Where the Buffalo (May) Roam

[This blog is crossposted at BlogWest.org]

A wild buffalo in Yellowstone National Park. Photo by William Wyckoff.

A wild buffalo in Yellowstone National Park. Photo by William Wyckoff.

The Department of the Interior recently issued a plan to reintroduce free-roaming bison across the Intermountain West and Great Plains. This news came with praise from advocates of wild bison and sharp criticism from ranchers who view buffalo and the diseases they can carry as threats to their livelihoods. Here, geographer William Wyckoff provides historical context for bison management in the American West and examines implications of the new reintroduction plan.

In late June, the Department of the Interior (DOI) released its long-awaited report on the future of bison management in the American West. As a resident of Bozeman, Montana—only a short day trip from Yellowstone National Park—I know bison management is a dicey topic: in this region, many western cattle ranchers fear that Yellowstone bison will infect their herds with brucellosis. I visited Yellowstone yesterday and the large herds congregating in the park’s Lamar Valley were a focus of continuing fascination for park visitors.

Bison herd in Yellowstone National Park. Photo by William Wyckoff.

Bison herd in Yellowstone National Park. Photo by William Wyckoff.

The DOI report highlights the national importance of the Yellowstone bison herds and it is no surprise that the bison plan is provoking a good deal of response all across the West. Authorized in 2008 by the DOI’s Bison Conservation Initiative, the report describes the current state of bison conservation in the West, examines the suitability of additional federal lands as future bison habitat, and offers an initial plan to use Yellowstone Park bison to widely redistribute the animals across the Intermountain West and Great Plains.

As I suggest in How to Read the American West: A Field Guide, the West’s wild animals (Feature 18) are powerful cultural symbols shaping how we think about wilderness, open space, and preservation. The DOI report points out, for many Americans, especially Native Americans, bison are especially iconic representatives of an earlier, wilder, more natural West. At the same time, the report is also a reminder that people have been manipulating bison populations for centuries and that recently the federal government has been a key participant in that drama.

Just how does this new bison blueprint fit into the West’s larger historical narrative? Bison—once numbering more than 40 million animals—were almost exterminated in the late nineteenth century. Yellowstone National Park became a crucial setting for preserving the species. As park scientists note in an excellent historical overview of Yellowstone bison, exotic animals from Texas and western Montana were introduced into the park in 1902 to supplement remaining wild herds. Several decades of active “buffalo ranching” within the park (which included the interbreeding of local and exotic animals) gradually yielded to the present federal policy of allowing herds (numbering about 4,600 today) to more freely roam, at least within park boundaries. Now—coming full circle—the DOI report suggests it is time for these Yellowstone bison to help repopulate other portions of the West deemed suitable habitat for these animals.

The Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge in northern Montana has been cited as an excellent setting for bison relocation and efforts could partner with private initiatives led by the American Prairie Reserve to repopulate bison across a mixed landscape of public and private lands.

The Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge in northern Montana has been cited as an excellent setting for bison relocation and efforts. Photo by William Wyckoff.

So where might the bison roam? The report highlights twenty settings that may offer new homes for Yellowstone bison. These include other units of the National Park system (such as Badlands National Park, Grand Canyon National Park, and Scotts Bluff National Monument) and a variety of National Wildlife Refuges in settings ranging from Colorado and Montana to Kansas and Nebraska. The report also emphasizes collaborative planning with tribal governments, state governments, and private conservation groups. For example, the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge in northern Montana (Photo 3) is cited as an excellent setting for bison relocation and efforts and could partner with private initiatives led by the American Prairie Reserve to repopulate bison across a mixed landscape of public and private lands.

But many western ranchers want to steer clear of Yellowstone bison. For decades, stockmen near Yellowstone have argued that wandering bison threaten their cattle with diseases, especially brucellosis. While current land managers—both public and private—continue to argue about the actual risk of transmission from bison to cattle, the new DOI report suggests there may be a solution to the problem. The report proposes constructing an elaborate quarantine facility for Yellowstone bison that would isolate disease-free animals and their offspring before spreading them widely across the West. Yellowstone’s existing bison management plan suggests initial small-scale quarantines are producing successful results and disease-free animals.

