Established in 1963 at the National Wildlife Federation's former headquarters in Washington, D.C., the Conservation Hall of Fame honors those who have been leaders in our nation's conservation movement, contributing invaluable knowledge and great inspiration.
The first inductee, Theodore Roosevelt, established the U.S. Forest Service, the nation's first national wildlife refuges, three national parks, and dozens of national monuments. Twelve months later, John Muir, Aldo Leopold, and J.N. "Ding" Darling joined President Roosevelt in the Hall of Fame. They were followed in subsequent years by such well-known naturalists as John James Audubon, Henry David Thoreau, and John Wesley Powell. Rachel Carson, renowned author and biologist, was inducted in 1972. Over the years, the National Wildlife Federation has also recognized conservationists whose names are less familiar to most Americans, but whose impressive accomplishments clearly merit recognition.
In the early 19th century, there was little concern among citizens of the United States for the conservation of the country's natural resources. John James Audubon's name is well known today for the National Audubon Society, the conservation organization he inspired. But his biggest legacy may well be the change he helped bring about in the nation's collective attitude toward wildlife and natural beauty. Audubon's lifelike drawings of North American birds helped people everywhere to see the wonders of nature in a new way, inspiring concern and conservation commitment that has spanned generations.
Demonstrating early in his life a talent for drawing birds, Audubon had more than a thousand samples in his portfolio by the time he set out for England in 1826 in search of a publisher. The result was stunning: a 100-plate book, Ornithological Biography of the Birds of America. Soon there were more than 1,065 species in his collection, populating Volumes II and III of Birds of America.
As a young man, Hugh Bennett noticed precious topsoil washing away from cultivated slopes throughout the United States. Unlike others before him who had observed erosion, Bennett recognized the threat it posed to the nation's food supply and undertook the challenge of doing something about it.
In 1928, Bennett's pamphlet, "Soil Erosion, a National Menace" earned him an invitation to appear before a House committee in Washington, D.C. His speech about erosion and the methods for managing it led Congress to fund erosion research. Soon after, Congress created the Soil Erosion Service in the Department of the Interior to put the experiments into practice. Bennett served as chief.
It was the "Dust Bowl" in 1934 that firmly put soil conservation into the national spotlight. Responding to President Roosevelt's call for measures to prevent "another Sahara Desert," Congress created the Soil Conservation Service. Bennett became the SCS's first administrator. By the time he retired from the position in 1951, the SCS had 14,665 employees, an annual budget of nearly 60 million dollars, and a watershed program well underway.
Because of Bennett's personal crusade, many of the farmers and ranchers who produce America's food today are actively engaged in soil conservation efforts, protecting an essential and irreplaceable resource for the benefit of people and wildlife.
During his lifetime, John Burroughs published some two dozen books and numerous essays in a simple, charming, and honest style that made his writings favorites in the classroom. Greatly influenced by Emerson, Whitman, and Thoreau, Burroughs did more than any other writer to establish the American nature essay as a literary genre. Though his forays into the political battles of conservation were rare, he wielded great influence over the direction of the early environmental movement through his writings, including Signs and Seasons, Ways of Nature, and The Breath of Life. In his later years, Burroughs was viewed as the nation's leading nature writer. Presidents and scientists, journalists and school children made the pilgrimage to "Slabsides," his retreat near West Park, New York.
"We can use our scientific knowledge to improve and beautify the earth," Burroughs wrote in 1912, "or we can use it to ... poison the air, corrupt the waters, blacken the face of the country, and harass our souls with loud and discordant noises, [or] ... we can use it to mitigate or abolish all these things." In a country that was already the leading industrial power of the world, John Burroughs realized the importance of establishing a strong tradition of conservation in America.
Two years into her tenure as an English composition major at Pennsylvania College for Women, Rachel Carson found herself so fascinated by a required biology course that she decided to abandon literature to become a scientist. She eventually earned a master's degree in biology at Johns Hopkins University and embarked on a career that combined her talents by showcasing her literary gifts and establishing her as the most eloquent spokesperson for conservation of our time.
