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Obituary of Don Harkin

Don Harkin, well known forester, woodsman, and leader of numerous wildland tours of the Sierra mountains and foothills, died March 7 while feeding bread to the birds in the yard of his remote San Juan Ridge home. He had been disabled by a stroke several years earlier. He was 80.

Donald William Harkin was born May 11, 1935 into an established ranching family with deep roots in eastern Montana. He was the eldest of four siblings. He worked on Forest Service trail crews and as a packer on horse strings bringing supplies to remote mountain locations. He enlisted in the U.S. Army, serving in Korea as a photographer. Upon discharge he attended the University of Montana at Missoula, graduating with majors in psychology, philosophy and forestry. He went on to receive his master’s degree from Yale School of Forestry. Don’s subsequent employment included field research for the Forest Service and at the University of California Berkeley, as an independent contractor with the Forest Service on tree planting and thinning operations, and as a teacher at Feather River College in Quincy, CA. He affected the lives and thinking about the natural world of large numbers of adults and children of Nevada County and beyond through his extensive volunteer work leading Sierra Club and California Native Plant Society outings, and conducting projects and tours for the Yuba Watershed Institute of the San Juan Ridge. He followed his own passionate interests researching forest dynamics, laboriously extracting core samples from hundreds of trees to determine age and fire history of forest stands on the Ridge and throughout the Sierra. Don was a vocal critic of wasteful and environmentally unsound forestry practices, was a noted commenter on complex forest plans and projects, and a fixture at public meetings and hearings on forest issues. Until his last days he was an avid and voracious reader of scientific works, fiction, history, psychology and politics, maintaining a vast, eclectic library that was his main personal indulgence. He carried on a conversation with the text of everything he read, using a yellow marker to highlight an author’s major insights, errors, and especially faults of critical thinking. A frugal, rugged individualist to the end, he shared his intellectual life generously.

Don is survived by many friends in the Nevada County area; his two brothers Robert of Florence, MT, Douglas of Lolo, MT; and sister Sharon of Missoula, MT.

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