Will bison once again roam more widely across the West? It is certainly a laudable goal and this new report suggests a general path for success. Still, the reality of bureaucratic challenges, the complexity of interagency policy making, and the skepticism of powerful ranching interests promise to make this a slow process. Ironically, it is likely to take much longer to repopulate the West with bison than it did to almost annihilate them a century ago.

William Wyckoff is a Professor of Geography in the Department of Earth Sciences at Montana State University. His has authored several books on Western landscapes, most recently How to Read the American West: A Field Guide (University of Washington Press, 2014).

Wyckoff will be traveling to Washington this week to promote his new book. Catch up with him at one of his events to hear a book talk and slide show that will help you see the West in a new light.

How to Read the American West: A Field Guide Washington book tour:

Village Books, Bellingham, July 15 at 7:00 p.m.
Seattle Public Library, July 16 at 7:00 p.m.
Ravenna Third Place Books, July 17 at 7:00 p.m.

UW Press News, Reviews, Events


Jean Morgan Meaux‘s In Pursuit of Alaska: An Anthology of Travelers’ Tales, 1879-1909 was featured in the “Best of the Best from the University Presses” panel at the American Library Association annual conference in June. It also appears alongside several other UW Press books in the bibliography of University Press Books for Public and Secondary School Libraries, 24th Edition.

We provide here a roundup of the UW Press titles that were considered exceptional by reviewers from the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) and the Collection Development and Evaluation Section of the Reference and User Services Association (RUSA/CODES) in this year’s edition of the bibliography. We also include highlights from the reviewer comments that show why these books are so ideal for school libraries and general readers.

In Pursuit of Alaska: An Anthology of Travelers’ Tales, 1879-1909 edited by Jean Morgan Meaux 

“Being a historian, I am a sucker for first-person accounts of past eras. Jean Morgan Meaux’s collection of stories, articles, and diary entries from Alaskan travelers, pioneers and Gold Rush miners fascinated me. Well known writers such as John Muir and Charles Hallock mingle with the voices of famed travelers like Mary Hitchcock and scientists like Ernest Ingersoll. These short tales are full of vibrant descriptions, replete with terror, humor, indefatigable spirits, and ultimately, true adventure. The included images, coupled with vivid descriptions written in such stories as H.W. Seton’s Escape from Icy Bay, are gripping. I recommend this book for public libraries with strong geography or history collections”—Tina Beaird (RUSA/CODES)

Free Boy: A True Story of Slave and Master by Lorraine McConaghy and Judy Bentley

“A compelling and engaging narrative of a journey to freedom in an area of the United States not usually included in texts, fiction or non-fiction.”—Rebecca J. Pasco (AASL)

A Principled Stand: The Story of Hirabayashi v. United States by Gordon K. Hirabayashi with James A. Hirabayashi and Lane Ryo Hirabayashi

“A straight forward, fast paced memoir about a 2012 Presidential Medal of Freedom winner who was willing to see his fight against discrimination to the end. Gordon Hirabayashi tells his story of violating a curfew and his subsequent arrest, jail time and court battles, which eventually resulted in him being sent to a Japanese Internment Camp during WWII. Although Hirabayashi’s case went to the Supreme Court in 1943, he did not receive justice until 1987, and even with many months in jail, the deeply religious Hirabayashi never wavers on values, beliefs or morals. A personal and well documented glimpse of a once ignored topic, this excellent read for any high school student gives a different angle on the Japanese Internment camps and the discrimination against Japanese- Americans during WWII.”—Annemarie Roscello (AASL)

Tangled Roots: The Appalachian Trail and American Environmental Politics by Sarah Mittlefehldt

“A story of communities, the continuing economic and environmental impact of the Appalachian Trail, and the social history surrounding the very creation of the trail’s path, offer a unique view of an often overlooked natural treasure.”—Stacey Hayman (RUSA/CODES)



Upcoming Events

William Wyckoff, How to Read the American West: A Field Guide, Village Books, July 15 at 7:00 p.m.

William Wyckoff, How to Read the American West: A Field Guide, Seattle Public Library, July 16 at 7:00 p.m.

Brian Allen Drake, Loving Nature, Fearing the State: Environmentalism and Antigovernment Politics before Regan, Kansas City Public Library, July 16 at 6:30 p.m.

