Edward Alexander Preble (1871-1957) was a naturalist and conservationist who conducted major field explorations of the birds and mammals of the northwest regions of Canada and the United States. Preble was born in Sommerville, Massachusetts, and developed a strong interest in natural history during his youth in Wilmington, Massachusetts, and summers in Ossipee, New Hampshire. Early natural history contacts included Frank Blake Webster and Frank Harris Hitchcock. Preble graduated from high school in Woburn, Massachusetts, in 1889. Through his acquaintance with Hitchcock, Preble was appointed a field naturalist with the Bureau of Biological Survey in 1892 under Clinton Hart Merriam. Preble was appointed assistant biologist in 1902, biologist in 1924, and senior biologist in 1928.
Preble began his field work career with Vernon Orlando Bailey in Texas, and worked in Georgia, Maryland, Oregon, Washington, and Utah, conducting life zone samplings. In 1900 Preble began his major field explorations for the bureau with a trip to the Hudson Bay region of Canada with his brother, Alfred Emerson Preble. In 1901 the Preble brothers traveled and collected in the Athabaska-Mackenzie (Canada) regions. In 1903 and 1904 the brothers continued their explorations of this region with Merritt Cary, and Edward Preble remained in the Mackenzie River region alone through the winter of 1903-1904. The results of these explorations were published by Preble in A Biological Investigation of the Athabaska-Mackenzie Region, U.S. Department of Agriculture, North American Fauna 27, 1908. Preble also traveled through the Athabaska-Mackenzie region to the Barren Grounds with Ernest Thompson Seton in 1907.
In 1910 Preble, accompanied by George and Samuel Mixter, explored the Stikine River in Alaska, as well as Alberta, British Columbia, Montana, and North Dakota. Preble was sent to investigate the status of the elk in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, in 1911. In 1913, Preble led a big-game hunt in British Columbia for Charles Robert Cross. In 1914 Preble, Wilfred Hudson Osgood, and George H. Parker served on a federal commission to study and report on the fur seals of the Pribilof Islands, Alaska. In addition to the report, published in 1915, Preble also compiled A Biological Investigation of the Pribilof Islands, U.S. Department of Agriculture, North American Fauna 46, 1923. Preble's last major field exploration was an investigation of the status of waterbirds of the Athabaska and Peace River deltas with Luther J. Goldman in 1934.
Preble kept detailed field diaries and notebooks with observations on the animals and birds he was studying, flora and physical surroundings, weather, routes and distances traveled, individuals encountered, sketches of trapper and Indian life, and Indian terms for animals and plants. Most of these trips are represented in the collection. Preble's research for the Bureau of Biological Survey resulted in faunal surveys and conservation/wildlife management reports, with few systematic or taxonomic studies.
In addition to field explorations, Preble always recorded observations of the local flora, fauna and physical surroundings in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and the Washington, D.C., area. Preble lived in Washington, D.C., but also owned a cabin in Fairfax, Virginia, and a farm in Ossipee, New Hampshire. With Waldo Lee McAtee and Alexander Wetmore, Preble conducted local bird counts for the Audubon National Society which were published in Bird-Lore.
Preble served as chairman of the Editorial Committee for the American Society of Mammalogists' Journal of Mammalogy from 1930 to 1935, was made a fellow of the American Ornithologists' Union (AOU) in 1935, and was a member of its Bird Protection Committee.
In his later years with the Bureau of Biological Survey as senior biologist, Preble became very interested in wildlife management and conservation. In 1925 Preble was appointed consulting naturalist for Nature Magazine, and in 1935 he retired from government service to become associate editor. Until his death in 1957, he edited, reviewed, and wrote articles for Nature Magazine, the publication of the American Nature Association. He maintained contacts with other conservationists through the American Humane Association, the Emergency Conservation Committee, the National Parks Association, the Committee on Wildlife and the Committee on Preservation of Natural Conditions of the National Research Council, and the Permanent Wild Life Protection Fund.
Preble published extensively throughout his life. In a bibliography published in 1965, McAtee credits Preble with 239 published items of 1500 pages in the form of articles, books, reports, annotations, and edits of other works. Preble published several major faunal surveys for the Bureau of Biological Survey as well as a few systematic revisions and wildlife management reports. He published bird counts and observations in The Auk and Bird-Lore, and wrote many articles for Nature Magazine and other scientific and conservation journals. He also annotated three narratives of early explorers in the northwest, Samuel Hearne, David Thompson, and Thomas Hutchins (unpublished). Although Preble was considered a dilatory correspondent, the collection contains a large volume of incoming correspondence, especially from Charles Christopher Adams, Harold Elmer Anthony, Rosalie Edge, Francis Harper, William Temple Hornaday, Roderick Ross MacFarlane, Clinton Hart Merriam, Olaus Johan Murie, Wilford Edwin Sanderson, Ernest Thompson Seton, J. B. Tyrrell, and Richard W. Westwood. There is little outgoing correspondence since Preble usually wrote letters by hand.