in producing the educational audio/visual programs “Silver Wildlife” and “Golden Wildlife” for use in Nevada and California schools, and aided in establishing professional standards and a code of ethics for the wildlife profession. Due to his dedication to the organization, the Western Section established the James D. Yoakum Award to recognize outstanding individuals who have provided long-term service, support, and commitment to furthering the section’s goals, programs, and operations. Materials in this series reflect Yoakum's positions on the Executive Board including meeting minutes, position statements, business updates, a few articles, correspondence, and reports.

Series 3: The Pronghorn Antelope, is the largest group in the collection. Although Yoakum was interested in all aspects of wildlife management, his passion in life was studying the pronghorn and its habitat. Yoakum was regarded as the leading expert in North America on this unique and native ungulate. The breadth and depth of his work made him an icon of sorts within the wildlife profession.

The pronghorn has unique significance in North America, which was first brought to scientific notice by the Lewis and Clark Expedition while traveling through what is today South Dakota. Early depictions of the pronghorn appeared in ancient petroglyphs and written accounts produced by seventeenth-century Spanish explorers, who often referred to the pronghorn as "goats." The pronghorn is the only living species of its genus, and that genus is the only one within that family. It is also the fastest land mammal in the Western Hemisphere, second only to the cheetah, able to reach speeds of up to 55 mph.

By the late nineteenth century, pronghorn numbers were dwindling due to expansion onto the plains, grasslands, and basins of the American West. Therefore, protection and conservation of the pronghorn and its native, wide-open habitat became much more of an issue beginning in the early decades of the twentieth century. By the 1940s, the pronghorn made an unprecedented and unparalleled comeback due to science-based wildlife management that was supported largely by conservation organizations and the sportsman's community in the United States.

In addition to studying and producing numerous publications on the pronghorn, including the seminal pronghorn bibliography and book, Yoakum was also a staunch supporter of the Biennial Pronghorn Antelope Workshop, which took place every two years in locales throughout western North America. In 2002, Yoakum was presented with the Berrendo Award—the workshop's most prestigious recognition, given to individuals for their significant contributions to the conservation and management of the pronghorn. The materials located in this group heavily reflect Yoakum’s contributions to the study and management of the pronghorn.

Correspondence specific to any of these particular subjects, including Yoakum and O'Gara's pronghorn book, or Carrizo Plain, has been maintained within each respective series. Other more general correspondence can be located in Series 1, Subseries 5: Personal and Professional Correspondence.

Series 4: Other Wildlife and Fish, consists of various materials relating to fish and other wildlife that are not the pronghorn. Although much of Yoakum's work was focused on studying the pronghorn, his interest in all things wildlife is evident in the materials contained within this group. As a teenager working in the oyster beds at Morro Bay, California, Yoakum developed an interest in the local waterfowl as they made their annual migration. While in college at Humboldt State University, Yoakum began studying the Roosevelt elk and black-tailed deer of the area.

In graduate school at the University of Oregon, and into his early professional career as a range manager, Yoakum raised two bobcat kittens named "Rufus" and "Bobby," who regularly appeared in the local newspapers and occasionally in elementary school classrooms. Although these wildcats were pets, Yoakum closely studied their behavioral traits and diets. He observed the cats, recorded his observations, and published several articles on specifics aspects of domesticated wildcats. He kept in contact with several other wildcat owners from around the country that often wrote and asked for advice or suggestions.

As a wildlife biologist employed by the BLM, Yoakum's understanding of wildlife and fish on public lands was necessary for implementing procedures and projects, and for evaluating the overall health of rangelands. Some of these issues are visible within the series located in this group, especially in the materials regarding the pupfish, and to a lesser extent, Yoakum's special assignment in Peru and Bolivia to study the vicuña.

Series 5: Range and Wildlife Management, serves as a catch-all group for materials that did not necessarily fit with any of the other groups. Much of the material in this group relates to issues surrounding range management and stewardship of public lands for cattle grazing and recreation. This series also includes information in the form of reports, articles, bulletins, and correspondence regarding plant varieties on rangelands, chaining and seeding projects, various surveys and inventories of big game, and habitat classification.

Yoakum accumulated the bulk of these materials during his tenure with the BLM. Most of the information from BLM deals with specific rangeland projects including prescribed burns and fire rehabilitation as well as training for range managers and wildlife biologist. This series, perhaps more so than the others, reflects portions of Yoakum's career with BLM.

There were not enough Yoakum-specific materials to warrant creating separate series, so any papers or reports written by Yoakum appear in the appropriate series in corresponding order.

Series 6: Wildlife Photography, reflects Yoakum's lifelong passion for photographing wildlife both for personal and professional purposes. Included along with the papers was an extensive photo collection of negatives, slides, and prints. Materials in this series are related to the usage of Yoakum's images by educational institutions, periodicals and magazines, and wildlife organizations. Included are copies of the various publications that featured Yoakum's work, and the correspondence between Yoakum and these various entities regarding his photography.

This series also features scripts from the many different slide programs put together by Yoakum or used his photographs. Many of these programs were used for BLM educational or training purposes. The only scripts not appearing in Subseries 2) Slide Programs, are from the "Silver Wildlife" and "Golden Wildlife" educational programs produced by The Wildlife Society Western Section. These materials are found in Series 2, Subseries 1: The Wildlife Society Western Section and Nevada Chapter. Additionally, a slide program on elk that Yoakum used in his teaching at Humboldt State University is located in Series 1, Subseries 3: Teaching, and one on the vicuña located in Series 4, Subseries 4: The Vicuña of South America.


  • 1816-2012
  • Majority of material found within 1949-2012


Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research. Materials must be used on-site; advance notice suggested. Access to parts of this collection may be restricted under provisions of state or federal law.