William Wyckoff, How to Read the American West: A Field Guide, Ravenna Third Place Books, July 17 at 7:00 p.m.

Watch this book trailer to get a taste of how William Wyckoff  book and upcoming events will help you see the landscapes of the American West in new ways:

New Books

Robert Cantwell and the Literary Left: A Northwest Writer Reworks American Fiction by T.V. Reed

The first full critical study of novelist and critic Robert Cantwell, a Northwest-born writer with a strong sense of social justice who found himself at the center of the radical literary and cultural politics of 1930s New York. Regarded by F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway as one of the finest young fiction writers to emerge from this era, Cantwell is best known for his superb novel, The Land of Plenty, set in western Washington. His literary legacy, however, was largely lost during the Red Scare of the McCarthy era, when he retreated to conservatism.

Vacationland: Tourism and Environment in the Colorado High Country by William Philpott; Foreword by William Cronon
New Paperback Edition
Winner of the Western Writers of America 2014 Spur Award for Best Contemporary Western Nonfiction

Vacationland is more than just the tale of one tourist region. It is a case study of how the consumerism of the postwar years rearranged landscapes and revolutionized American environmental attitudes. Postwar tourists pioneered new ways of relating to nature, forging surprisingly strong personal connections to their landscapes of leisure and in many cases reinventing their lifestyles and identities to make vacationland their permanent home. They sparked not just a population boom in popular tourist destinations like Colorado but also a new kind of environmental politics, as they demanded protection for the aesthetic and recreational qualities of place that promoters had sold them. Those demands energized the American environmental movement-but also gave it blind spots that still plague it today.

Car Country: An Environmental History by Christopher W. Wells; Foreword by William Cronon
New Paperback Edition

The prevalence of car-dependent landscapes seems perfectly natural to us today, but it is, in fact, a relatively new historical development. In Car Country, Wells rejects the idea that the nation’s automotive status quo can be explained as a simple byproduct of an ardent love affair with the automobile. Instead, he takes readers on a tour of the evolving American landscape, charting the ways that transportation policies and land-use practices have combined to reshape nearly every element of the built environment around the easy movement of automobiles. Wells untangles the complicated relationships between automobiles and the environment, allowing readers to see the everyday world in a completely new way. The result is a history that is essential for understanding American transportation and land-use issues today.

Idaho’s Place: Making a Case for a New History of the Gem State

Idaho’s history is as complicated and diverse as any Western state, yet it is often overlooked in narratives about the American West. Adam M. Sowards’s new edited volume, Idaho’s Place: A New History of the Gem State attempts to claim Idaho’s rightful place  while also shedding light on its rich history. From the state’s Indigenous roots and early environmental battles to recent political and social events, these essays provide much-needed context for understanding Idaho’s important role in the development of the West. Here, Adam Sowards introduces the book and makes a compelling case for more critical examination of Idaho’s history.

What is Idaho’s place? It is a deceptively simple question. The answer, of course, is, it depends. It depends partially on how we frame the question. If we consider it geographically, Idaho is a meeting ground of the Great Basin, Rocky Mountains, and Columbia Plateau and is characterized by stunning sagebrush, majestic mountains, and roiling rivers. If we examine it politically, Idaho is as conservatively Republican as any state today, but beginning in 1971, two Democratic governors served six consecutive terms, and the state has long been represented by fiercely independent Republicans and Democrats unafraid of bucking their party establishments and serving the state more than a party’s ideology. If we conceive of it ethnically, Idaho is one of the most homogeneous states in the nation, yet once nearly one-third of its population was Chinese, a long and proud Basque tradition strongly influences cultural events and identities, and its many tribal members represent a continuing vital presence.

Chinese immigrants constituted a prominent community in nineteenth-century Idaho mining camps. Lalu Nathoy, better known as Polly Bemis, represents the rare Chinese woman whose experiences have not been entirely lost to history. February 6, 1910. Photo by Charles Shepp. Photo Courtesy of Idaho State Historical Society, 62-44.7.

Chinese immigrants constituted a prominent community in nineteenth-century Idaho mining camps. Lalu Nathoy, better known as Polly Bemis, represents the rare Chinese woman whose experiences have not been entirely lost to history. February 6, 1910. Photo by Charles Shepp. Photo Courtesy of Idaho State Historical Society, 62-44.7.

