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Ben Stout: A life of science, service — and golf

Albany Democrat-Herald, August 4, 2007, Hasso Hering wrote,

Even though he was retired, Benjamin B. Stout, a scientist who was more interested in data than political labels, spent the last 19 years of his life trying to inform the public debate in Oregon about forests and fish.

Stout, an Albany resident since 1988, died July 29 at the age of 83.

During his time in the mid-valley he, among other things:

  • Served as an unpaid volunteer adviser on natural resources to state Rep. Liz VanLeeuwen, a Republican from Halsey, even though he was a registered Democrat.
  • Took part in the Salmon 2100 Project and wrote a chapter in its book about the prospects for the species’ survival in the Pacific Northwest.
  • Wrote countless letters to his local paper and others on issued concerning fish, forestry and education.

VanLeeuwen, who served 18 years through 1998 in the Oregon House, remembers that the Democrat-Herald called her one day in the 1990s and asked: “Liz, who is writing this stuff for you.”

It was Stout, who had contacted VanLeeuwen early in the decade offering to help her with forestry issues during the period when the federal government was working on shutting down logging on the national forests to protect the northern spotted owl.

“If there is an award for a wise and true scientist and educator, Dr. Ben Stout of Albany gets the honor,” VanLeeuwen wrote in an e-mail. “How I will miss him.”

Collecting and analyzing data was Stout’s habit. He found that fish runs in many Northwest rivers fluctuate in unison, and he concluded that ocean conditions were the cause.

When a newspaper columnist condemned the Snake River dams as “blockages to survival” of salmon, Stout went to the data and reported, in a letter to the Sunday D-H and Gazette-Times, that the number of fish passing through the first and fourth dams were about the same, debunking the blockage idea.

To these excursions into policy debates, the native of West Virginia brought a long life in science and education.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in forestry at West Virginia University in 1947, a master’s in forestry from Harvard University in 1950 and a Ph.D. in forest ecology from Rutgers University in 1967.

He managed Harvard’s Black Rock research forest and later served as professor of silviculture at Rutgers University in New Jersey, where he became associate provost of biological sciences (1959 — 1978). He was the dean of the School of Forestry at the University of Montana in Missoula from 1978 through 1985.

Then, for three years before his retirement and move to Albany in 1988, he directed an acid-deposition research program for the National Council for Air and Stream Improvement.

He was named a fellow in the Society of American Foresters, the only forester on record to share this honor with his daughter, also a fellow in the Society.

Stout was a member of the Spring Hill Country Club. His family says that for years he considered a round of golf truly successful only if he scored at or below his age. Last April 19 he hit the 12th hole-in-one of his golfing career.

He is survived by his wife, Elaine Harker Stout, whom he married in 1989 in Albany, three children and their families, and two grandchildren.

A celebration of Ben Stout’s life was will be held 2-5 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 12, at Spring Hill Country Club in Albany.

Liz, we are sorry that you've lost such a good friend. Our sympathy to Mr. Stout's family.

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