Ira (“Gabe”) was born on September 27, 1889, in Sioux Rapids, Iowa. He was the son of Frank August and Ida Jansen Gabrielson. He received a BA degree in biology from Morningside College in 1912. In the summers of 1911 and 1913, he carried out graduate studies at Iowa State University’s Lakeside Laboratory on Lake Okoboji. He received an honary LLD in 1941.
Gabe’s first professional job was a three-year stint, 1912-15, teaching high-school biology at Marshalltown, Iowa. Thereafter, he joined the U.S. Bureau of Biological Survey and worked mainly in the West for the next two decades in field and supervisory positions involving economic ornithology, food habits research, rodent control, and game management. He became an authority on the flora and fauna of the montane West, publishing his first book, Western American Alpines, in 1932. In 1935, Gabe transferred to Washington, D.C., at the behest of Jay N. “Ding” Darling, as assistant chief of Division of Wildlife Research, and became chief of the Bureau of Biological Survey that same year. Gabe and Ding were personally credited with the establishment of Patuxent Research Refuge in 1939. In 1940, he was appointed as the first director of the Fish and Wildlife Service in U.S. Department of Interior. During World War II, he served as deputy coordinator of fisheries with responsibility for sustaining seafood production essential to conduct of the war. He was appointed by the U.S. Department of State as U.S. delegate to the 1946 International Whaling Conference. In 1946, Gabe resigned government service to assume the presidency of the Wildlife Management Institute, a post he held until 1970 when he became the Institute board’s chairman.
As the United States delegate in 1948, he helped found the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. In 1961, he helped organize and then became president of World Wildlife Fund (United States) and a trustee of the World Wildlife Fund (International). Gabe served on the advisory committee of Outdoor Recreation Resources Review Commission. He was a member of the Secretary of the Interior’s advisory committee on Fish and Wildlife for many years, and was later a member of the Secretary’s advisory board on Wildlife Management. He served as chairman of the citizens committee on Natural Resources, chairman of the coordinating committee on the Potomac River Valley, a member of the national conservation committee, Boy Scouts of America, and a member of the committee on pest control and wildlife relationships for the National Academy of Sciences/National Research Council. Gabe directed Wildlife Management Institute staff studies of the organization, authorities, and programs of wildlife agencies in 31 states and two Canadian provinces.
Gabe authored Wildlife Conservation (1941), Wildlife Refuges (1943), and Wildlife Management (1951). He coauthored Birds of Oregon (1940), The Birds of Alaska (1958), and A Guide to the Most Familiar American Birds (1949). He edited the Fisherman’s Encyclopedia (1951) and New Fish Encyclopedia (1964). Gabe received the Distinguished Service Medal of the U.S. Department of the Interior in 1948, the Aldo Leopold Memorial Award Medal of The Wildlife Society in 1953, the Audubon Medal of the National Audubon Society in 1949, the Hugh H. Bennett Medal of Friends of the Land in 1958, the Distinguished Service Award of the American Forestry Association in 1962, and the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Conservation Service Award in 1964. He received honorary doctorates from Oregon State College (1936), Morningside College (1941), Middlebury College (1959), and Colby College (1969).
Highly charismatic, energetic, humorous, intelligent, and devoted to science, Gabe was viewed by many of his contemporaries as on a par with his friend Aldo Leopold in terms of wildlife conservation gains during their lifetimes.
Gabe was married to Clara Speer on August 7, 1912. They had four daughters, Clara Jane, Iris V., Dorothy Jean, and Grace Gail.
He was elected to the Washington Biologists’ Field Club in 1935 and became an honorary member in 1974.
Dr. Gabe died in Arlington, Virginia, on September 7, 1977.