Chevron Conservation Award biographical sketch of Dr. John H. Tanton

Chevron Conservation Award


Circa 1989

To say that Dr. John Tanton is a practicing physician is much like saying that Lee Iacocca sells cars. It's accurate enough, but somehow misses the point.

John Tanton was born in 1934, in Michigan, into a farming family. He graduated from Michigan State University and received his medical degree in 1960 from the University of Michigan. During his studies he became acutely aware that his education, which guaranteed him an interesting and comfortable life, was heavily subsidized by the taxpayers, and he resolved to repay this moral debt by working for a better world. In addition to treating the medically indigent, he decided to devote himself to the most urgent issue facing the country, environmental conservation.

In the sixties, while building his practice in ophthalmology, Dr. Tanton became a leader in the Michigan Natural Areas Council; he organized and chaired the Bear River Development Commission. He also organized and served as president of the regional Audubon Society chapter, and then did the same for the Sierra Club.

In 1972, he became the moving spirit in organizing the Little Traverse Conservancy, a highly successful mechanism for open space preservation. Some 2000 critical acres have been donated by civic-minded land owners or purchased through fund-raising drives. Dr. Tanton served as president of the Conservancy in the late seventies, and continued on the Board until recently. The Governor asked him to serve on his Advisory Council on Natural Areas, and later on the Wilderness and Natural Areas Advisory Board.

In the 1980's, Dr. Tanton started, helped finance and guided the development of several new conservation groups: Raptor Research, for the study and protection of the great birds of prey native to the Upper Great Lakes region; Recycle North, a local citizen recycling program that collects newspapers and engine oil; ProWild, whose focus is on innovative ranching techniques to help preserve endangered wildlife in East Africa and in the dry lands of the U.S.; and the Growth and Development Forum, for the study and debate of local growth issues.

Quite early in his environmental studies, Dr. Tanton came to see the link between population pressures and environmental quality. He incorporated population concerns into his innumerable local speeches, became national President of Zero Population Growth, Chairman of the Population Committee for the Sierra Club. His interests are astoundingly broad. For example, he founded U.S. English with Dr. S.I. Hayakawa and Alistair Cooke, the Federation f or American Immigration

Reform with historian Otis L. Graham, and was recently named Chairman of the American Academy of Ophthalmology's new initiative on behalf of the visually impaired.

Dr. Tanton is an avid naturalist who maintains a model apiary -- the honey from which is distributed largely as gifts to his numerous associates in various civic endeavors. Still a self-describe "farm boy", he continues to experiment with crop improvements in his vast garden. He and his wife Mary Lou regularly take courses in botany, zoology and geology at the University of Michigan Biological Station at Douglas Lake.

Copyright 2006-2022 Dr. John H. Tanton estate