The success of Carson's second book, The Sea Around Us, offered her hard-won financial independence in the late 1950s and the freedom to resign from her job as chief of publications for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to focus on her writing. Carson used her time to delve courageously into researching the hazards of pesticide misuse. Four years in the making, Silent Spring burst upon the world in 1962, so eloquent that it moved thousands of Americans from apathy to action, and so prophetic that it has become the symbol of the new environmental movement. The book sparked extensive chemical industry efforts to discredit Carson both personally and professionally, but her meticulous research, credibility, and commitment won out with the public.
Rachel Carson refused to believe that the destruction of the environment is the inevitable price of progress. Uniting the gifts of the scientist with the talents of the poet, she interpreted nature in accessible terms and revolutionized a nation's attitude about the natural world.
Named one of America's 12 greatest living women in a 1923 survey by the League of Women Voters, Anna Botsford Comstock was a conservationist before most people knew what the word meant.
Comstock is widely recognized as the mother of nature education. Along with her husband, John, whom she met while she was a student at Cornell University, she formed the Comstock Publishing Company. Its motto: "Nature through Books." In 1911 the company published Anna's 900-page Handbook of Nature Study. The now-famous sourcebook for teachers went through 24 editions and was translated into eight languages. In her book, Comstock emphasized the rewards of direct observation. She was ahead of her time in stressing the importance of natural relationships that work to form what we now call an ecosystem. The point of her approach to nature study, she said, was to "cultivate the child's imagination, love of the beautiful, and sense of companionship with life out-of-doors."
Comstock was instrumental in launching a pilot nature study program—the first of its kind in the country—in the schools of Westchester County, New York. In time, the program grew into a nationwide teacher-education program administered by Cornell University and other colleges. By encouraging instructors to take their students outside to learn, and then helping them see the relationship between people and the natural world, Anna Botsford Comstock left her mark on countless generations.
Jacques Cousteau may well have done more than anyone in history to educate humankind about the wonders of our underwater world and to inspire entire generations with his never-ending quest to study and protect our planet's largest, most unexplored frontier.
To most, he is best known for his acclaimed television series The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau. From the research ship Calypso, we traveled with Cousteau and his crew on a journey of discovery that took us around the world and to the depths of the seas. We came to understand the magical beauty of the undersea world, its creatures and their link to our survival. For the first time, millions of people were brought face-to-face with sharks, whales, dolphins, sea turtles, octopuses, and other seldom-seen species.
Cousteau also saw first-hand—and let us see—the pollution that was fouling the oceans thousands of miles from land, and jeopardizing the very existence of life in the underwater world. We can only speculate on how many were moved toward a conservation commitment or to action by images brought home by Jacques Cousteau.
Jacques Cousteau was far more than a television figure—he was a true modern day explorer, researcher, and pioneer. As co-inventor of today's SCUBA gear, he even helped to open the undersea world for first hand exploration by others.
It's little wonder that some have dubbed Jacques Cousteau the "Rachel Carson of the seas."
Ding Darling wore many "hats" during his lifetime: cartoonist, conservationist, and "the man who saved ducks" among them. Although he claimed conservation as a hobby, his achievements in conservation at all levels—local, state, and national—were numerous and lasting. As Chief of the Bureau of Biological Survey, predecessor of the U.S Fish & Wildlife Service, Darling drastically cut waterfowl bag limits and seasons to help dwindling waterfowl populations. During his administration, three million acres of public land were set aside as wildlife refuges.
Darling was an articulate and forceful speaker, a vigorous crusader, and an expressive writer. Frustrated after years of battling red tape and political intrigue, he resigned from his federal post and convinced President Roosevelt to call the first North American Wildlife Conference in 1936. The landmark session would address the need for an organization to unite and speak for the diverse individuals and groups seeking to protect wildlife and wild places. From that conference and Darling's vision grew the General Wildlife Federation—forerunner of the National Wildlife Federation—with Darling as its first president.
Darling had a leading role in ensuring passage of the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act of 1937, also known as the Pittman-Robertson Act, which provides money to states for the purchase of game habitat and to help fund wildlife research through a tax on sporting firearms and ammunition.