A leading historian of the region once remarked that the Pacific Northwest was far away from and behind the times of mainstream America. And it is easy to conclude from existing regional writing that Idaho is the most distant and most delayed of the states with which it is usually linked. But such a characterization conceals more than it reveals and depends largely on comparisons with New York or North Carolina, Massachusetts or Missouri. Yet even historians of the American West marginalize Idaho, paying more attention to its neighbors. The casual reader, resident, or visitor could be forgiven for thinking that not much important happened there. This simply is not true.

I noticed this tendency to displace Idaho, despite good reasons not to, when I moved from teaching Northwest history at an urban college in Seattle to doing so at a rural university in Moscow, Idaho. It was easy to find history—excellent history, in fact—about Idaho. Sensitive portrayals of Idaho tribal culture, surprising insights about the social and environmental history of irrigation, and a best-selling account of industrial violence and political retribution had all been published in the few years before my move. Despite this work and much more that continues to appear year after year, Idaho’s history has remained disconnected and disjointed, much the same as the state’s sprawling landscape.

By the late 1950s,  Mexican Americans were publicly sharing their unique cultural heritage. A parade float from the Wilder Labor Center celebrates Mexican American historical traditions. Photo courtesy of Idaho State Historical Society, 76-102.63q.

By the late 1950s, Mexican Americans were publicly sharing their unique cultural heritage. A parade float from the Wilder Labor Center celebrates Mexican American historical traditions. Photo courtesy of Idaho State Historical Society, 76-102.63q.

Understanding Idaho’s place and putting it in context requires a guidebook. This book attempts to remedy the current scattershot understanding of the state’s past. To date, those interested in religious history might know of Idaho’s Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or Christian Identity sects; immigration historians might know of its working-class miners or agricultural workers; cultural historians might know of its writers or artists. But those topics have tended to remain diffused. What the fine authors in this volume have done is collect and synthesize the best of Idaho history. Readers who pick up this volume—whether they are longtime residents or newcomers, onetime tourists or seasonal dwellers, policy makers or historians—will be treated to a rich past, one in which the many streams of Idaho’s history intermingle to produce this beautiful, interesting, and sometimes confounding state.

What does this work reveal about Idaho? Paradox is a prime characteristic of this state; puzzles about Idaho’s past are plain in almost all the essays that follow. More self-consciously than any other available source, this book traces how Idaho’s political or cultural paradoxes evolved so that the state becomes comprehensible, not just a collection of inexplicable oddities. Political patterns, environmental divisions, racial challenges, and cultural trends all emerge from these pages in ways that make clear what at first might seem confusing or contradictory. The reason for the clarity, for the unraveling of these paradoxes, is that the authors root their analyses in historical developments. What might seem enigmatic in the twenty-first century looking backward makes sense when seen on the past’s own terms.

By recognizing that historical developments in this state are neither as distant nor as inconsequential as some may think, this volume suggests that Idaho’s place is properly understood to be a product of its spaces, cultures, and times. Part and parcel of the North American West, Idaho reveals a rich past of struggle and achievement, of diversity and common interests, of continuities and changes, of creativity and imitation. The here and now of the state, after all, is the product of its past. Writing Idaho history is an ongoing and necessarily incomplete process. Nevertheless, in this volume, students and teachers, residents and visitors have a historical guidebook that can help them begin piecing together the story of this place. Within these pages, readers will find enough details to challenge their stereotypes, deepen their understanding, and answer the question, What is Idaho’s place?

Adam M. Sowards is associate professor of history and director of the Program in Pacific Northwest Studies at the University of Idaho. He is also the author of The Environmental Justice: William O. Douglas and American Conservation.


A Roadside Guide to the Lakes of the North Cascades Highway

Each year thousands of drivers travel Washington State’s breathtakingly beautiful North Cascades Highway, observing the region’s alpine flora and fauna and its dramatic geologic features. In The North Cascades Highway: A Roadside Guide, author and photographer Jack McLeod takes readers through a number of stops at eye-catching sites along eighty miles of the highway. In this richly illustrated book, McLeod explains the deep geological history of the North Cascades landscape we see today. Moving beyond geology, McLeod introduces the region’s plant and animal life as well as its key historical moments. In today’s guest post, McLeod introduces six mountain lakes that can be found alongside the North Cascades Highway, following the same milepost-by-milepost model he employs in the book.

