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 Luther Chase Goldman (1909–2005) was an American naturalist and wildlife photographer. Best known for his photographs of endangered species of birds, he was chief photographer of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Luther was born in Washington, D.C., on November 2, 1909. He was fortunate in his younger years to learn nature lore from his father, Edward A. Goldman, an eminent naturalist. In teenage summer months he served as camp boy on research expeditions in Arizona, trapping and preparing specimens of mammals, his early interest, and also gaining field experience with the Predator and Rodent Control Branch of the Bureau of Biological Survey of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.
At the University of Maryland he earned a degree in biological sciences and lettered as a football first-string lineman. Three years of field work followed: in Mexico (two winters) for biological investigations of wintering waterfowl, as a member of a party in Baja California to collect mountain sheep (a new subspecies), in Florida, as assistant in Arthur H. Howell’s fauna research, and in Arizona for mammal research on the north rim of the Grand Canyon.
In 1939, he married his college sweetheart, Mary Elizabeth (Betty) Mulligan. That year, too, was the beginning of his 20-year career as manager of national wildlife refuges at the new Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge in California.
Luther’s intense interest in ornithology and in wildlife photography developed early as a result of living in remote areas with poor access to good film developing and printing sources. He took up his own darkroom work and began documenting required narrative reports to the Washington D.C office with 8” x 10” prints. His illustrations attracted immediate attention, and copies of his photographs began to appear on the covers of Bureau reports and elsewhere.
In 1941, he attended the first In Training School on Bureau procedures and activities at Patuxent Research Refuge in Laurel, Maryland. He spent months on a one-man biological reconnaissance prior to establishment of the Imperial and Havasu National Wildlife Refuges on the lower Colorado River in Arizona.
Development plans for the Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge were put on hold due to unstable conditions of the Sea’s water table. In 1942, Luther transferred to New Mexico to manage the Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge. Along with normal refuge activities was an engineering project to change the course of the Pecos River for control of bank erosion. At night, only the bright lights of the far off German prisoner-of-war camp could be seen. Entering active duty in the U.S. Army in 1943, Luther served for three years as entomologist.
Upon his return to civilian life he was offered three choices in wildlife refuge management. He seized the opportunity to research and develop the two new national wildlife refuges on the Texas-Mexico border in the Rio Grande Valley—the 45,000-acre (180 km2) Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge and the 2,000-acre (8.1 km2) Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge. The next 12 years (1947–59) were filled with excitement and challenges. In Wild America, co-authored with Roger Tory Peterson after their 30,000-mile (48,000 km) birding expedition around North America, James Fisher wrote of him, “Luther is one of the best field men I have ever encountered.”
After the aforementioned 20 years on western refuges (including Army service), Luther accepted a position in the Washington Office as assistant chief, Section of Wildlife Management in the Branch of Wildlife Refuges. He, Betty, and their son, Edward, moved to College Park, Maryland. He served on many panels and teams, including Secretary Udall’s Eagle Survey Team, which resulted in new restrictions on poisoning, trapping, and aerial hunting of eagles in the U.S.
Later, his abilities in wildlife photography led to his appointment as the Bureau’s chief photographer and curator of the extensive photo files, for which he photographed endangered species and field activities. He received a certificate of commendation for his photography in the publication of Interior’s Birds in Our Lives.
Through these years, his many other biological and photographic duties included consultation on scientific matters and representing the Division of Wildlife Refuges at the Mountain Sheep Conference in Hermocillo, Mexico. In cooperation with the National Aeronautical Space Administration and the Atomic Energy Commission, Luther photographed wildlife on Amchitka Island, Alaska, to determine the effect of subterranean atomic bomb blasts on surface fauna and wildlife on the Kenai Peninsula. With Dr. Donald Aldrich and artist Bob Hines, he selected and arranged the annual showing of Duck Stamp art entries for judges’ selection of the contest winner. On the U.S.-Canadian team to secure whooping crane eggs from the Northwest Territories, Canada, Luther photographed the operation from the air and on the ground and wrote an account for the Bureau publication In-Sight (40,000 copies reprinted for wide distribution). He made a second trip for team egg-pickup in 1974. With Dr. Aldrich, he made a six-year study and photographic record of the bald eagle from nestling to adult to determine its age when acquiring complete white head and tail feathers. Prior to the California condors’ disappearance in the wild, in cooperation with the National Wildlife Federation, Luther photographed them in the mountains of Sespe National Sanctuary, northeast of Los Angeles. He created slide shows concerning endangered species for use by the Regional and Washington Offices, as well as on loan to the general public.
His photographs have hung in the U.S. Capitol, State Department, museums in Canada, the United Kingdom, and the library of Peter Scott at Slimbridge, and are widely used in publications of the federal government and National Geographic Society and in books by conservation authors.
Retiring in 1974 after 35 years of government service, he led many natural history tours, both in the National Capitol area as well as abroad, including such places as Trinidad & Tobago. He was honored by both the Montgomery County Chapter of the Maryland Ornithological Society and the Prince George’s County Audubon Society, highlighting the contributions he made to them and to the cause of wildlife preservation in general.
He was elected to membership in the Washington Biologists’ Field Club in 1960 and was chairman of Books and Photographs Committee. When The Members and History of the Washington Biologists’ Field Club was revised in 1984 and the Supplement in 1993, Luther supplied the photographs, printing many from old negatives (some glass plates) and developing and printing new ones. In 1996, he was selected to become an honorary member.
Luther lived with his wife, Betty. for many years in their home in College Park, Maryland, until her death in 2002. He continued to live alone and be very active with birding projects. Luther died at age 95 in Lanham, Maryland, on January 12, 2005, after a short illness. Luther was one of the most popular and active members of the Washington Biologists’ Field Club and attended an oyster roast on Plummers Island on October 30, 2004, just three days before his 95th birthday.