Wildlife conservation pioneers honored for their sacrifices

Two pioneers of wildlife conservation in Pennsylvania have had their names added to a Washington, D.C., memorial that recognizes the sacrifice of law-enforcement officers who die in the line of duty.

Dr. Joseph H. Kalbfus and Elias W. “Woody” Kelly, who died together in a vehicle crash in 1919, were among 321 officers who officially had their names added to the walls of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial at a May 13 ceremony.

Kalbfus was the state’s first chief game protector and the second executive secretary of the Pennsylvania Game Commission.

Kelly was instrumental in the development of the state’s game-refuge system to restore beleaguered wildlife populations in the early 20th century.

Refuges were the precursor to the state game lands system, which now comprises about 1.5 million acres statewide.

Beginning his work at a time when laws to protect wildlife weren’t readily followed or enforced, Kalbfus is known for his tenacity to achieve compliance in a dangerous environment, where officers frequently were fired upon. He also was instrumental in the creation of a resident hunting license to fund wildlife management, launching the game-refuge system and restocking Pennsylvania’s depleted deer herd.

Meanwhile, Kelly, a game protector, quickly rose through the ranks to become the field superintendent of game refuges, working tirelessly to improve game conditions throughout the state. His achievements included reintroducing beaver, which had vanished from the state in the late 1800s.

In August 1919, Kelly and Kalbfus were among a group that set out to identify prospective game refuges west of the Allegheny Mountains, when the men met their untimely deaths at a railroad intersection. Their vehicle was struck by a train at a high rate of speed near Tiona, in Warren County.

The addition of Kalbfus and Kelly to the memorial results from recent efforts by the Game Commission to have the men honored. Commission Executive Director Carl G. Roe applied to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial earlier this year.

“We take great pride in our wildlife conservation officers, past and present, and we’re proud the sacrifices of these two men now have been honored eternally,” Roe said.

A more detailed account of the ceremony, as well as the lives of Kalbfus and Kelly, will be featured in an upcoming edition of the Pennsylvania Game News.

The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial contains the names of more than 19,000 men and women who were killed in the line of duty. Seven served with the Game Commission at the time of their deaths. In addition to Kalbfus and Kelly, they are:

  • L. Seeley Houk, fatally shot in Lawrence County in 1906.

Joseph McHugh, fatally shot in Carbon County in 1915

  • John B. Ross, drowned during McKean County rescue attempt in 1942.

Woodrow E. Portzline, suffered heart attack during 1973 investigation.

  • David L. Grove, fatally shot in Adams County in 2010.