While at Audubon, Pough made another of his unusual contributions to conservation. He met a Consolidated Edison salesman named Joe Hickey who was interested in birds of prey and used to drop by the Audubon library after work. Hickey lacked funds to continue his education, but Pough urged him to seek out Aldo Leopold, then the professor of game management at the University of Wisconsin. Leopold got money for Hickey to continue his schooling and Hickey eventually got his doctorate, succeeded to Leopold's position at Wisconsin and authored the definitive study of the effects of DDT on the peregrine falcon.
Appropriately, to bring the matter full circle, Pough was among the first conservationists to sound alarms about the dangers of DDT. In 1945 Pough, then the Audubon Society's ecologist, warned that when and if the Federal Government released DDT for civilian use, nontarget insects, fishes, frogs and birds would suffer.
As with Hickey, Pough had luck with another drop-in, Charles Broley, a 60-year-old retired banker from Winnipeg. While on the way to his retirement home in Florida, Broley stopped by to see Pough in New York with the idea that he could do something useful. Pough suggested that Broley band eagles. Very little work had been done on eagles; only 58 had ever been banded. Broley, who knew next to nothing about eagles, which put him on an equal footing with most experts, agreed to try and headed south with bands and a few words of advice, both provided by Pough.
In Florida, Broley set to work. Using a rope ladder to climb up through tree branches, he began banding bald eagles with a vengeance. Pough had told him that no eagle or other bird of prey would ever attack with its beak but would instead try to claw with its talons. Despite Pough's warning, Broley turned his back a few times on great horned owls, which are fond of taking over eagles' nests, and was slashed twice. Once an owl struck from behind, ripping into his right shoulder and almost knocking him from the tree. But nothing deterred Broley. By the time of his death in his late 70s, he had banded more than 1,200 bald eagles, including one confused female that was trying to hatch a rubber ball.
In 1954 Pough sought to have the Audubon Society save the Corkscrew cypress swamp in Florida. But John Baker, then the Audubon president, doubted sufficient money could be raised and put the project off. With only 10 days remaining before a lumber company would start logging the swamp, Pough asked Baker if he could have a crack at raising the necessary $145,000 for purchase. With a doubtful laugh, Baker told Pough to try. "I talked to Theodore Edison, the son of the inventor, and he said he'd put in some money," Pough recalls. "I spoke to Horace Albright, a friend of John D. Rockefeller Jr., and told him that Mr. Rockefeller should contribute. I said, 'The cypress is the redwood of the East.' Word came back that Rockefeller would put up half. Rockefeller always puts up half. Then I got Paul Mellon's Old Dominion Foundation to contribute, and we beat the deadline by one day. But what got me is that Baker wanted Rockefeller's pledge in writing!"
In 1948 Pough, left Audubon to become chairman of the department of conservation and general ecology at the American Museum of Natural History, where his brother Frederick, author of the Field Guide to Rocks and Minerals, was curator of the department of physical geology. Pough planned and supervised the exhibits in the Hall of North American Forests, in which he demonstrated forest dynamics by showing growth and successful change. On other fronts, he urged the late Dr. Robert Cushman Murphy, then the Lamont curator emeritus of the bird department, to prove that the cahow, or Bermuda petrel, was not extinct (he did), got Arthur Vernay, a museum trustee, to establish a sanctuary for flamingos in the Bahamas, assisted Ilya Tolstoy, grandson of the novelist, in setting up an underwater park on the Exuma Cays, and helped found The Nature Conservancy, a land acquisition organization that came into existence because of Pough's impatience with the old Ecologists Union. "The members of the union were all wonderful ecologists," Pough says, "but they couldn't have known less about how to get land, deal for land, buy land. For this you need businessmen. The success of The Nature Conservancy is due to the fact that we brought in businessmen. A vice-president of the conservancy, Patrick F. Noonan, is an ex-real estate man. I think we make a mistake in conservation in getting naturalists for all the jobs. When you've got something to do that's straight public relations, for example, you don't want a naturalist, you want a man who's been on newspapers or Madison Avenue for 20 years."
The Nature Conservancy holds land in its own right, but in some cases it endeavors to transfer parcels to organizations specifically interested in maintaining them. Should an organization fail to live up to its deed, say by attempting to clear-cut or develop the land, ownership will revert to The Nature Conservancy. Most important to beleaguered and broke conservationists intent upon saving a threatened piece of land is the fact that The Nature Conservancy has a $3.4 million revolving loan fund. This fund got its first major boost at a luncheon Pough had with Mrs. DeWitt Wallace of the
. After hearing out Pough on the need to save land with emergency funds, Mrs. Wallace immediately wrote a check for $100,000. "The idea in setting up The Nature Conservancy," Pough says, "was to strip away from conservationists every possible excuse for not saving worthwhile acreage. I can say to them, 'You're tax exempt! Here's the down payment! Are you a man or a mouse? Save it!' " Unfortunately for Pough, the Museum of Natural History trustees did not look with favor on all his campaigns, and he resigned in 1956 with what he calls "their mutual consent."
Leaving the museum did not slow Pough. He promptly moved on to help establish the Natural Area Council and later began the Open Space Institute, which has pursued with unusual vigor and potent economic arguments the setting aside of preserves and sanctuaries in the countryside surrounding the Greater New York area. "We hired an ad man, Chuck Little, to write a book called Stewardship, which we published," says Pough. "It dealt with case histories of what landowners had done to conserve land—often to their tax advantage. Then we went to the tax rolls and found out who owned 20 acres or more of undeveloped land within a 125-mile radius of New York City. We sent every one of these people a little letter saying we had a book, Stewardship, we would like to send them if they were interested. We got 10,000 replies. Then we got a young woman with a marvelous telephone voice, the wife of a Connecticut minister, to call these people about 10 days after they had gotten the book and ask them how they liked it. If they had liked it, she would ask if one of our field men could see them. It has been a very successful program. We got a good many million dollars' worth of land given, one way or another, to private or public agencies.
"We also had Little do a second book, Challenge of the Land, which we sent to municipal officials and civic leaders. It deals with specific case histories of how communities have been able to hold down municipal costs and save open space at the same time."
At present Pough is also busy with the America the Beautiful Fund, which dispenses "seed grants" of up to $1,000 to applicants needing help with programs ranging from water conservation to historic preservation. And so, where Pough goes money flows. Recently a deceased banker, who had been fond of inviting his pet African lion into board meetings, had willed Defenders of Wildlife $2 million. Pough was very pleased. He was twice as pleased when the attorneys wrote a week later to say that there had been a miscalculation—the sum was $4 million. Moreover, the will decreed that Defenders of Wildlife was not to bank the money, but to spend it all on wildlife as soon as possible. "I don't think we'll have any trouble," Pough says.