State loses dedicated conservationist, Dan Trainer

Stevens Point, Wis. – Wisconsin lost a dedicated conservationist
Dec. 8, when Dan Trainer Jr. passed away.

The 81-year-old retired dean of the College of Natural Resources
at UW-Stevens Point had helped to begin wildlife disease studies at
UW-Madison, and then moved north in 1971 to establish the Natural
Resources College at UW-Stevens Point.

Christine Thomas, dean of the College of Natural Resources and
chairman of the Natural Resources Board, said, “Dan Trainer was the
right man at the right time for the College of Natural Resources.
He was an important leader who empowered the faculty to do what
they do best.

“Dan was one of the most important people in my life,” Thomas
said. “He had an ability to look inside you and know what you could
do. More importantly, he had the ability to inspire you to do

Trainer is largely responsible for “building” the program at
UW-Stevens Point, which now turns out many graduates who go on to
become fisheries and wildlife biologists and game wardens. He was
inducted into the Wisconsin Conservation Hall of Fame in 2006.

Trainer was destined to work in the natural resources field, as
his father, Dan Trainer Sr., worked as a game warden in Marquette
and Green Lake counties for the former Wisconsin Conservation
Department, retiring in 1950.

Trainer grew up in Princeton, receiving a bachelor’s degree at
Ripon College and his Ph.D. in 1968 at UW-Madison. He retired from
UW-Stevens Point as dean of the College of Natural Resources in

Last Trainer interview

“One of the reasons I came here was that Lee Dreyfus also had
been on the faculty in Madison, and when he became chancellor at
Stevens Point he asked me to head up the college,” Trainer said in
an interview with this reporter two years ago. In the same
interview, he said, “The program had lots of potential and I was
very impressed with Dreyfus, who said he would make natural
resources the mission of the university, which he did,” Trainer
said. “He was as much responsible for making that college go as

The college offered an undergraduate program in natural
resources, which was not available at UW-Madison, and then started
a conservation law enforcement major which was the first in the
Midwest. Graduates could then be hired as conservation wardens.

“Besides being competent in textbook and technical knowledge, we
wanted our kids to be trained in the field,” Trainer said. Students
were required to attend summer camp to learn how to inventory fish
and wildlife, and cruise timber in order to have an integrated

“You can’t be in natural resources and be over-specialized,”
Trainer said. “Students had hands-on field experience, and at the
end of the camp they had 40 acres to study. They had to inventory
it, including soil types, vegetation, water, wildlife, and draw up
a plan. They had to know that everything was inter-related.”

Trainer credited the faculty for instilling the concept of
interrelationships before he even arrived in Stevens Point.

“We took advantage of the resources we had around us,” he said.
“At the peak we had more than 2,000 students majoring in natural
resources, becoming the largest undergraduate natural resources
program in the country and, when they graduated, they got

Trainer went on to serve on the Natural Resources Board in the
1970s and early 1980s. He became very involved with land
acquisition, serving on one of the first Stewardship

“Land use should be a top priority in natural resources,” he
said. “Leopold used to write that in the southern half of the state
the farmer dictated what we would have for wildlife, and in the
northern half the forester dictated. It is a matter of habitat and
land use.”

Trainer knew that politics were always a part of natural
resources, but believed it should be a minor part.

“You did the right thing for the right reasons, biologically or
for the resource, and then you looked at the political
ramifications. Now, I think people look first at the political
ramifications and whatever is left over is for the resource,” he

While he was on the NRB, he said that Dreyfus never once asked
him to vote a certain way.

Trainer said a good NRB member is someone who looks at things
from a statewide standpoint and is objective.

“You can’t be an expert on all of these things, so you have to
listen,” Trainer said. “The DNR holds the natural resources in
trust for the public, and the board is in charge of the DNR.”

This writer had the privilege of serving with Trainer on the
Wisconsin Hall of Fame Board of Governors. After he retired from
that board, he was asked about some of his outdoor experiences. He
said the best deer hunting he ever had was when he and his father
and neighbors around Princeton put on

drives for deer.

“People hunted for nine days back then and they actively
hunted,” he said, comparing it to today when many only hunt opening
weekend and primarily sit on stands. “Thanksgiving was normally
observed after the deer season.”

Trainer was concerned about the quality of today’s hunting
experience. “Many hunters set bait out and sit up in a tree or
treestand equipped with a TV and heat,” he said. “I don’t see much
quality in shooting a deer over bait. I like deer hunting, but I
don’t bait and never did. If you sit there long enough, a nice buck
will come along. But, land use has changed so much it is hard to
drive deer. It used to be that I knew all of the farmers and could
hunt anywhere I wanted, but not now when 40 acres is owned by
several people. Land use patterns are so different.”

Trainer said that wildlife management is not an exact science,
just like population estimates are not always exact. He thought the
state needed a longer season than just nine days of gun hunting,
and wanted to see the state try different deer regulations in
different parts of the state, because what works in Dodge County
may not work in Dunn County.

Trainer’s father taught him a lot about life through

“One time while hunting, I missed a pheasant and grumbled in the
car on the whole way back home,” Trainer said. His dad told him to
put his shotgun away for the rest of the day because he obviously
didn’t enjoy hunting.

“That taught me something: everything you do in life, enjoy it,
or don’t do it,” Trainer said.

Memorials may be sent to the “UWSP Foundation – Dan Trainer
Scholarship Fund” and mailed to: UWSP Foundation, 2100 Main Street,
Suite 212, Stevens Point, WI 54481.

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