Chapter 16

Remember that the value of our manuscripts increases as the years go by and faunal changes take place.

California 1934–1935

Cowan drinking water in Mohave Desert

Cowan drinking water in Mohave Desert

c. 1935. Image Cowan_PP_371 courtesy of University of Victoria Special Collections.
Cowan with pinecone, California

Cowan with pinecone, California

c. 1935. Image Cowan_PP_156 courtesy of University of Victoria Special Collections.
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Accompanying the Moffitts on extended camping trips would have been a high honour for the young graduate student and provided him free transport and access to some of the large ranches, like the 20,000-acre tract of rolling grasslands and live oaks owned by the Ogles and Mailliards in Mendocino County. John Mailliard was an amateur ornithologist and Chair of the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, at which his brother Joseph Mailliard and later Moffitt were curators of ornithology. Cowan describes the landscape in his journal:

The general type of the area is rolling, the higher reaches being covered with Scrub oak, Tan oak, Live oak with the northern exposures covered with chapparal in places. In the deeper ravines, the timber is mainly of the Redwood and Psuedotsuga association with the underbrush made up of Tan oak, Madrone, Alder and Elm.

During the day Cowan roamed the ranch with the Moffitts. The evenings were spent by the fire sharing ideas on deer characteristics, skulls and antlers and the utilization of acorns and oak leaves by the deer. One night he narrowly sidestepped a rattlesnake and during another was awakened in his tent by the unforgettable calls of Pygmy and Spotted owls.

Spotted Owl
Strix occidentalis

It is a non-migratory, secretive, nocturnal species that inhabits dense, coniferous, old-growth forests (over 200 years old) in mountainous areas… The Spotted Owl has become a species of concern throughout its range in the Pacific Northwest and in California.

Spotted Owl numbers drastically declined with the accelerated post-war logging and it became a poster bird for conservation. Cowan sat on the Board of the US National Audubon Society in the mid 1980s and one of the last things he did in that capacity was commission a special report on the Spotted Owl, which gave the “Society substantial leverage in its efforts to protect the old growth forests in the northwest.” The scientific report was part of the rationale for inclusion in the US Endangered Species Act, which led to a long protracted battle between industry and environmentalists that culminated in 1990 with the owl being officially listed. Meanwhile, his student R. Wayne Campbell wrote the status report in 1986 for Canada, at which time it was designated endangered. Less than a dozen owls remain in the wild in BC today.


39 Cowan, “Field Journal 1932–1934,” September 18, 1933, Volume 573. MVZA. Cowan_FN_058.

40 Cowan, “Field Journal 1932–1934,” September 18, 1933, Volume 573. MVZA. Cowan_FN_058.

41 Campbell et al., Birds of BC, vol. 2, 372.

42 National Audubon Society, “Minutes of the Board of Directors Meeting held at the Westin Hotel, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.” September 21, 1986,” Cowan_PN_158.

43 The Forest History Society, “The Northern Spotted Owl – Timeline” http://www.foresthistory.org/ASPNET/Policy/northern_spotted_owl/index.aspx (accessed February 26, 2015).

44 E.C. Campbell and R.Wayne Campbell, COSEWIC Status Report on the Spotted Owl Strix occidentalis in Canada. (Ottawa: Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, 1986) 1-62.

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