In 1951, as a three year old child, Kirk Robinson wandered through the peach and cherry orchards and the hay fields around his family’s house near Bountiful, Utah – a small town then with a population of 6,004. From the back porch he could watch deer, turkey vultures circling the sky, sea gulls, skunks, and an occasional fox. He loved going hiking in the foothills of the Wasatch Mountains.
When he was 11, he read Rutherford George Montgomery’s “Yellow Eyes” about a baby cougar.
When he was 16, he spent time on a ranch working for his uncles and his grandfather, who were potato farmers who leased a ranch near the Idaho border, just inside Utah, in Curlew Valley. He saddled horses, rode, and rounded up cows. He remembers his grandfather as a “real cowboy.”
Like many other boys in rural Idaho, he sometimes went hunting, mostly rabbit hunting with his cousins.
One evening he went out for a walk, along an alfalfa field, carrying his Winchester semi-automatic 22 with him. He spotted a big, pale-colored bird in a field, and without thinking much, took a shot at it. When he got up to it, he saw that it was a barn owl, dead. Already feeling remorseful, he hid the owl in some brush, so it wouldn’t be lying out in the open field.
It was sunset. He saw another barn owl watching him, with a fixed gaze – clearly this was the mate of the one he had just killed. He walked home, and the owl followed him from tree to tree, all the way, never taking his eyes off him. That was a haunting experience, and the memory of it never left him. Except for one brief episode where he went rabbit hunting, and which also ended sadly, he never went hunting again.
Gaining a perspective
He was profoundly affected by Aldo Leopold’s books, Round River and A Sand County Almanac. One of the pioneers of the conservation movement, “he talks abut how ‘we need to enlarge our ethics to include everything.”
Back-packing in the Wind River Mountains in Wyoming was a great joy. The largest glaciers in the continental U.S. are in Wind River.
At age 18, just after graduating from high school, he went back alone to Wind River and hiked for twenty miles. He started out the day, thinking he would walk the whole twenty miles. He took some candy bars with him, and knew he could find water to drink. He recalls having an amazing experience of “the numinous, the sublime, and the mystical.” He walked the whole way, having an experience of the “nature of the earth.”
Later on he came to feel that “the human world is kind of parasitic on the natural world.” “The most real thing in the universe is the natural world – that includes everything – all the trees, the young trees, the old trees, people and animals.”
Philosophy and nature
Always drawn to the West – he often went back to go back-packing. Looking for a job after college, he wrote to the philosophy departments of the universities of Wyoming and Montana, sending his curricula vitae. He heard nothing back, but four months later, he got a call from Montana State University from a professor who needed someone to replace him while he took a different position. On December 31, 1983, he was in Montana, with a position as visiting assistant professor of philosophy, where he stayed until Thanksgiving of the following fall.
Then, moving to just north of Yellowstone, he worked on his PhD dissertation, interspersed with time spent going on drives and hikes.
The University of Utah offered him a job teaching off campus, and soon he was back again in Bountiful, Utah. With a Masters and a PhD in philosophy, he spent twelve years altogether as a university professor.
His focus on wildlife had never diminished, and one day he went over to see the Utah Wilderness Association. In the winter of ’89, they started the Utah Wildlife Manifesto Group, based on the ideas and philosophy of Aldo Leopold.
They met once a month.
It was 25 years ago that Kirk Robinson started going to RAC (Regional Advisory Council) meetings – to advocate for cougars and bears, and also bighorn sheep and sandhill cranes. He was still teaching, which he did from ’83 to ’95.
Eventually the Manifesto Group disbanded. They had been able to make small advances and some progress.
In ’96, in late summer, he attended a meeting of the Utah Cougar Coalition, at the First Unitarian Church in Salt Lake City. The meeting focused on the sudden doubling of the number of cougar hunting permits being offered. They asked him to be on the Board, and he accepted.
Soon after, they opened an office in a building that they shared with the newly formed Wild Utah Project, and the Utah Forest Campaign, which now no longer exists.
In ’98, Proposition 5 was passed in Utah, which requires that any ballot initiative related to animals must be approved by a two-thirds vote of the Utah legislature; this effectively made it impossible to effect any change for animals in Utah by ballot initiative.
The Western Wildlife Conservancy
Soon, he took over the leadership of the Cougar Coalition and worked on it in his spare time, doing odd jobs and driving trucks for a living.
In 2000, he moved down the street, reorganized his group, bringing in John Carter, Debbie Goodman, and others with a like-minded approach, to be on the Board of the reorganized group, now called the Western Wildlife Conservancy.
Approaching age 50, he began to think about going to law school. He got his law degree from the University of Utah, graduating in 2004, and practiced law, doing some wrongful death cases, some wills, and house title cases.
As the Executive Director of the Western Wildlife Conservancy, he is not an employee, but instead works on contract. The Western Wildlife Conservancy is supported primarily by very loyal donors who have been major contributors over the years. There are five on the Board: himself, Allison Jones, John Carter, Dan Miller, and Jon Weis.
Kirk expresses his guiding philosophy in a nutshell: “Wild animals and wilderness have intrinsic value.” He adds, “They have a natural beauty – all of nature does – even the colors of nature.”
In other words, nature does not exist for human beings. We are a part of nature. We belong to nature and do not stand above nature. It is up to us to serve and protect the natural world, not the other way around.
Illustrating this principle in his life, Kirk Robinson devotes his time and energy to speaking up for wildlife, especially the large predators who are so often persecuted.
The knowledge he’s gained over the years about wild animals and their habitats, about the whole of nature, and also about the ways of humans are an inspiration to others who join in the fight to save the wilderness and the wild ones who live there.
Top photo: This work has been released into the public domain by its author, G. Thomas, at the English Wikipedia project. This applies worldwide. / Wikimedia Commons / Mountains in the Wind River Range, Wyoming Green Lakes region of the Bridger Wilderness, Briger-Teton National Forest.
Second photo: Don DeBold / Wikimedia Commons / This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. / An adult Turkey Vulture at Santa Teresa County Park, San Jose, California, USA.
Third photo: Billy Hathorn / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-2.5,2.0,1.0; CC-BY-SA-3.0-MIGRATED; Released under the GNU Free Documentation License. / Mountain meadow at Yellowstone National Park
Fourth photo: Kyletracysrs / Wikimedia Commons / This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. / Sandhill Crane with Chick looking for food