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. The son of a hunter father, Yoakum grew up spending time chasing wildlife in the woods and grasslands of the central coast region of California. As a teenager, he worked in the oyster beds at Morro Bay, California, planting and picking oyster crops. Yoakum enjoyed spending his days amid the relatively pristine marine ecosystem, watching flocks of waterfowl on their annual migration. This experience, he stated, helped him gain a greater understanding and appreciation of the rich and diverse flora and fauna within his own backyard. During this time, Yoakum established a lasting friendship with a trained naturalist who continually stressed the importance of a college education, an endeavor that no one else in Yoakum’s family had pursued.

In 1944, at the height of U.S. involvement in World War II, and prior to his 18th birthday, Yoakum left high school to enlist in the U.S. Navy. After basic training, he was shipped off to the Pacific theater where he experienced vicious fighting, including the battle of Iwo Jima. After seeing the devastation of war, and being aboard a ship for three years, Yoakum vowed to devote his life and work to the outdoors. Though his military service was only a brief portion of his life (1944-1947), it allowed him invaluable opportunities. With the GI Bill Yoakum was able to receive a college education, acquire property, and eventually pursue a career in wildlife biology.

Upon returning to civilian life after the war, Yoakum purchased a buckskin gelding horse and a used saddle and took a temporary job as a fire lookout in California’s backcountry around Big Sur. After the summer of 1949, Yoakum began school at Humboldt State University in Arcata, California. 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. As an undergraduate, he became interested in the Roosevelt elk of the area, but also devoted time in his studies to the black-tailed deer, the opossum, American bison, and feral burrows. Yoakum claimed that during his early college training he realized the importance of books as tools, which lead him to begin amassing a large library of books, scientific journals, periodicals, technical reports, and other literature. This trend continued throughout Yoakum’s life as he actively sought and gathered sources to aid in his research and publications.

Yoakum graduated from Humboldt State University 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. It was there that Yoakum began research on the pronghorn antelope (Antilocapra Americana) in and around Lakeview, Oregon. In Lakeview, Yoakum met Oscar “Ock” Deming, the first wildlife biologist at the Hart Mountain/Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge Complex. Ock encouraged him to “stand by his convictions” and was instrumental in Yoakum’s recognition of the need to document pronghorn habitat requirements, assess food habit investigations, and report manipulation practices attributing to the enhancements of pronghorn habitats. Yoakum completed his thesis “Factors Affecting the Mortality of Pronghorn Antelope in Oregon” under Dr. Arthur Einarson and graduated with an M.S. in Wildlife Management in 1957.

Later in 1957, 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. During this formative period Yoakum’s professional personality was being forged. 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, occasionally in elementary school classrooms, and even on “Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color” special, The Wahoo Bobcat.

In his spare time, Yoakum dedicated considerable time conducting comparative wildlife/habitat relationship studies, photographing wildlife, attending conferences and workshops, and publishing technical data on wildlife habitats. Yoakum spent five years as a practicing range manager in Oregon and Nevada. After two years in Oregon, he was transferred to Ely, Nevada in 1959. It was there that Yoakum began writing a weekly newspaper column on wildlife. In 1961, after eight years of higher education, and five years in the field, Yoakum was hired as the first wildlife biologist in BLM’s history.

From the start, there were many demands on Yoakum’s time. Due to BLM never having such a position prior, Yoakum’s duties were expansive and varied. It required much work on Yoakum’s part because there were no job descriptions, manuals, instruction memos, or mentors for him to turn to. Early on, Yoakum’s writing and photography captured the attention of Nevada BLM Director J. Russell Penny, who encouraged him to emphasize BLM’s role in maintaining important wildlife habitats. These efforts led to the publication of BLM’s first brochure featuring color photographs of wildlife on public lands and a variety of color slide presentations later on for training and educational purposes.

Yoakum’s predominant responsibilities as BLM’s wildlife representative included informing the public, conservation organizations, and scientific societies of BLM’s intentions to recognize the need for coordination and enhancement of wildlife, fisheries, and recreation on public lands. Yoakum immediately began by developing and establishing wildlife habitat management programs. He initiated various 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. U.S. Secretary of the Interior, Stewart Udall praised Yoakum’s efforts, especially regarding protection of pupfish habitat from groundwater pumping. In addition to his official duties, BLM also actively supported and encouraged Yoakum’s participation in The Wildlife Society’s activities at the local, regional, national, and international levels.

