9 People To Thank for Wilderness

Ask a ran­dom per­son who they asso­ciate with wilder­ness, and they’ll prob­a­bly say John Muir, Ansel Adams or Ted­dy Roo­sevelt. Most out­doors folks also know the names Aldo Leopold, Gif­ford Pin­chot and Bob Mar­shall. And right­ly so: they all played a key role in the wilder­ness move­ment. But behind these icons are many less­er-known peo­ple, old and mod­ern, who have put their stamp on our wild places. Even if you’ve nev­er heard of them, you’ve ben­e­fit­ted from their work.


Frank Church
FrankChurchThe Frank Church Riv­er of No Return Wilder­ness in Cen­tral Ida­ho is the largest Amer­i­can wilder­ness out­side of Alas­ka. It includes the famed Mid­dle Fork of the Salmon Riv­er, the main stem Salmon and the adjoin­ing Gospel Hump. Few of the rafters who queue for per­mits know that Ida­ho Sen­a­tor Frank Church had his hands on almost every piece of wilder­ness leg­is­la­tion, a tough propo­si­tion for a pro-envi­ron­ment Demo­c­rat from con­ser­v­a­tive Ida­ho. He led the cam­paign to pro­tect the Saw­tooths and Hells Canyon and was the floor spon­sor of the 1964 Wilder­ness Act and the 1968 Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. The Riv­er of No Return Wilder­ness was the crow­ing glo­ry in his career: he intro­duced the bill in 1980, his last year in the Senate.

Mar­jo­ry Stone­man Douglas
Marjory_S_Douglas_Friends_photoMar­jo­ry Stone­man Dou­glas first encoun­tered the Ever­glades as a writer for the Mia­mi Her­ald in 1940, and began writ­ing about it in earnest as a free­lancer. The result was The Riv­er of Grass, pub­lished in 1947, which made the Ever­glades a house­hold name. The first print­ing sold out in under a month. Com­pared to Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring in its impact, it changed the nation­al view of the Ever­glades from a worth­less swamp to a wildlife-rich trea­sure. The nation’s entire view of wet­lands shift­ed. She stood watch over the Ever­glades until her death in 1998 at the ten­der young age of 108.

Andy Kerr, Tim Lille­bo, Reg­na Mer­rit and Wen­dell Wood
The pow­er quar­tet of the Ore­gon Nat­ur­al Resources Coun­cil (Now Ore­gon Wild) adopt­ed a bare-knuck­led style that put ancient forests on the nation­al radar screen in their fight to pro­tect the Northwest’s forests of the 1980s and 90s. The long strug­gle wres­tled (and still wres­tles) with the eco­log­i­cal impacts of log­ging, the tran­si­tion away from a tim­ber-based econ­o­my and the endur­ing val­ue of forests to clean water and human health. Kerr, who still works on con­ser­va­tion issues in Ash­land and Wash­ing­ton D.C., became a light­ing rod for crit­ics. Lille­bo and Wood fought tire­less­ly to pro­tect their home forests in Cen­tral Ore­gon and the Kla­math Basin until their deaths in 2014 and 2015. Mer­rit now works to pro­tect the Colum­bia Riv­er from fuel trains and the risk of a cat­a­stroph­ic spill.

Olaus and Mardy Murie
Olaus_and_Mardy_MurieMar­garet and Olaus Murie were mar­ried at 3 a.m. in 1924, under the mid­night sun on the bank of the Yukon Riv­er. Their hon­ey­moon was a bit non-tra­di­tion­al: a 500-mile dogsled and boat jour­ney study­ing the move­ments of bar­ren-ground cari­bou. Wilder­ness and wildlife gov­erned their lives, from elk in Jack­son Hole, fox­es in the Aleu­tians and urg­ing Franklin Roo­sevelt to incor­po­rate ecosys­tem bound­aries into Olympic Nation­al Park. A trip to the Sheen­jek Riv­er in Alaska’s Brooks Range in 1956 inspired a cam­paign for a mas­sive pro­tect­ed area in the high arc­tic large enough to pro­tect a ful­ly func­tion­ing ecosys­tem. The first result was Gates of the Arc­tic Nation­al Park. The larg­er impact was a seis­mic shift in land con­ser­va­tion from small scenic areas to vast swaths that could sus­tain wildlife pop­u­la­tions, which lat­er found its expres­sion in the Arc­tic Nation­al Wildlife Refuge. Mardy helped block sev­er­al attempts to open the Arc­tic Nation­al Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling until she died at 102.

