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‘Father of Conservation Biology’ and Wildlands Network Founder Michael E. Soulé Dies at 84

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (June 18, 2020) — Michael E. Soulé, inspiration to scientists and conservationists around the globe, died yesterday at the age of 84.  Soulé will be remembered foremost as the ‘Father of Conservation Biology.’ 

A native of California, Soulé graduated from San Diego State University and went on to Stanford University to study population biology and evolution under renowned biologist Paul Ehrlich. A prolific writer and thinker, Soulé authored or edited numerous books on biology, conservation biology, and the social and policy context of conservation, and published approximately 175 articles on topics such as population and evolutionary biology, population genetics, island biogeography, trophic cascades, and biodiversity policy. 

Soulé among Baines’ Baobabs trees in Nxai Pans National Park, Botswana.

In 1985 Soulé founded the Society for Conservation Biology and became its first president. In 1991, alongside Reed Noss, wildlands philanthropist Doug Tompkins and other colleagues, Soulé and environmentalist leader Dave Foreman launched a bold new group—first called the North American Wilderness Recovery Strategy, soon simplified to The Wildlands Project, and now known as Wildlands Network.  

“Michael’s legacy and importance to the international conservation movement cannot be overstated —he created the scientific bedrock on which the community rests,” said Katie Davis, Executive Director for Wildlands Network. “His visionary leadership will forever inspire us to think bigger and push harder to protect wild nature.” 

Soulé and ‘Father of Biodiversity’ biologist E. O. Wilson in Bozeman, Montana in 2009 where Soulé was a recipient of the Edward O. Wilson Biodiversity Technology Pioneer Award.

Soulé referred to his perspective on the fate of biodiversity as neither optimism nor pessimism, but rather “possibilism.” He believed that rooted deep within humans is the ability to alter our future and connect back to nature. 

Wildlands Network, which next year celebrates its 30th anniversary, remains deeply grounded in conservation biology, with habitat connectivity serving as its taproot. Soulé’s vision, through Wildlands Network, has allowed conservationists and fellow scientists the tools and direction necessary to protect wild nature at a continental scale. 

Since 1991, Wildlands Network has been committed to reconnecting, restoring and rewilding North America for the benefit of all species. Our work is founded in science, driven by fieldwork and furthered through strategic policy and partnerships. We envision a North America where nature is undivided, and where people coexist in harmony with our native plants and animals. Visit to learn more. 


Danielle Fisher
Communications Manager, Wildlands Network

3 thoughts on “‘Father of Conservation Biology’ and Wildlands Network Founder Michael E. Soulé Dies at 84

  1. I met Michael at the inaugural SCB meeting in Ann Arbor and then served briefly with him on the Wildlands Board. His gravitas continues to guide us all.

  2. I am largely retired from the conservation activist life, and hadn’t spoken with Michael in a few years. And at his ripe old age his death is no surprise. But still, I’m surprised his life wasn’t more publicly celebrated at his passing and that I only now, Dec. ’20, have learned of his death last summer. 2020 has taken so many great men and women from us, and Michael was among them. I was merely a humble “nature writer,” yet he was always very generous with his time and work and constructive criticisms of my own work (Michael was a cornerstone of “Ghost Grizzlies”). And best of all we became personal friends. He visited and stayed at my cabin near Durango a few times, and we hunted elk together (yes, he “made meat”). Sometimes I really wish we could push the time clock back many years. Thank you Michael, wherever you are. You remain a hero, and we remain friends forever. David Petersen, Durango

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