David R. Klein


A road trip to Fairbanks in 1947 answered Dave Klein’s question: What would he do with his life? The self-described “country kid” from Connecticut “wasn’t a very good high school student,” he said in a 2014 interview. “I knew that I ultimately ought to go to the university, but I didn’t know what to do.”

He and a friend drove a Ford Model A up the newly built Alaska Highway, then spent the summer doing roofing work. Their boss hired them to build a cabin on Wild Lake in the Brooks Range. Klein hunted moose and Dall sheep, fished lake trout and got hooked on Alaska. 

“And by this time I realized there was a wildlife management field and that’s probably what I should strive for,” he said.

The University of Alaska didn’t have such a program yet. But Klein ended up on campus anyway, milking cows for the Fairbanks Experiment Farm. After returning to Connecticut and finishing his undergraduate degree, he earned a master’s in wildlife management at UA in 1953. 

He’s been a prominent faculty member on the Fairbanks campus for most of the time since. After a decade spent working with federal and state agencies across Alaska and studying for a doctorate from the University of British Columbia, he led the joint federal-state Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit on campus for 30 years. When he retired in 1997 at age 71, he counted an astounding 66 students who had completed graduate degrees under his tutelage. Twenty years later, as a professor emeritus, he maintains an office in the Arctic Health Sciences Building and keeps an active professional schedule.

Former students marvel at his analytical abilities, field skills, enthusiasm for ski trips and personal generosity. “He helped to create a very congenial learning environment that was very very fun and sociable,” said former student Pat Valkenburg ’76, a retired Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologist and administrator.

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