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UC Davis Centennial
100 years of service, solutions, impact
Photo: Storer Hall. (UC Davis photo)

Storer Hall, which houses classrooms and laboratories, was built in 1968 and named after our pioneering zoologist, Tracy Storer. (UC Davis photo)

Looking Back

Namesakes: Tracy Storer

Photo: Tracy Storer

Tracy Storer

Storer Hall was constructed during the late ’60s student boom on campus — 1968 — and dedicated to Tracy Storer, our pioneering zoologist who started on the faculty in 1923. For many years, Storer was our only zoology faculty member, but he left a long-lasting legacy. Our ecology and evolutionary biology graduate program (originally called zoology) is among the top five in the nation.

Few people knew the wildlife of the Sierra Nevada the way Tracy Storer, 1889-1973, did. Not only did he write the book on Sierra fauna — in fact, more than one — he did much of the original research, starting in 1914 with an unprecedented survey of the animals of Yosemite.

Storer, as a graduate student and curator of birds at the Museum of Vertebrate Biology at UC Berkeley, worked with the museum’s founding director, Joseph Grinnell, and others in a six-year inventory of the “Yosemite Transect” — a swath of land stretching more than 1,500 square miles from the Central Valley through Yosemite Valley to Mono Lake.

Just getting to Yosemite in those days was a feat. In a memoir, Storer would recall a 1919 trip when he and Grinnell had to unpack their Model T, hand carry their gear and reload the car at every hairpin turn in the road. The fieldwork involved camping with packhorses and walking 20 miles or more a day.

Collected 4,345 specimens

In the end, they collected 4,354 specimens, took more than 700 photos and filled more than 2,000 pages with notes. A resulting 1924 book, Animal Life in the Yosemite, written by Grinnell and Storer, describes 362 kinds of animals — 231 types of birds, 97 mammal species, 22 snakes and lizards, and 12 frogs, toads and salamanders.

Moreover, the book broke new ground in discussing the distribution of those species across different “life zones,” or ecological niches.

“This study was truly a landmark,” said James Patton, a UC Berkeley biology professor emeritus and a curator at the Museum of Vertebrate Biology who recently worked with colleagues on the first resurvey of the Yosemite Transect.

“Ecology wasn’t even a field at that time, and the kind of ‘Victorian-age’ gentleman’s field of natural history was just beginning to be transcribed into a truly scientific discipline. Folks like Grinnell and Storer were some of the early architects of that transformation.”

Photo: Storer helped redesign the California state flag with a more realistic grizzly bear.

Storer helped redesign the California state flag with a more realistic grizzly bear.

Advocates for preserving Yosemite wildlife

The pair also became early advocates for preserving Yosemite’s native wildlife — including predators — and natural habitats.

Storer left a big imprint at UC Davis, as well. In 1923, he joined the campus as the first and, for many years, the only zoology faculty member — the start of what would eventually become one of the nation’s leading university biological sciences teaching and research programs.

He and his wife, Ruth, the first woman doctor in Yolo County, in 1960 endowed a speaker series that brings eminent biologists to campus every year.

Students worldwide knew Storer well for his classic General Zoology textbook. His legacy also includes two other long-lived books: Sierra Nevada Natural History, a guidebook recently updated and released by University of California Press, and California Grizzly, which he co-authored with UC Davis colleague Lloyd Tevis in 1955 and was reissued in 1996.

Storer also had a hand in fixing the California state flag. Before 1953, the bear on the flag often drew comparisons to a hog or a dog. Because the California grizzly had been extinct since 1922, few knew what it looked like. Storer helped the state come up with a more accurate rendition.

Kathleen Holder is interim editor for the UC Davis Magazine.

Take a look back at UC Davis’ history