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Jacob Valentine was a biologist and conservationist from the United States who saved the nearly extinct Mississippi Sandhill Crane population. He helped establish the Mississippi Sandhill Crane Refuge to ensure their protection. He also served in the U.S. Army during World War II and won the Silver Star for bravely saving his comrades during an attack by the Japanese in New Guinea.

Young Life of Jacob Valentine

Jacob Valentine’s childhood and youth spent in the forests certainly influenced his dedication to environmental conservation and saving the Mississippi Sandhill Crane in his later years.

Jacob M. Valentine, Jr., known as Jake, was born in Racine, Wisconsin, on May 18, 1917.[1] He was born into a big, working-class family with Danish heritage. He and his family may have been homeless for an extended period of time on an island in Lake Michigan. He learned how to survive in nature and developed a great appreciation for wildlife and all things outdoors.

In 1933, Valentine’s mother died and he searched for work to help support his family. He attended high school and then joined the “Tree Army,” U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s newly established Civilian Conservation Corps. The Corps sent members around the entire U.S. to make environmental improvements and plant trees. Valentine explored unmapped forests while sleeping in the forest in tents.[2]

Military Service and The Silver Star

When World War II started, Jacob Valentine enlisted in the U.S. Army. They assigned him to New Guinea as a telecommunications engineer.[3][4] Enemy Japanese fighters attacked his battalion as he and his fellow troops enjoyed a river bank. The majority of the battalion did not know how to swim.

When the Japanese attacked, Valentine and another soldier swam those injured from their battalion to the other side and safety from the gunfire.[5] The Army awarded Jacob Valentine a Silver Star for his heroism at 26-years-old.[6]

Education and Career Beginnings

Valentine enrolled in the University of Wisconsin-Madison and, in 1950, he received a Masters in Zoology.[7] He studied under Aldo Leopold while in university.[8] He joined the rapidly growing U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services (FWS) and they assigned him as a refuge manager around the U.S.[9]

Valentine's first assignment was in North Dakota’s Slade National Wildlife Refuge. He then worked at refuges on Chincoteague, off Virginia’s coastline, and in Loxhatchee, Florida.[10] The FWS made him the wildlife biologist for the Regional Gulf Coast in the 1970s.[11] He relocated to Lafayette, Louisiana, and remained there for the next 39 years.[12]

History of the Mississippi Sandhill Crane

The Mississippi Sandhill Crane was historically found in the wet, sparsely covered savanna habitat that could be found in South Jackson County, Mississippi. The soil in this kind of savanna is acidic, water-logged, and generally considered unsuitable for anything more than grazing sheep and cows.

In the middle of the 1950s, timber companies sought to develop the land. They bought a large portion of the savanna and turned it into pine plantations. The large development projects, including the building of World War II ships, and common forestry practices like fire suppression destroyed the natural habitat of the Mississippi Sandhill Crane.[13]

Saving the Sandhill Crane

Jacob Valentine first discovered the Mississippi Sandhill Crane and its bright red head and its large, wingspan of five feet while working as the FWS’s Gulf Coast biologist. They lay one or two eggs only every four years after mating for life and the Gulf Coast’s wet savanna is their only habitat. They do not migrate.

Jacob Valentine spent the majority of his adult life, almost 40 years, working in conservation and fighting to save the Mississippi Sandhill Crane.

Construction began in the 1970s on U.S. Interstate 10 to link California to Florida. They planned the highway to cross through the savanna and Valentine feared for the safety of the remaining 35 Mississippi Sandhill Cranes. He believed the construction plans did not take into account the sensitive nature of the crane’s habitat. To garner support for his cause, Valentine wrote speeches, published articles, and testified on behalf of the Mississippi Sandhill Crane.

In 1975, the Lanes vs. Cranes argument went to court and it stopped the construction of I-10. This controversy employed the Endangered Species Act of 1973 and served as its first test since the FWS included the bird to the Endangered Species list. The Act established the need to protect the habits of endangered species in its most contested provision. The provision included not just public land, but private land as well. The Act stated that you must protect the habitat of the endangered species and not just the species itself. Jacob Valentine’s testimony solidified the idea.[14]

The Mississippi Sandhill Crane Refuge

The settlement of the Lanes vs. Cranes case resulted in the designation of 2,000 acres of land near one of the I-10 interchanges as the first part of the Mississippi Sandhill Crane Refuge. Valentine and the Refuge accepted nine cranes bred in captivity through a program in Maryland in 1981. The population grew from 30 birds to 135 birds, including 25 breeding pairs, after 30 years.

Valentine continued to work with the Mississippi Sandhill Crane Refuge, staying up to date with all new scientific discoveries, and mentored many young biologists in the more than 30 years he worked for the FWS.[15] He continued to work with the Mississippi Sandhill Crane Refuge even after he retired in the 1980s.[16]

Death and Legacy

Jacob Valentine died in 2001 from leukemia.[17] The FWS began a captive breeding program of the endangered cranes in 1965 at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center to ensure the safety of the unique bird during the restoration of their habitat and add more breeding stock, which still continues today.[18]

In 1996, Jacob Valentine won the North American Crane Working Group’s first ever Walkinshaw Crane Conservation Award for lifetime achievement by saving the Mississippi Sandhill Cranes.[19]



Motsinger, K. (2014, April 3). Meet Unsung Hero Jacob Valentine. Lowell Milken Center for Unsung Heroes.[1]

National Wildlife Refuge System. (2015, October 15). A Look Back… Jake Valentine. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.[2]

Young, D. (2009, May 11). Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge - Southeast Region. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.[3]


  1. Young, 2009
  2. Motsinger, 2014
  3. Motsinger, 2014
  4. National Wildlife Refuge System, 2015
  5. Motsinger, 2014
  6. Young, 2009
  7. Young, 2009
  8. National Wildlife Refuge System, 2015
  9. Motsinger, 2014
  10. National Wildlife Refuge System, 2015
  11. Motsinger, 2014
  12. National Wildlife Refuge System, 2015
  13. Young, 2009
  14. Young, 2009
  15. National Wildlife Refuge System, 2015
  16. Young, 2009
  17. Motsinger, 2014
  18. Young, 2009
  19. National Wildlife Refuge System, 2015

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