Ira N. Gabrielson (1889-1977) was born in Sioux Rapids, Iowa, and grew up on a farm where his interest in wildlife began. He graduated from Morningside College in Iowa in 1912 and taught biology at Marshalltown High School, Marshalltown, Iowa, until 1915.
In 1915 he joined the Bureau of Biological Survey and worked in the western states on economic ornithology, rodent control, and game management; he was particularly interested in waterfowl. In 1934 he became assistant chief of the Division of Wild Life Research, and in 1935 he became chief of the Bureau of Biological Survey. When the Biological Survey and the Bureau of Fisheries were joined to form the United States Fish and Wildlife Service in 1940, Gabrielson was named director of the new organization. During his tenure in that position, 1940-1946, he succeeded in adding millions of acres to the National Wildlife Refuge System. During World War II, he served as deputy coordinator of Fisheries and as a United States delegate to the International Whaling Conference in 1946.
In 1946 Gabrielson retired from government service and assumed the presidency of the Wildlife Management Institute. He held that post until 1970 when he was elected chairman of the Institute's Board of Directors. He helped found the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources in 1948, helped organize the World Wildlife Fund (United States) in 1961, and served as a trustee of the World Wildlife Fund (International) and the North American Wildlife Foundation.
His concern for wildlife and conservation was not limited to his official role. He lived in Northern Virginia and was a founder of the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority, serving as its chairman, 1959-1976, and as chairman emeritus until his death.
Gabrielson received honorary degrees from his alma mater, as well as from Oregon State University, Middlebury College, and Colby College. He received the Audubon Conservation Award, the Distinguished Service Award of the Interior Department, the Leopold Medal of the Wildlife Society, the Hugh Bennett Award of Friends of the Land, the Distinguished Service Award of the American Forestry Association, and was posthumously named to the National Wildlife Federation's Conservation Hall of Fame.
Gabrielson was the author of four books and the co-author of six others, including The Birds of Alaska, with Frederick C. Lincoln, his colleague in the Bureau of Biological Survey and the Fish and Wildlife Service. Gabrielson was a member of the American Ornithologists' Union, the Society of Systematic Zoology, the Audubon Society, the Izaak Walton League, the Washington Academy of Sciences, the Washington Biologists' Field Club, and the Cosmos Club.