By Jenn Watt
Published Oct. 6 2016
Read anything about Minden’s Orie Loucks and you will inevitably end up in the forest. The esteemed scientist author and conservationist who died last month was world renowned for his work researching our environment and applying those findings to preserving it.
But even before he became institute director of the Holcomb Research Institute in Indianapolis or the Ohio eminent scholar at Miami University he was in the woods of Canning Lake where he grew up and later where he bought a second home.
“From an early age Orie was enchanted by the forest for its diversity and dynamics marvelling at how young maples could survive for years in wait of the opportunity to take the place of a fallen tree” his obituary reads. “His love for trees and forests created a special bond with his father who had dreamed of becoming a lumberman as a youth. Both relished the annual ritual of securing sufficient split firewood to heat the family home through each long winter.”
Orie’s parents were Albert Vinton and Letitia Emily Loucks and he had five siblings: Foster Albert Leon Barbara and Phyllis.
Loucks’s 85 years were spent between Canada and the United States as he moved between research institutions with his family – wife Elinor and children Eric Kimberly and Edward. After finishing high school in Lindsay Loucks studied at the University of Toronto before accepting a position in New Brunswick working for the federal government’s Department of Forestry. From there it was on to a series of positions at various American universities where he followed his curiosity.
His family and friends note the impact he had as an academic willing to weigh in on political issues. Notably his role in banning DDT from Wisconsin required he serve as a witness on behalf of the Environmental Defense Fund and Citizens Natural Resources Association.
“Colleagues in the Wisconsin DDT effort said Loucks had the toughest job of all in his summary role” writes Bill Berry in his piece about Loucks in Madison.com.
“He was unflinching and seemingly fearless about being in the public fray a new breed of scientist who alerted the public to what he knew.”
Loucks’s interest in people and the respect he afforded everyone regardless of their social status or walk of life helped him advance the causes he held dear his son Ted said.
“My dad was a kind and gentle man but he was very passionate about the things he believed in and could speak forcefully about them when needed” he wrote in an email to the paper. “He was an excellent listener. He showed people that he was genuinely interested in what they had to say. I think it was this quality along with his sharp intellect that helped persuade people to his side.”
Berry’s article praises Loucks’s role in fighting a military project that would have installed an “underground communications system” in Clam Lake Wis. and in educating the public on lake eutrophication when a lake cannot support life for lack of oxygen.
Although he worked and lived in the States Loucks was a frequent visitor to the Highlands buying a property here in the 1980s. He brought his research here too.
“In the early 1970s while occupying the ecology chair at U. Wisconsin he and his PhD students expanded the studies of hemlock as the primary conifer of the Climax Forest of the Great Lakes Region to include Ontario” fellow academic Jim Nighswander told the paper. “Here he focused on the old growth stands of the Clear Lakes area. These publications attracted the interest of researchers at the new Lamong Dendrochronology Laboratory N.Y. who were relating tree ring data to historical climate change in eastern [North America]. They visited the Clear [Lake] forest and sampled some of the oldest trees of the Loucks study plots to include in their data. More studies followed.”
Nighswander asserts that Loucks was so instrumental in the founding of the Clear Lake Conservation Reserve which borders Kennisis and Big and Little Hawk lakes that he is petitioning the government to have it renamed the Orie L. Loucks (Clear Lake) Conservation Reserve.
He says that the reserve was established after Loucks convinced a group of scientists to visit the area to observe its old growth forest and meromictic lake – Blackcat.
Meromictic lakes don’t turn over which allows scientists to accurately examine pollen cores undisturbed by the thousands of years since the last glacial retreat.
“They were all more than impressed” Nighswander recalls.
Orie and Elinor Loucks were also involved in the Canning Lake community members of the lake association and authors of a book on the Loucks family genealogy.
Ted recalls his father’s avid interest in plants and animals around the family cottage.
“He was always a keen observer noting the day of the first blooms of various flowers in the spring counting the number of turtles sunning themselves on logs in the pond next to the road or tracking how many loon couples and single males were on the lake in a given year. Each year my dad would put many hours into clearing fallen trees and splitting the logs to make firewood. He may have enjoyed this work more than any other deftly using a chainsaw and axe into his 80s” he said.
Orie wasn’t always in the wilderness when visiting the Highlands however as he could also be found dining at Suwan’s Wild Orchid or Molly’s Bistro – or indulging in his favourite Moose Tracks ice cream from Kawartha Dairy (a sweet tooth he inherited from his father says Ted).
Canning Lake resident Jim Mitchell is working on a book about the lake and sent excerpts of the unpublished manuscript to the paper.
“They [Orie and Elinor] have taken a keen interest in the history of their family and have done extensive research on and have written prolifically about them. This affords us a unique window into the world of Canning Lake as it was first settled and developed. It also provides a similar perspective on the lives and challenges of the early pioneers” Mitchell wrote.
The Louckses have also been working to preserve the Graham’s Landing site on the lake. According to Mitchell “they hope to excavate it using rigorous archaeological methods to carefully unearth the original wharf timbers the storehouse foundations and whatever else might lie hidden beneath.”
The plan is to eventually transfer the property to a land trust or other such organization for preservation.
Ted said his father’s interest in genealogy became a passion.
“In his later years passing on the family history became more and more important to my dad. At family reunions he would take my cousins and later their children on hikes touring the 1000 acre homestead on which he grew up explaining everything from how they made maple syrup to where scout camps had once been located on the property. Other stories were collected into a book he put together with his sister and my mom that has become a treasure for the extended family” he said.
Indeed Orie’s daughter Kim says he relished opportunities to meet with relatives and exchange knowledge about the family tree.
“Visiting family and keeping up with all his siblings their kids and their kids’ kids was really important too. We nearly always visited the Pioneer Cemetery when we were up” she wrote in an email.
He was also a supporter of the Ingoldsby church Ted said.
“Whenever he could Dad enjoyed attending Sunday services at the Ingoldsby United Church. It was the church he grew up in and also where his funeral will be held this Saturday” he said.
Family remember Orie as a man filled with boundless curiosity always interested in others with little ego. Kim recalls that despite his illness Orie still worked towards having his friend recognized for a lifetime achievement award at the Wisconsin Nature Conservancy: “To him work was life he loved to work and never really retired.”
He was intensely proud of the Highlands and kept connected with people he met throughout the world and from his hometown.
“I don’t know of anyone who put such time and effort into real-time actual face-to-face contacts” his brother Foster told the paper. “Forget Facebook he enjoyed talking in person with others learning what he could at all times from them and expanding his perspective on everything from the environment to the human condition.”
“He will be missed by all who knew him but his spirit will live on perhaps not least as a son of Haliburton County.”
Loucks died on Sept. 10 at his home in Waunakee Wis. of multiple myeloma cancer. There will be a gathering on Saturday Oct. 8 at the Ingoldsby United Church at 12:30 p.m. until the funeral service at 1:30 p.m.