Gazing from the overlook, my wife muses that nature doesn’t always look natural. Below us, the teal-colored lake looks like a giant piece of abstract turquoise jewelry. With kayaks. And a single fir on an exposed rock of Skagit Gneiss.

Diablo Lake

Diablo Lake is one of three visible lakes along State Route 20, the North Cascades Highway. It’s my favorite because of so many outdoor memories canoeing, camping, climbing and even taking classes. Nearby are Gorge and Ross Lakes which, like Diablo, exist because dams were built in the mid-1900s to provide inexpensive electricity for a growing Seattle. The headwaters of the Skagit River flow from Canadian peaks into Ross Lake then over Ross, Diablo, and Gorge Dams to flow free again as the Skagit Wild and Scenic River System. Diked and directed in Skagit farmland, glacial melt water finally pours into the salty Salish Sea.

A remarkable homestead lies below Gorge Lake. In the 1890s, Lucinda Davis trekked with her three children from Colorado by train, stagecoach, riverboat, dugout canoe, and finally up and over steep miner trails to the upper Skagit wilderness. They built a roadhouse at Cedar Bar, rented rooms and provided fresh milk, vegetables, and pies for miners, trappers, and venturers. She even rented to the men building the new dam–the very dam responsible for forcing her to move out when she was in her seventies. High above the flooded homestead is Lucinda’s namesake, the 7,051 foot tall Davis Peak.

Diablo Lake

The stunning turquoise hues of Diablo Lake.

Behind Diablo Dam is Diablo Lake and the Colonial Creek campground (on the south side at mile 131). A boat launch dips into Colonial Creek, the source of the lake’s aqua colored water. High above, glaciers grind stone into “rock flour” and provide melt water to carry the particles down to Diablo Lake. The fine silt remains suspended in the water. This changes how sunlight is absorbed turning the lake from blue to greenish-blue. The hue changes seasonally based on how much silt is carried into the lake.

On the north side of the lake, 5,000 feet below Sourdough Mountain, is the North Cascades Institute. NCI provides seminars, retreats, and programs for all ages on natural and cultural history, art, science, and literature. Access is across the curved art-deco Diablo Dam. Park and walk back for an exhilarating look down into the narrow canyon below.

Art deco features on the Diablo Dam.

Art deco features on the Diablo Dam.

At mile 132, the Diablo Lake overlook provides expansive views across to the dam and Colonial, Pyramid, Davis, and Sourdough Peaks.

At mile135, small pullouts provide northerly views up the 23-mile-long Ross Lake. Below the road is the confluence of the Skagit River and Ruby Creek, former site of Ruby City. An 1880s gold rush brought thousands of prospectors to the area but the bust came as quickly as the boom because there wasn’t much gold to be had.

Rainy Lake

Rainy Lake

Many curvy miles east of Ross Lake are Rainy and Washington Passes (mile posts 160 & 162). Unseen from the road, nearby lakes lie in cirques: cliff-ringed basins scoured out by glaciers. Some of these lakes are accessible to the casual hiker.

From the Rainy Pass parking lot, a  0.9-mile paved, wheelchair friendly trail leads to Rainy Lake. Amble past interpretive signs through deep Hemlock and Silver Fir forest.

From the same trailhead, hike two miles through forest, talus slopes and wildflower meadows to sparkling Lake Ann. In August, take in the rainbow of lilies, columbine, phlox, lupine, asters, paintbrush and much more.

Lake Ann

Lake Ann

Near Washington Pass, the Blue Lake trail leads 2.2 miles behind the walls of Early Winters Spires to cliffs and October meadows of golden Larch. Snow at the opposite end of the lake always provides Rorschach-like reflections.

BlueLake_rorschach2 (2)

Rorschach-like reflections at Blue Lake.


Jack McLeod in front of Jack Mountain. Photo by Peter Loft.