Darling's accomplishments as a political cartoonist won him the Pulitzer Prize in 1924 and 1943. He designed the first duck stamp, which then sold for one dollar toward the purchase of refuges. Ding Darling's artistic skill can still be seen today in the "flying goose" symbol he created for use at all federal refuges. And his influence on wildlife conservation was immortalized in the J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Reserve on Sanibel Island, Florida, which was dedicated in 1978. His vision and commitment lives on today in the work of the unifying champion of wildlife and wild places of which Darling was the primary architect—the National Wildlife Federation.
A passionate, articulate, and tireless voice for the environment for most of her 108 years on this earth, Marjory Stoneman Douglas left behind a legacy unparalleled in the history of conservation: Everglades National Park.
In the 1920s, Douglas wrote editorials urging Everglades protections, and in the 1930s and 1940s, she lobbied on the state and federal level for designation of the area as a national park. But it was the publication of her now-famous book, The Everglades: River of Grass, in 1947 that transformed the national consciousness. Later that year, she watched as an honored guest while President Truman dedicated Everglades National Park.
Douglas founded the nonprofit group Friends of the Everglades in 1969 and spent many years traveling throughout the state, rallying support for the protection of the south Florida wetland and speaking out against people and industries that threatened it. Well beyond her 100th birthday, Douglas continued her grassroots effort to inform, outrage, and inspire others to action, becoming a beloved symbol of the Everglades she dedicated her life to protecting. In her declining years, she continued to raise awareness of the damage that misguided "replumbing" efforts and unwise development had wrought on the Everglades and challenged the nation to fix these mistakes and return the ecosystem to health. Her challenge has been taken up by the National Wildlife Federation and other groups working in support of an historic effort to protect and restore this unique American treasure. The contribution of Marjory Stoneman Douglas lives on both in the Everglades and in the movement she inspired to examine and protect those wild places that are vital to our nation's environmental health.
A true conservation pioneer, Ira Gabrielson spent two decades of his early career carrying out ecological research as a field biologist for the Bureau of Biological Survey, the forerunner of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. His full-time work in the field ended and his administrative career began in 1935 when he went to Washington to become chief of the Bureau.
Gabrielson's keen political instincts served him well. Thanks in large part to his strong political ties, several milestone wildlife laws were passed during his tenure. Among the legislation he helped see through: The Duck Stamp Act, which established the sale of migratory bird hunting stamps, and the Pittman-Robertson Act, which levied an excise tax on the sale of sporting firearms and ammunition. Both measures provided essential funding for conservation efforts.
Gabrielson was the first director of the Fish & Wildlife Service when it was formed in 1940. In this capacity, he was responsible for adding millions of acres to the National Wildlife Refuge System. After six years with the Fish & Wildlife Service, Gabrielson resigned to start a second career with the Washington, D.C-based Wildlife Management Institute, dedicated to habitat restoration and wildlife research. He headed the institute for 24 years. In a career that spanned more than 65 years, Ira Gabrielson proved that the profound power of the individual can make a big difference for the cause of conservation.
As founder of the first Audubon Society in New York and as a central figure in the fight for the environment, George Bird Grinnell spent a lifetime protecting the land he loved.
After receiving a doctorate in paleontology in 1880, Grinnell took over Forest and Stream, a weekly publication for sportsmen and naturalists. He used the paper as a tool for channeling the growing dissatisfaction of outdoor enthusiasts with dwindling game populations and disappearing habitat into a crusade to conserve natural resources.
To accomplish his goal of ensuring effective enforcement of game laws, Grinnell advocated a game warden system to be financed by small fees from all hunters. The notion that the traditionally free and unstructured activity of hunting must be financially supported by sportsmen themselves and regulated on the state level was a revolutionary concept that would become a cornerstone of game management.
Realizing that the enforcement of game laws was the solution to only half a problem, Grinnell turned his attention to habitat conservation. In 1882, he began an editorial effort to persuade America to manage timberlands efficiently to yield a sustained "crop." He was also drawn to the plight of Yellowstone National Park, launching a campaign to expose Federal neglect and ensure the park against commercialization. Grinnell's efforts attracted the admiration and support of Theodore Roosevelt, an avid reader of Forest and Stream. Before he ascended to the presidency, Roosevelt launched his career as a conservationist by joining Grinnell's battle for Yellowstone. When Roosevelt became president in 1901, the conservation philosophy first formulated by George Bird Grinnell became the basis of the American conservation program.
