Albert Kenrick Fisher
During Albert Kenrick Fisher’s long career with the Bureau of Biological Survey, he focused on research to control predator damage to livestock, and rodent damage to farm produce and forests. A noted authority on game animals and wildlife, he joined friends Gifford Pinchot and Theodore Roosevelt as a leader in the campaign for wildlife conservation.
Albert Kenrick Fisher, known as A.K. to friends, was born in Sing Sing, NY. As a child, he loved to explore the countryside surrounding his home. His explorations stimulated his interest in the natural world. In 1876 he married Alwilda Merritt and they had four children. He enjoyed fishing and duck hunting with his dogs, and according to friends, never took game in excess of his immediate needs.
In 1879, Fisher graduated from Columbia University with a medical degree. He practiced medicine in his home town until 1885, when his former college classmate and friend C. Hart Merriam convinced him to join efforts in establishing the USDA's Division of Economic Ornithology and Mammalogy. Four years later, he was in charge of all its economic investigations, holding this position until 1929. While balancing the need for conservation, Fisher concentrated on research to control species damaging livestock, agriculture, and forests. In 1905, the division became the Bureau of Biological Survey, which was consolidated in 1940 with the Bureau of Fisheries to form the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Fisher retired in 1931.
Fisher died in Washington, D.C. on June 12, 1948, at the age of 92. Friends remembered him as a lover of the natural world, a delightful host, and an expert cook who thrilled guests with dishes of seafood and game.
In 1899, Fisher participated in the Harriman Alaska Expedition, sponsored by Edward Henry Harriman, President of the Union Pacific Railroad. Originally conceived as a big-game hunt, the trip became a scientific expedition. Harriman's passenger manifest included an impressive mix of experts from the fields of natural history, science, and art.
In 1891, A.K. Fisher participated in the Biological Survey of Western States, a scientific expedition commissioned by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to conduct a biological survey of parts of California, Nevada, Arizona, and Utah. Fisher's "Ornithology and the Death Valley Expedition of 1891" took form from these surveys and remains one of his most distinguished papers.
In 1929, A.K. Fisher accompanied the South Seas Expedition led by Gifford Pinchot. He awed his fellow travellers by eating live shrimp and performing his "famous" Sioux war dance for Polynesian islanders, who often joined in. Fisher brought back 500 bird skins, including one new species, for the U.S. National Museum research collections.
Fisher published nearly 150 papers ranging from predatory birds and their relationship to humans, to economic zoology and the geographic distribution of species including mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and various invertebrates.
One of Fisher's most notable papers, "Hawks and Owls of the United States in Their Relation to Agriculture" (1893), presents the findings of a study of 2,700 bird stomachs. Fisher deduced that only six of the 73 species and sub-species of hawks and owls were injurious to man, concluding that most hawks and owls were indeed beneficial. This paper became a fundamental study in the field of economic ornithology and remains a classic.