Jack McLeod teaches physical, earth, environmental, and space sciences at Cascade High School in Everett, Washington, and has served as Science Coordinator for the Everett School District. Writing The North Cascades Highway: A Roadside Guide has been a labor of love for Jack and was driven by his passion for the region and desire to help those who share his passion deepen their understanding of the place. In the introduction he writes, “This book is based on a highway, but it is about what’s on the sides. The familiar is the key to unraveling the unfamiliar. On this, one of America’s most scenic highways, the beautiful and spectacular are hard to miss. Through photography and short essays, I hope the richness of these landscapes becomes more visible.”

Meet the author: Jack McLeod will be delivering a book talk and slide show sponsored by the Methow Conservancy at Sun Mountain Lodge, August 5 at 7:00 p.m.

Behind the Covers: Joshua Howe’s “Behind the Curve”

In 1958, Charles David Keeling began measuring the concentration of carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii. His project launched a half century of research that has expanded our knowledge of climate change but done little to curb its effects. In Behind the Curve: Climate Science and the Politics of Global Warming, Joshua Howe explores the history of global warming from its roots as a scientific curiosity to its place at the center of international environmental debates. The book follows the story of rising CO2—illustrated by the now famous Keeling Curve—while highlighting the relationships between scientists, environmentalists, and politicians as climate science evolved and as policy debates unfolded. In today’s guest post, UW Press senior designer Thomas Eykemans recounts his efforts to create a book cover that incorporated an iconic graphic while also reflecting the human and environmental components of climate change.

The Keeling Curve measures the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere at Mauna Loa from 1960–2013.

The Keeling Curve measures the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere at Mauna Loa from 1960–2013.

Howe writes that “the Keeling Curve [is] one of the simplest and most powerful images in the iconography of anthropogenic climate change.” It is central to the argument of the book and appears again and again throughout, even inspiring the title. It became obvious that it had to play some role in the design of the cover. My challenge lay in how to present it in an engaging and appealing way.

My initial concepts were purely graphical, exploring an interplay of typography, color, and the curve. I liked the idea of warm and cool colors defining the foreground and background. The placement of the title could also play with being in front or behind. A flowchart of a complex governmental report provided an interesting contrast to the simplicity of the curve.


Early concepts paired the Keeling Curve with various typographic and color combinations.

While these concepts may have been successful from a design perspective, they didn’t  do enough to reflect the human connection to the realities of our environment. I decided to try incorporating photographic elements.


The concept evolved to include photographic elements .

Browsing imagery that connoted climate change and keeping my earlier layouts in mind, I found that the crest of a sand dune matched the bend of the Keeling Curve. It seemed a little bleak, though. The horizon of the earth as seen from space also matches the curve when cropped just right, while recalling the iconic “Blue Marble” photo of the earth taken by Apollo 17 in 1972. The result is a cover that creatively visualizes the book’s themes on a truly global scale.

Final cover design.

The final cover design, with the curve of the Earth scaled to match the Keeling Curve.

Final jacket wrap.

Final jacket wrap.

Howard Zahniser and the Making of the 1964 Wilderness Act

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Wilderness Act, which now protects more than 100 million acres of wild lands in the United States from development. Howard Zahniser is widely recognized as the key architect of and advocate for the Wilderness Act, but his untimely death just four months before the signing of the Wilderness Act meant he never saw the fruits of his tireless efforts. In the new volume, The Wilderness Writings of Howard Zahniser, Mark Harvey has astutely curated Zahniser’s writings—from radio addresses and personal correspondence to congressional testimonythat supported this critical piece of legislation. The collection provides an eloquent and passionate reminder that wilderness is a core American value and should be protected accordingly. Here we feature an excerpt from Zahniser’s address before the Sierra Club’s 7th biennial wilderness conference in San Francisco in April 1961.

Wilderness Forever

From Mark Harvey’s introduction to Zahniser’s Sierra Club address: By 1961, the campaign for the wilderness bill had gone on for five years. Several versions of the bill had been introduced in Congress, dozens of drafts had been circulated, and Zahniser had testified at hearings both in the field and in Washington, DC.… He was tireless, “the constant advocate,” as Sierra Club executive director David Brower later described him. No other conservationist was in a better position to advocate for the bill, and no other had the knowledge of Washington politics and the networking and lobbying skills to accomplish it. Despite his immersion in the complexities of the legislative process, he never lost sight of the larger purposes of the campaign. His speech before the Sierra Club’s seventh biennial wilderness conference in San Francisco in April 1961 demonstrated his talent for thinking big. In what were arguably his most eloquent remarks on the subject, he summoned his deepest convictions to make the case for preserving wilderness forever.

