James D. Yoakum Photograph Collection

Identifier: UNRS-P2016-04
This extensive collection contains the over 10,000 photographs taken by Yoakum during his career that document Pronghorn Antelope, their environment, and other species studied by Yoakum. For further description of photographs, see item records in the Special Collections Department Photograph Database.


  • 20th century


Conditions Governing Access

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


12 Cubic Feet (10,000+ images)


James "Jim" D. Yoakum, the first wildlife biologist hired by the Bureau of Land Management (1957-1986), devoted his life to the study of wildlife and range management issues in the West, especially the pronghorn antelope. He worked with The Wildlife Society, other national and international organizations concerned with wildlife biology and management, and created educational programs using his extensive photo library. Collection contains the photographs taken by Yoakum during his career.

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, Howard 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.”

Immediate Source of Acquisition

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

Related Materials

Related archival materials held by the UNR Special Collections Department:

James D. Yoakum Papers (2013-27)


James D. Yoakum Photograph Collection
October 2017
Description rules

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)