Friday, August 23, 2013

Environmental History Timeline, December 3, 1960

The "Wilderness Letter" and America's "Geography of Hope"

Writer, conservationist, Wallace Stegner submits the "Wilderness Letter," written to the Outdoor Recreation Resources Review Commission, and later reproduced in his "Wilderness Idea," in The Sound of Mountain Water (1969).  Stegner's argument for wilderness as a natural resource and more is often credited with inspiring passage of the Wilderness Act of 1964. A wilderness bill had been before Congress for eight years. Stegner's words were timely and struck a cord with the 88th Congress. Stegner's letter was used to introduce the Wilderness Act which establishes the National Wilderness Preservation System.

Minnesota wilderness, Boundary Waters 2008
West Virginia Wilderness 2005


Stegner's inspiration resulted in preservation of what Stegner called, America's "Geography of Hope," America's wilderness.

Stegner wrote,

"Something will have gone out of us as a people if we ever let the remaining wilderness be destroyed; if we permit the last virgin forests to be turned into comic books and plastic cigarette cases; if we drive the few remaining members of the wild species into zoos or to extinction; if we pollute the last clear air and dirty the last clean streams and push our paved roads through the last of the silence, so that never again will Americans be free in their own country from the noise, the exhausts, the stinks of human and automotive waste. And so that never again can we have the chance to see ourselves single, separate, vertical and individual in the world, part of the environment of trees and rocks and soil, brother to the other animals, part of the natural world and competent to belong in it."

The full letter is reproduced at the Wilderness Society website.

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