Saturday, July 25, 2015

The Passing Of Ralph Harrison

Legendary Pennsylvania Elk advocate, Ralph L. Harrison, 87, of , Dents Run, died Wednesday, July 22, 2015, at his home after a battle with pancreatic cancer.

I first learned of Ralph from Billie Cromwell, the PGC Game Lands Maintenace Supervisor for Fulton County, who was my foreman at the time.  Billie shot a significant amount of the video footage for the rut portion of The Pennsylvania Game Commission's film, "Pennsylvania Elk: Reclaiming The Alleghenies" and  met Mr. Harrison sometime during this period.  The film featured an interview with Mr. Harrison.  This was my first exposure to him and  and I was impressed with his knowledge and low-key unassuming manner.

I first met him sometime in the late 1990s. During the elk rut that year, Billie Cromwell and I  walked far back in the mountains one evening to a food plot the elk were using heavily and the air resounded with the bugles of several bulls as darkness closed in.  We were walking back to the vehicle in the moonlight when we saw a dog standing in the roadway and a man sitting on the road bank.  It turned out that this was Ralph Harrison, sitting there in the moonlight listening to the bulls bugle, with his dog along for company and as protection if he unexpectedly came upon a bull while walking in the darkness. Within the next year or so I was in the same area once again and Ralph came by.  This time we had a long conversation and this led to many more meetings and discussions about wildlife conservation and elk in particular over the remainder of his life.

Mr. Harrison was an Elk County native and resident of Dent’s Run. He was born there in 1928 and  lived there most of his life except for a stint in the military. Ralph went to work for what was then know as the Department of Forest and Waters in 1951 and worked for them for the next forty years, although the agency changed names over this period. It would take a book to cover his life and in fact Ralph has written several, the latest being on the history of the Quehanna Wild Area..

Mr. Harrison never had an official job in elk management. There was no big title, just a simple love and respect for the animals, which led him to go above and beyond the call of duty and dedicate his life to them. He saw the  elk population grow from less than twenty to the 900-1000 of today. Although he would never claim responsibility, he was an important factor in this increase. Like many true experts, he professed to know little about elk, and was not a self-promoter, but rather tried to give as much credit as possible to others.  He will be deeply missed.

Originally Published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.