Rod­er­ick Nash
A white­wa­ter rafter who made the first descent of the Tuolumne Riv­er, Nash was a grad­u­ate stu­dent when he pub­lished his dis­ser­ta­tion in book form in 1967. Wilder­ness and the Amer­i­can Mind was a ground­break­ing: it launched envi­ron­men­tal his­to­ry as a seri­ous pur­suit. After wit­ness­ing an oil spill near San­ta Bar­bara two years lat­er, he launched one of the nation’s first Envi­ron­men­tal Stud­ies pro­grams at UCSB, start­ing with only 12 stu­dents. It’s since pro­duced over 4,000 grad­u­ates and made envi­ron­men­tal stud­ies a career path.

Paul Pet­zoldt
Nash bred gen­er­a­tions of envi­ron­men­tal schol­ars and pol­i­cy wonks; Pet­zoldt bred climbers, skiers and kayak­ers. When he first climbed the Grand Teton at age 16 in cow­boy boots, he real­ized new tech­niques and prepa­ra­tion were need­ed. He for­mal­ized climb­ing pro­to­cols, start­ed the Teton’s first guide con­ces­sion and was part of the first Amer­i­can expe­di­tion to K2. In the Sec­ond World War he taught moun­tain safe­ty to the leg­endary 10th Moun­tain Divi­sion. But his true mark on wilder­ness was the 1965 found­ing of the Nation­al Out­door Lead­er­ship School, which teach­es peo­ple to be inspired by the out­doors and lead groups safe­ly. Half a cen­tu­ry lat­er, it’s still the worlds’ pre­em­i­nent out­door lead­er­ship acad­e­my with over 120,000 alum­ni and counting.

William Wordsworth
Benjamin_Robert_Haydon_002You’re prob­a­bly won­der­ing what a British poet is doing on a list of Amer­i­can wilder­ness advo­cates. Wordsworth and his fel­low Roman­tic Poets launched the move­ment to recon­nect with nature that made the wilder­ness move­ment pos­si­ble. His ram­bles around the Lake Dis­trict con­vinced him that raw nature, not civ­i­liza­tion, was where the human spir­it was most inspired, rekin­dled and able to see larg­er truths. With­out him, wilder­ness would have still been as it had been before: as threat­en­ing rather than inspiring.

Howard Zah­nis­er
Sept_04_wildernessWordsworth is the famous poet, but Zah­nis­er, far from a house­hold name, wrote some­thing equal­ly impor­tant: the Wilder­ness Act. Along with the Muries, Zah­nis­er was a dri­ving force in the long move­ment to con­gres­sion­al sup­port of a nation­al wilder­ness sys­tem. He went through 66 drafts and steered the bill through 18 sub­com­mit­tee hear­ings. Most laws are writ­ten in dry legalese, but the Wilder­ness Act con­tains some poet­ic lan­guage about nature that still guides our legal and spir­i­tu­al def­i­n­i­tion of what wild tru­ly means. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, Zah­nis­er didn’t live to see the Act passed. He died just before its pas­sage in 1964.

Three Guys from New Jersey
Brock Evans, long­time leader in the Wilder­ness move­ment, tells a sto­ry about how three peo­ple from New Jer­sey saved Misty Fjords Nation­al Mon­u­ment in Alas­ka. Dur­ing the Con­gres­sion­al markup ses­sions on an Alas­ka wilder­ness bill, a crit­i­cal Con­gress­man from New Jer­sey who rep­re­sent­ed the swing vote began vot­ing against pre­serv­ing Misty Fjords. Evans and his col­leagues were unable to sway him. The night before a crit­i­cal vote, Evans scoured Audubon’s phone list, and was able to reach three peo­ple in his home dis­trict. All three called the Congressman’s office the next morn­ing right before he left for the crit­i­cal floor vote. Those phone calls cre­at­ed just enough pres­sure at the right time to change his vote. Pro­tect­ing wild places is usu­al­ly the result of many small actions by a lot of peo­ple. The next cru­cial phone call could be made by you.