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Milestones: National Marine Mammal Laboratory (NMML)

Chuck Fowler Retires with 35 Years of Federal Service

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Oct-Nov-Dec 2012
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chuck fowler
Chuck Fowler and NMML Deputy Director Robyn Angliss.

Chuck Fowler retired in December 2012 after 35 years of federal service.  Chuck has made substantial contributions to science during his career, including more than 140 scientific publications.  After spending much of his career studying ecosystems, he began challenging conventional ecosystem management and proposed systemic management as a holistic, consistent, and objective means of finding sustainability. 

Chuck earned his Ph.D. at the University of Washington in the Center for Quantitative Science in Forestry, Fisheries and Wildlife and spent 6 years on the faculty at Utah State University in the Department of Wildlife Sciences studying population dynamics and stream ecosystems. He began his career with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) as a population dynamics expert at the Northwest and Alaska Fisheries Center's National Marine Mammal Laboratory (NMML) in 1979 and was hired to conduct research on northern fur seals on the Pribilof Islands, Alaska.  In 1980, he was appointed manager of the Fur Seal Research Program and in 1981 began serving as the chief U.S. scientific representative to the North Pacific Fur Seal Commission.  On numerous occasions he also participated in the International Whaling Commission's scientific committee.  He became manager of the Ecosystem Ecology and Assessment Program in 1988 and led this program until 1999. During this time, Chuck promoted awareness of marine pollution and spearheaded efforts to study the effects of marine debris and entanglement on northern fur seals.  Chuck continued field studies of northern fur seal population dynamics on the Pribilof Islands through 2006.

Much of Chuck’s early research centered on large mammal population dynamics, with a particular focus on density-dependent regulation. His 1981 book, co-edited with Tim Smith, Dynamics of Large Mammal Populations, was the first to synthesize the state of knowledge on the subject and has since become a classic. Chuck has always been a big-scale thinker, so even while focused on population level dynamics and ecology, he discerned higher-level patterns.  One of these, related to life history and published in the journal Evolutionary Ecology in 1988, became known as Fowler's rule.  His seminal 1982 paper in American Naturalist, co-authored with Jim McMahon (“Selective extinction and speciation: their influence on the structure and functioning of communities and ecosystems) was an early expression of ideas that would ultimately become the focus of Chuck’s latter years with NMFS.

In 1999, Chuck began to focus specifically on providing empirical information on the limits to natural variation for use in guiding management by defining and finding a niche for humans through sustainable interactions with other species, species groups, ecosystems, and the biosphere.  Such tenets are of special importance in management to allocate harvests over time, space, and alternative species while accounting for numerous factors of varying importance; such factors include population dynamics, genetic effects of harvesting, evolutionary and coevolutionary interactions, predator/prey relationships, competition, and nutrient flow ― all accounted for in proportion to their relative importance.   Systemic management requires synthesis of integrative information to include not only single-species approaches, but also management that applies at the level of ecosystems and entire ocean basins.   Chuck focused on this approach in his two most recent books which serve as capstones for his federal career:  Systemic Management: Sustainable Human Interactions With Ecosystems and the Biosphere and Ecosystem-based Management for Marine Fisheries: An Evolving Perspective.

Chuck has been committed to teaching and mentoring multiple generations of new scientists throughout his career.  He taught courses at San Jose State College and during his years in the Peace Corps in Columbia.  He served on the faculty at Utah State University from 1975-79, became an affiliate professor at the University of Washington, and taught courses at the University of Washington and Seattle University.  Over his career, he has mentored numerous young researchers, students, and volunteers through both formal and informal internship programs.

Chuck’s continuous scientific contributions, his mentoring of young researchers, and development of new ideas about management will be sorely missed, but provide an outstanding legacy of a long and fulfilling career. 

By Robyn Angliss, Rolf Ream and Jason Baker


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