Michele Ottersbach, Gary Beese, Marshall and Kathy
Rodelli, Dan and Bev Fenske, Jamey P. Eddy, John W.
Warren, Vahe Alaverdian, Bob McCallum
Avid falconer, high school Biology teacher, horseman, and
wildlife conservationist are a few ways to describe Gary Raymond
Alten. Gary’s long courageous battle with cancer ended on
December 15, 2008, at the age of 57.
A fascination for nature and wildlife, falcons in particular, started early in
Gary’s life. Sparked in the early years by summer camps in Seattle, WA and
neighboring naturalist Jim Des Lauriers, Gary’s parents recall him bringing
home the usual stuff boys get into: pill bugs, butterflies, lizards, as well as the
unusual: salamanders, snakes, and ironically...North American Kestrels. Gary’s
mom finally vowed she would not empty any pockets before doing laundry
after finding one too many “living things when she reached in. On one
occasion in his early teens, Gary and his brother, Ron, tied string all around
their bedroom and released a live bat just to witness echolocation live and up-
Gary formalized his passion and dedication to nature by studying biology
at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, where he earned a
Bachelor of Science degree in 1977. In 1977 he also authored the study of
“Prairie Falcons in Riverside and Imperial Counties for the Bureau of Land
Management. Gary continued his educational pursuit and earned his Masters
degree, also in biology, in 1981. It was Gary’s way to help others understand
our environment and all its living things. Becoming a biology teacher was
a logical career choice. Gary spent 23 years with Chaffey High School, in
Ontario, CA. During this time he was awarded Teacher of the Year, and taught
courses such as Biology and Biotech. He was an active member of the school’s
club NESC (Natural Environment of Southern California), founded by friend
and colleague Ted Reeves, which empowered kids with the knowledge and
beauty of nature through educational trips to Joshua Tree and Yosemite,
among others.
Gary spent many years becoming educated as a falconer, via observation,
breeding programs, and the promotion of their welfare. Many seasons were
spent with Gary watching in anticipation of seeing incredible feats of speed
and mastery of flight as the peregrine falcon rolled over and stooped in pursuit
of its quarry, and afterwards re-telling the twists and turns the bird did on its
way down to position itself for success. (As many falconers know, the falconer
doesn’t always get to see the stoop, they are so busy flushing game.) In his
free time Gary would meticulously craft his own hoods and gloves for his
falcons. He was a member of the North American Hawking Association and
the California Hawking Club. On December 9, 2008, Gary was honored as the
first recipient of the “Gary Alten Award” for his outstanding contributions to
falconry by the California Hawking Club.
Gary monitored the repopulation of the peregrine falcon closely, enthusiastic
about the increase in California breeding pairs after their numbers tragically
declined from environmental toxins, like DDT, in the 1970s. The rise in
numbers led to his petition to de-list the peregrine falcon from the California
Endangered Species list in hopes of expanding the opportunity for falconers
and the like to experience this incredible creature and to show that together,
along with this regal bird’s resilience, our efforts can have positive outcomes
to their survival. On Dec. 12, 2008, 3 days before his passing, California
Fish and Game Commission in Sacramento, unanimously approved the
petition. In addition to his falconry endeavors, Gary co-authored a number of
scientific papers with his brother Ron, on the life histories of various insects,
particularly Cerambycidae (Long Horn beetles).
As well as being a wonderful friend, family member, and mentor, Gary was
a man of integrity and dignity that added warmth, laughter, and meaning to
those who were fortunate enough to cross his path. Gary had heart, and he is
greatly missed by his beloved wife, Cindy, his family and friends.
We are all better people for having known him, and anytime we
hear the scream of a red tail, or call of a falcon, we have to look up
and smile, because we know Gary’s presence is on the wing and
never very far away.
“G-man” Alten 1951 – 2008
Gary was
honored by
the California
Club for his
to falconry.
In his free time
Gary would
meticulously craft
his own hoods
and gloves for his
Gary spent many years becoming educated
as a falconer, via observation, breeding programs,
and the promotion of their welfare.
Ron &
falconers as
Above, Gary and sister Cynthia introduce baby brother Mark to falconry, July 1963.