Beginning in the mid-1960s Yoakum made a valuable connection with Dr. Richard G. Miller, the director of the Foresta Institute for Ocean and Mountain studies based in Washoe Valley, Nevada. Like Yoakum, Miller was concerned with endangered species in Nevada and abroad. Yoakum contributed to Foresta’s Endangered Species Committee when it began compiling an endangered species listing for wildlife in Nevada. In 1967, using sources from the Foresta library, Yoakum completed and published the first edition of the pronghorn bibliography. Not long afterward, Miller recruited Yoakum to travel to Peru and Bolivia to study the vicuña, then imperiled due to overhunting for its wool. This assignment allowed Yoakum to draw parallels between the plight of the vicuña in South American and the pronghorn in the American West at the turn of the twentieth century.

Unlike many other BLM employees who relocated every few years, Yoakum spent the duration of his career as a wildlife biologist in Nevada, first in Ely and later Reno. In 1967, Yoakum purchased a piece of property in Verdi near the Nevada-California border and this became his home, which he shared with his dogs, garden, extensive library, and numerous friends who often dropped in for a visit.

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 (his alma mater) in the mid-1960s, big game management courses at Colorado State University in the early 1970s (which at the time boasted the largest enrollment of wildlife students of any other university in the world), and finally as an adjunct professor in the Biology Department at the University of Nevada, Reno beginning in the early 1980s. Besides teaching, Yoakum was encouraged to participate in foreign assignments outside the United States. He traveled on three assignments to Canada, four to Mexico, and the aforementioned six-month detail counseling the governments of Peru and Bolivia on the ecology and management of the endangered vicuña. Travelling and working with diverse wildlife around the world, introduced Yoakum to global management issues that resembled similar issues faced by himself and colleagues in Nevada and the West.

In addition to all his other professional development undertakings and assignments, Yoakum was a lifelong member of The Wildlife Society (TWS), an international non-profit scientific and educational association dedicated to wildlife stewardship. Yoakum joined TWS in 1955 and promoted the creation of a Western Section that would include both California and Nevada. This collaboration occurred in 1963, with the first California-Nevada Chapter conference being held in Reno two years later in 1965. The following year the Nevada Chapter petition and bylaws were approved by the parent society.

Yoakum valued his membership both on the local and national levels, and regarded it as one of the highlights of his career. TWS conferences in other regions presented opportunities for Yoakum to meet wildlife peers while sharing knowledge of accomplishments and issues faced. Yoakum assisted in developing the transactions publications for TWS Western Section, prompted the establishment of a Wildlife Communications Workshop, which first took place in Reno in 1970, 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.

In the late 1970s, TWS inaugurated a certification program, which helped to delineate the profession, develop work standards, and apply a code of ethics that would be used by wildlife biologist throughout the world. Yoakum was involved in the discussions and implementation surrounding standards and the code of ethics; he even wrote several articles on the subject. Over the decades, Yoakum held most of the officer positions on the Executive Board including president of the TWS Western Section (1970-1971) and eventually historian. In honor of his position, 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 (his consulting firm aptly named “Western Wildlife”) with a great deal of his efforts focused specifically on the study and management of the pronghorn. He continued taking photographs of wildlife, wrote monographs and book chapters, reviewed books and journals for publication, provided lectures to universities and governmental agencies, and completed contracts for various governmental agencies.

Up to and after his retirement, Yoakum amassed tens of thousands of photographs and published more than 50 professional papers. Yoakum’s legacy, though, was cemented in two major projects that he completed in the decades following his retirement. Both represent a culmination of his life’s work and research. The first, Yoakum’s magnum opus co-authored by Bart O’Gara (longtime director of the Montana Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit at the University of Montana), and published in 2004, is the seminal work on the pronghorn (6.13 lbs. and 903 pages) entitled Pronghorn: Ecology and Management. This book reflects an amalgamation of hard work and contributions from many researchers. For their work, Yoakum and O’Gara received The Wildlife Society’s Outstanding Editorship Award for 2006. Yoakum’s other major undertaking, published after his death, was Pronghorn Bibliography: A Review of Literature and Contributions to a Bibliography from 1649-2011, which again represents a collaboration of an array of experts and scholars.

Jim Yoakum passed away on November 21, 2012, with him went a lifetime of dedication to the wildlife profession. Yoakum was once quoted as saying, “Wildlife has been my entire life, all of my life.” He is remembered by friends and colleagues alike as an iconic figure in the wildlife community. Those that knew him appreciated and respected him for his expertise, especially regarding the pronghorn, but also his friendliness and collegiality. Many can recall having social, well-informed, and even dogmatic conversations with Yoakum where he often played the role of devil’s advocate. One close friend and colleague, in remembering Yoakum, wrote the following: “Jim leaves a big void of scientific expertise and knowledge about a species few today seem to care about. But more importantly, Jim's deep commitment and caring for sound stewardship, even when it was unpopular with the agencies, is becoming a rarity in our profession. He leaves a legacy few can match.”


43 Linear Feet (47 boxes, 1 oversize folder)

Language of Materials



Materials cover the life and professional career of renowned 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 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.



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