Nature lover pursued life-long passion for wildlife

Monday, September 24, 2007 | 5:10 p.m. CDT; updated 2:28 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008
Dave Hamilton, left, and Rex Martensen pose for a photo while on a hike in New Mexico on the Ted Turner Ladder Ranch during the Cougar Field Workshop. Organizers of the event led participants on an excursion to locate and identify mountain lion sign.

COLUMBIA — Stacked boxes full of text books, pamphlets, animal skulls, trapping equipment and an old pair of jeans vie for space with filing cabinets and bookshelves. The walls are decorated with an assortment of otter, beaver and bobcat pelts along with mounted deer and wolf heads. A tower of papers two feet high precipitously clings to one of two covered desks in the room.

Missing are the family pictures that have been removed from the wall and the conservationist who resided in this office on College Avenue for 23 years.


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Dave Hamilton, resource scientist for the Missouri Department of Conservation, died of cardiac arrest on Sept. 8. He was 52.

Michele Baumer, a resource science assistant and friend of Hamilton, is responsible for the arduous task of sorting through Hamilton’s accumulation of projects and passions.

“I’m doing this as a way to honor my friend,” Baumer said.

Hamilton’s accomplishments, like the boxes and papers in the room, have been collected for years and are stacked just as high.

Hamilton’s interest in wildlife and trapping began at a young age.

Keith Hamilton remembers his brother live-trapping desert animals in their boyhood state of Arizona. At the age of 12 and 14, respectively, Keith and Dave were trapping gophers, rabbits, quail and groundhogs in a mark-recapture method.

“I remember painting the top of the groundhogs’ heads with water-based tempera paint, and Dave kept a notebook of what colors we used to identify each groundhog. I don’t ever remember catching the same one twice,” Keith said.

Scott Hamilton, Dave’s other brother, can recall dozens of Mason jars in the family garage filled with all sorts of spiders, snakes and other desert creatures that Dave liked to capture.

Dave Hamilton’s love for wildlife continued throughout college and during graduate school, where he worked hard without much money.

“At some point, he actually lived in a chicken coop on one of his field study sites while working on his graduate degree,” Scott said. “This was Dave in his element; it didn’t bother him a bit. He was pursuing his life-long passion of wildlife,” Scott said.

After graduate school, Hamilton’s collection of accomplishments continued to grow.

For 20 years, Hamilton was a member of the U.S. Furbearer Conservation Technical Work Group, work that brought him notoriety in the field of furbearer management.

“He was able to lead a team of people with very different issues and attitudes. That’s a pretty rare thing,” said Vicki Heidy, Hamilton’s supervisor at the Department of Conservation.

Hamilton was known in the national and international conservation circles as an expert in the field of furbearer management and humane trapping methods. In particular, he was a major force in developing best management practices for trapping animals such as coyote, foxes, raccoons, otter, black bears and bobcats.

“Dave wanted trapping to maintain a legitimate management tool. He wanted these traps to be humane, efficient and species specific,” said Rex Martensen, who served with Hamilton on the Missouri Mountain Lion Response Team.

Hamilton developed these practices to appease the concerns of animal welfare advocates, while also protecting trapping as an important management tool and sustainable industry.

In 2006, the Wildlife Society, a national organization representing wildlife biologists, scientists and administrators, awarded the Technical Work Group its achievement award for furbearer management.

Also in 2006, the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, which represents all state and federal fish and wildlife agencies in the U.S., awarded the Technical Work Group its Ernest Thompson Seton Award.

Hamilton was also a national authority on the restoration and management of river otters. He was a part of the research team whose job was to manage the population of otters in Ozark streams by reducing their numbers. He was also responsible for controlling otter damage on fish in these streams.

Hamilton was also chair of the Missouri Department of Conservation’s Mountain Lion Response Team.

Martensen said that even though Missouri had few mountain lions, it was Hamilton’s management of information with the public and his credibility that earned him respect.

“What made Dave so well known was how he handled the mountain lion program in Missouri. He was very good at relaying information and visiting with people,” Martensen said.

Hamilton was also involved in the Missouri Ozark Forest Ecosystem Project, which was designed to increase knowledge of forest ecology. As a part of this study, Hamilton investigated soft mast, or seeds that are covered with fleshy fruit, production.

Hamilton worked tirelessly to promote the acceptance of black bears in the state. Hamilton’s technique of using “hair snares” to capture bear hairs will allow researchers to study the bears’ DNA and determine from where the black bears of Missouri originated.

Hamilton also served as secretary and president of the Missouri Chapter of The Wildlife Society, authored more than 15 professional and technical publications and illustrated several wildlife publications.

Hamilton’s passions abounded outside of his profession, too.

“His family, his church, his work, Cardinals baseball, turkey hunting; Dave did everything with passion,” Bryant White, coworker said. “Whatever he was involved with, he was all in.” Clearing Hamilton’s lifetime of work and achievements from his office will not be an easy task.

“Dave left a pretty wide path of accomplishments. He’ll be impossible to replace,” Martensen said.

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