Zahniser in his backyard in Hyattsville, Maryland, wearing a suit coat designed with extra pockets, filled with promotional material on the wilderness bill. Courtesy of Denver Public Library, Western History Conservation Collection.

Zahniser in his backyard in Hyattsville, Maryland, wearing a suit coat designed with extra pockets that he filled with promotional material on the wilderness bill. Courtesy of Denver Public Library, Western History Conservation Collection.

Primeval wilderness, once gone, is gone forever; but it can be preserved forever. The vision of generation after generation, through an enduring future perpetuating a soundly established human purpose, is as glorious as a man’s view of sons and daughters when he himself senses the period of his own time and cherishes more and more the eternal.

The practical program for wilderness preservation, even in its discussion, leads us thus into the inspiring contemplation of something that endures. That is the nature of wilderness and we can hardly fail to realize it. What we must also recognize is that there is still the drive of the self-interest that exploits the wilderness for profit. There still are mining and lumbering interests who seek to confound, frustrate, and defeat every effort to secure wilderness as wilderness. There still are hazards in various enterprises that would continually modify wilderness rather than limit or regulate their own projects. We must use our inspirations to deal patiently, persistently, but practically with these contending forces.

Our political realities are such that we must continue, in our role as citizens, to strive to see the nation of which we are citizens espouse this cause to which we have become devoted. In this effort we are compelled to recognize that we must have the concurrence of many who have not yet or have not long shared our purposes. We must recognize that wilderness as a resource of the people has not been assured perpetuity until those among the people who would and could destroy it have been enlisted in or reconciled to its preservation. We must continue to work for the passage of the basic legislation that is the first step in whatever we can accomplish, and as it is enacted we must promptly mobilize for the ten or fifteen year program that it will inaugurate. There must not be any hesitancy in this, our immediate course of action. If some of us may indeed become wearied physically, and profoundly, in the years through which frustrations continue

—Who are only undefeated
Because we have gone on trying—

—we should never lose heart. We are engaged in an effort that may well be expected to continue until its right consummation, by our successors if need be. Working to preserve in perpetuity is a great inspiration. We are not fighting a rear-guard action, we are facing a frontier. We are not slowing down a force that inevitably will destroy all the wilderness there is. We are generating another force, never to be wholly spent, that, renewed generation after generation, will be always effective in preserving wilderness. We are not fighting progress. We are making it.

We are not dealing with a vanishing wilderness. We are working for a wilderness forever.

Also of interest:

Wilderness Forever: Howard Zahniser and the Path to the Wilderness Act
By Mark Harvey

“Mark Harvey’s Wilderness Forever is a superb biography of the nation’s preeminent postwar wilderness lobbyist. Harvey has given readers a detailed portrait of an activist who most environmental historians know was important but do not know well. Like the man it chronicles, Wilderness Forever is quiet and humble but also forceful and convincing.”
Oregon Historical Quarterly

“Do environmental historians really need yet another biography of a heroic environmentalist? . . . In the case of Mark Harvey’s graceful study of Howard Zahniser, the answer to that question would seem to be, surprisingly, yes, the pantheon of environmental heroes needs to make room for one more addition. Those seeking to understand the tectonic shifts in environmental politics in the mid-twentieth century and the quiet man who played an unexpectedly large role in many of them will find Wilderness Forever to be a welcome- and long overdue- work of environmental biography.”
The Journal of American History

Mark Harvey is professor of history at North Dakota State University in Fargo.

UW Press News, Reviews, and Events


Pests in the City: Flies, Bedbugs, Cockroaches, and Rats by Dawn Day Biehler, reviewed on H-Net Reviews: 

“This book is undeniably a significant addition to the burgeoning literature in urban ecologies and animal geography. It is a fascinating read and I learned a tremendous amount about the role of animals in urban histories.…By so thoroughly melding together the notions of race, class, gender, place, and the nonhuman, Biehler demonstrates how inseparable human-animal relationships are in the urban setting.” Read the full review here.

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