Biographical Note

James “Jim” Donovan Yoakum was born on June 14, 1926 in Templeton, California. Early exposure to California ecosystems helped him gain understanding and appreciation of the flora and fauna in his own backyard.

In 1944, prior to his 18th birthday, Yoakum left high school to enlist in the U.S. Navy. He served in the Pacific theater, including the battle of Iwo Jima. Yoakum's military service lasted until 1947, and with the GI Bill Yoakum was able to receive a college education and pursue a career in wildlife biology.

Yoakum began attending Humboldt State University in Arcata, California in 1949. While in college, Yoakum gained experience working for the U.S. Forest Service, California Department of Fish and Game, and the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service in Alaska. Yoakum graduated with a B.S. in Wildlife Management and a minor in Range Management in the spring of 1953. In 1954, he continued his education at Oregon State University in Corvallis on a fellowship from the Oregon Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit. He began research on the pronghorn antelope in and around Lakeview, Oregon. Yoakum recognizied the need to document pronghorn habitat requirements, assess food habit investigations, and report manipulation practices attributing to the enhancements of pronghorn habitats. He completed his thesis “Factors Affecting the Mortality of Pronghorn Antelope in Oregon” and graduated with an M.S. in Wildlife Management in 1957.

After graduation, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) hired Yoakum as a range manager in Vale, Oregon. The position consisted of a field assignment in pronghorn habitat management where Yoakum could continue his ecological studies of the native ungulate. Locally he began making a name for himself when he raised two orphaned bobcat kittens named Rufus and Bobby, who regularly appeared in the local newspapers, elementary school classrooms, and even a special bobcat episode of “Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color."

Yoakum spent five years as a range manager in Oregon and Nevada, conducting studies, publishing his research, and photographing wildlife and habitats. He transferred to Ely, Nevada in 1959, where he began writing a weekly newspaper column on wildlife. In 1961, Yoakum was hired as the first wildlife biologist in BLM’s history.

Yoakum immediately began by developing and establishing wildlife habitat management programs. He initiated research and enhancement projects including meadowland restoration, wildlife economics, big game habitat investigations, fish projects, rangeland bitterbrush plantings, restoration of the bighorn sheep populations, and spring conservation for the Devil’s Hole pupfish.

During Yoakum’s lengthy career with BLM, the agency encouraged him to undertake several interagency teaching assignments including instructing range management courses at Humboldt State University, big game management courses at Colorado State University, and as an adjunct professor in the Biology Department at the University of Nevada, Reno beginning in the early 1980s. Besides teaching, he traveled on three assignments to Canada, four to Mexico, and a six-month detail counseling the governments of Peru and Bolivia on the ecology and management of the endangered vicuña.

Yoakum was a lifelong member of The Wildlife Society (TWS), and promoted the creation of a Western Section that would include both California and Nevada. As a member, Yoakum assisted in developing publications, prompted the establishment of a Wildlife Communications Workshop, and helped to develop the Wildlife Professional Development and Continuing Education Program. Other notable projects included the production of the conservation-educational audio/visual “Silver Wildlife” and “Golden Wildlife” programs for Nevada and California schools. Over the decades, Yoakum held most of the officer positions on The Wildlife Society Executive Board, including president of the TWS Western Section (1970-1971) and historian. In honor of his work for the organization, the California-Nevada Section created the James D. Yoakum Award, which recognizes individuals who have provided outstanding, long-term service, support, and commitment to TWS Western Section.

After retiring from BLM in 1986, Yoakum continued working as a consultant in wildlife biology and management with a focus on the study and management of the pronghorn. He continued photographing wildlife, writing, and speaking. Among his notable publications are "Pronghorn: Ecology and Management," co-authored with Bart O'Gara, and "Pronghorn Bibliography: A Review of Literature and Contributions to a Bibliography from 1649-2011."

James D. Yoakum passed away on November 21, 2012.


43 Linear Feet (47 boxes, 1 oversize folder)

Language of Materials



Materials cover the life and professional career of Bureau of Land Management wildlife biologist and pronghorn antelope expert James “Jim” D. Yoakum. This collection consists of approximately 44 cubic feet and materials date from 1949-2012, with bibliographic references from 1816 on. Included are photographs, negatives, correspondence, daily diaries, a variety of technical wildlife and range management reports, articles, and bibliographies, book drafts, records from the Wildlife Society, and information relating to wildlife photography. Within these materials, particular emphasis is placed on the pronghorn, which was the subject of Yoakum’s life work.


Arranged into the following series: 1) Personal; 2) The Wildlife Society; 3) The Pronghorn Antelope; 4) Other Wildlife and Fish; 5) Range and Wildlife Management; 6) Wildlife Photography

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donated by the Yoakum Estate's executor Marshall White in 2013.

Related Materials

Other pronghorn antelope printed materials are found in Jim D. Yoakum and Bart O'Gara's book Pronghorn: Ecology and Management (Boulder, Colo.: University Press of Colorado, 2004).

Also see Bart O'Gara's Prairie Ghost: Pronghorn and Human Interaction in early America (Boulder, Colo.: University Press of Colorado, 2004).

Separated Materials

Photographs transferred to Special Collections photo archive as collection number UNRS-P2016-04.

  • Received 58 books with this collection. Of those, 53 were deaccessioned and added into the library catalog, and 5 were incorporated into the collection. Additionally, a number of duplicates of some of the smaller publications were discarded.



A Guide to the James D. Yoakum Papers
Edan Strekal and Elspeth Olson
June 2016
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the University of Nevada, Reno. Special Collections Department Repository

Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center
1664 N. Virginia St.
Reno Nevada 89557-0322 USA
775-682-5724 (Fax)