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Gary Alt

A.S. Wildlife Technology, 1972; M.S. Wildlife Management, 1977

Gary Alt completed the associate degree in Wildlife Technology at Penn State DuBois in 1972. He earned a bachelor’s degree in Wildlife Science at Utah State University in 1974, and then returned to Penn State to complete the master’s degree in Wildlife Management in 1977. His thesis was titled “Home range, annual activity patterns, and movements of black bears in northeastern Pennsylvania.” In 1989, Gary earned a doctorate in Forest Resources Science at West Virginia University. His dissertation addressed the reproductive biology of bears and early growth and development of cubs. 

Immediately following his master’s degree, Gary started working for the Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC) as a black bear biologist. He coordinated all bear research and management activities in Pennsylvania. He conducted ground-breaking research on denning behavior, and successfully developed translocation techniques that expanded the black bear population into southwestern Pennsylvania. He introduced and promoted some of the most sweeping changes to bear management policies in the history of Pennsylvania. Bear licenses and regulated seasons were established, management units were put in place, and check stations became important for both data collection and public outreach. Bear hunting seasons were closed in 1977 to protect the population, but by the end of Gary’s tenure as bear biologist, annual average harvests exceeded 2,100 bears, and statewide bear populations went from about 3,000 bears to nearly 15,000. 

Gary blended field research with showmanship through tours, lectures, and an award-winning documentary film, On the Trail of Pennsylvania Black Bears, to inform and educate administrators, legislators, and the public about bears and their management. 

Twenty-two years into his career as the PGC’s bear biologist, Gary was asked to lead a review and overhaul of the commission’s white-tailed deer management program. In 1999, Gary became the supervising biologist for the newly formed deer management section of the Commission’s Bureau of Wildlife Management. As with bears, Gary initiated new field-based research and traveled across Pennsylvania to meet with hunters, non-hunters, and news media. He explained the proposed changes in deer seasons designed to bring the deer herd in balance with forest habitats, minimize deer impacts on communities, and improve the health of the herd. Wildlife management units, instead of counties, were introduced, and new antler restrictions and concurrent antlered and antlerless seasons were put in place. In December 2004, Gary retired from the PGC ending a successful 27-year career. 

Since retiring, Gary has continued contributing to conservation management as a scientist and freelance nature photographer and lecturer. He was one of three deer biologists recruited by Governor Scott Walker to review, evaluate, and offer recommendations on Wisconsin DNR's white-tailed deer management program. His expertise was sought by Safari Club International in a review associated with the opposition to New Jersey's bear hunting seasons; New Jersey now has a bear season. He was engaged in reviewing black bear research reports and regulatory documents, and providing recommendations for potential research and mitigation actions for siting a commercial wind farm in Vermont. He also assisted the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe in New York in evaluating deer management issues on the reservation, and trained a tribal wildlife technician to conduct a variety of deer surveys to evaluate harvest, reproduction, winter mortality, browse impacts, and abundance of white-tailed deer. 

Over the past decade, Gary has been developing and helping to lead summer programs with the Pennsylvania Wildlife Leadership Academy whose mission is to engage and empower high school age youth to become Conservation Ambassadors to ensure a sustained wildlife, fisheries, and natural resource legacy for future generations. Gary has helped to develop week-long programs on white-tailed deer, black bear, smallmouth bass, and wild turkey and explained, “For me, it has been an amazing inspiration and honor to be involved in a program that literally changes the lives of impressionable young students, providing them with new tools and confidence to succeed in life, and providing society with hope, support, and leadership skills for the conservation challenges that will arise long after we are gone.” 

Gary has testified as an expert witness on numerous occasions in state and federal court cases and in legislative hearings dealing with wildlife issues. He has also designed and implemented monitoring programs for a variety of wildlife species and written reports and published results in numerous professional journals. In addition, his work has been featured nationally in a variety of venues such as Good Morning America, CBS Sunday Morning News, Time Magazine, Sports Illustrated, People Magazine, and publications and television programs sponsored by the National Geographic Society. 

Gary has entertained and educated the public via outreach and as an eco-tour guide for more than 30 years leading more than 70 photo safaris in the western United States, Alaska, Africa, and the Canadian and Norwegian arctic.

He presented the Umbaugh Lecture at Penn State DuBois in March 2016, and he is one of several prominent wildlife graduates featured in Henry Gerhold’s book, A Century of Forest Resources Education at Penn State

Gary’s professional accomplishments have been acknowledged by many organizations. A sampling includes the President’s Award from the Pennsylvania Veterinary Medical Association; the Pennsylvania Wildlife Federation's Pennsylvania Outstanding Conservation Professional; the Pennsylvania Forestry Association's Roe S. Cochran Award for natural resource education; the Pennsylvania Wildlife Federation's and Audubon Pennsylvania's first-ever Lenny Green/Inky Moore Conservation Educator Award; Safari Club International's Conservation Award, the highest recognition an individual can receive from SCI for service in the field of wildlife conservation and hunters' rights; the Quality Deer Management Association's Professional Deer Manager of the Year Award, which recognizes the professional biologist or manager who has done the most to promote the principles and practices of quality deer management; and the Alumni Fellow Award from the Penn State Alumni Association.