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"Wild Goose Jack", popularly known in North America as the father of conservation, was born in 1865 in a hamlet in Ohio. He wasn't good at school and apparently only attended for three months; he spent most of his childhood poking around in the woods and creeks near his home. When young Jack was 13 the family moved to a small township in Ontario on the shores of Lake Erie. The move may have been precipitated by his father's drinking, or by the lure of cheap land. In any case, the young man soon became a market hunter and trapper, killing and selling animals to help feed his large family. At 17 he was engaged to guide a group of prominent local businessmen on a hunting trip. Jack was to render this encounter later as the uncouth lad winning the admiration of his social betters: "Who taught you how to disembowel a deer?" one of the men reportedly asked him admiringly. Also at this age God apparently spoke to him and told him to lead a ban on hunting on Sunday...not every day, but only on the Sabbath.

In 1888 he married the amazingly named Laona Wigle, and in that same year the Ontario government banned moose hunting. It was still legal in Quebec, though, and Jack took a trip there, where he and his party shot several moose and left them to die in the bush. Laona bore him a son, Carl, in 1891 and a daughter, Pearl, in 1894, but she died, sadly, at only three years of age, just as he was about to go on a moose-hunting trip. Though he later wrote that after her death "all thoughts of hunting...had vanished completely from my mind", he was in the bush in Quebec two weeks later, hunting moose. A year later his brother Ted was shot and killed in a hunting accident, and Jack felt great remorse, for it was he that had flushed the moose that the man was aiming after when he accidently shot Ted. Though Jack declared at this death that he would never go hunting again, but he soon did just that. Jack would have two more sons: Manley in 1897 and Ted in 1900.

In 1900 Jack, 35 years old and, he would say later, completely illiterate, began to conduct Sunday school classes. He would say that he learned to read by listening to students' recitations from the Bible. Tragedy struck again in 1904 when Carl died of appendicitis. As Jack would later tell it, his attitudes changed after all this heartache. Galled when the wild geese that flew over his propery saw him as "the enemy", he began to try to lure them down. He didn't have any success until 1908, when eleven Canada geese touched down; three weeks later, Jack gave his neighbours permission to shoot five of them. The next year 32 came, and a third of them were shot. Jack also began raising ducks and selling the ducklings as live decoys to local hunters. Thus the Jack Miner Migratory Bird Sanctuary was born, though for many fowl, it seems, it was no safe haven at all.

In 1909 Jack began banding migratory birds; he considered the birds missionaries of the air, and stamped Biblical verses on the bands. In 1910 one of the bands was returned from South Carolina, where the goose had been shot, and thus began a banding and tracking effort that would make Jack famous. This was a time when wealthy and influential men from Theodore Roosevelt to Henry Ford had become interested in preserving wildlife for their hunting pleasure, and indeed such men and women are still a powerful voice in the wildlife conservation movement, though other factions of the same movement oppose hunting. In any case, Jack, who enjoyed for a time the services of Ford's personal cinematographer, Ed Flickenger, began to gather filmic and anecdotal material for a lecture tour that him took across North America. It would later be said of Jack that he single-handedly pioneered the conservation movement, and that the Bible-verse bearing bands of his birds, when they fell into the hands of First Nations and Inuit hunters, caused mass conversion of "the heathen natives". Jack fomented these stories in books and lectures, and was backed up by countless newspaper stories celebrating his unlettered but principled championing of his message of conservation and "Bible larning", not book learning.

But the truth is that Jack was a product of his times and a shameless self-aggrandizer. On his lecture tours he charged a hefty admission - 50 cents for reserved seats, 25 for rush, ten for children - and would give as many as five talks a day. He dressed as a bumpkin in plaid flannel trousers and called himself Uncle Jack. He spoke on conservation in the name of hunting, and interspersed his patter with racist Jewish and Indian jokes. In his many books, he claimed that "the Indian" knew nothing of animal conservation, and was abetted in his inhumane slaughtering by the Jewish fur-buyer. His books contained enlightening chapters such as "Weasels, and How to Destroy Them", as well as blueprints telling the reader how to make traps to eradicate "that black, cold-blooded highway murderer", the crow. In the 1920s the American and Canadian governments began to issue numbered bands to naturalists to try to correlate bird-banding information, but Jack persisted in using his own scripture-stamped versions. He celebrated animals that were monogamous by nature, and insisted that the passenger pigeon became extinct, not by human intervention, but through God's will, because it was sexually promiscuous. He championed the extermination of the wolf and what he called cannibal birds: owls, hawks, and ravens.

In 1931 his bird sanctuary was incorporated by the province of Ontario and will stay open in perpetuity. In 1943 he was awarded the Order of the British Empire by King George VI, and in 1947 the week of April 10, Jack's birthday, was set aside to commemorate National Wildlife Week. Jack Miner died in 1944, aged seventy-six, and was buried in Kingsville, Ontario.

If you shoot one of the birds that are still banded with scripture at the sanctuary and report the "recovery" within one year, you can receive a certificate; details are at the official Jack Miner Bird Sanctuary website, www.jackminer.com. There you can read many glowing things about him. I learned the damning details from an article by Peter Unvwin, contained in the interesting Canadian history magazine "The Beaver". Find out more about The Beaver at www.beavermagazine.ca.

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