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 testimony—that 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.
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. Continue reading