William Temple Hornaday's career is a testament to his skills as a leader: Chief Taxidermist of the United States National Museum, superintendent of the Smithsonian's National Zoological Park, director of the New York Zoological Society, founder of both the Campfire Club of America and the Permanent Wild Life Protection Fund. But it was Hornaday's boundless compassion for the welfare of wild animals and birds that distinguished him among the conservationists of his time.
An articulate spokesman and influential writer, Hornaday wrote hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles and more than 20 books, which wielded great power in helping to bring about wildlife conservation laws. His role in the passage of the 1911 Fur Seal Treaty was largely responsible for sparing the Alaskan fur seal from oblivion. His tireless efforts against huge obstacles led to the passage of important conservation legislation, including the Federal Migratory Bird Act, which protects all migratory birds and allows regulated seasons on game species.
But among Hornaday's many victories, his successful fight to save the endangered American buffalo stands out as the greatest. He organized and became president of the American Bison Society, and convinced the federal government to establish the National Bison Range in the West. He raised $10,000 to buy a small herd of buffalo for the new range, and worked, through the American Bison Society, to secure other ranges as buffalo habitat.
By 1918, the buffalo—a symbol of our national heritage—was no longer in danger of extinction, thanks in large part to William Temple Hornaday. Today, the National Wildlife Federation is working to ensure that Hornaday's greatest contribution lives on in the form of wild and free-roaming buffalo on the American landscape.
Few American names are as synonymous with efforts to beautify the United States with native plants as that of the former first lady, whose lifelong love of nature translated into national policy during her husband Lyndon Johnson’s presidential years. The Beautification Act, enacted into law by Congress in 1965 was the direct result of her campaign for nationwide scenic enhancement, particularly in regard to roadside development.
Known as "Lady Bird’s Bill," the legislation mandated control of outdoor advertising, including removal of certain types of signs along many of the nation’s highways. She also led an effort to beautify Washington, D.C., creating a "garden city" that became a model for other U.S. metropolitan areas.
Returning home to Texas after her husband’s term of office ended, Johnson focused much of her efforts on educating the public about the ecological advantages of gardening with native plants — an interest that led her in 1982 to co-found the National Wildflower Research Center on 60 acres near Austin that she donated to the project. In 1997, the center was renamed the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. Now covering 279 acres and displaying more than 700 plant species, the center demonstrates how native plants conserve water and minimize the use of polluting fertilizers and insecticides.
When inducting her into the Conservation Hall of Fame, the National Wildlife Federation's board of directors noted that "Lady Bird’s support of native plants was a major part of her efforts to make America not only more beautiful but also more ecologically sound." The wildflowers gracing many of the nation’s roadways are living monuments to her foresight and commitment.
In the early 1920s and the dawn of government land regulations, Aldo Leopold foresaw that the coming impact of humankind could destroy the last vestige of wilderness if no voice were raised in protest.
Leopold lent his own eloquence to the challenge of defending the land, and his words resound more poignantly today than ever. A forester, game manager, scientist, teacher, and writer, Leopold was also a visionary, whose concept of a land ethic serves as the philosophical underpinning of the modern-day conservation movement. Urging the need for land-responsibility by the individual, he was convinced that wilderness had a place in a world filled with man-made turmoil. A 1909 graduate of Yale Forestry School, Leopold spent the early days of his career as a ranger for the U.S. Forest Service in New Mexico. He left the Southwest in 1924 to become assistant director of the Forest Products Laboratory in Wisconsin for four years, before resigning to devote his time to the development of the science of game management.
In 1933, Leopold accepted the chair of game management post at the University of Wisconsin, the first such position to be established in the nation. That same year, he published his classic textbook, Game Management. Later his prolific writings and astute, yet poetic observations of nature would inspire countless others to learn and care about the natural world.
His final book, A Sand County Almanac, is perhaps his greatest gift to future generations. A beautifully articulated expression of the relationship between people and the land, it gave birth to the concept of a land ethic and has sowed the seeds of stewardship in readers ever since. Aldo Leopold's intellectual capacity, his original thinking, and his brilliant philosophies make him a legend among environmental pioneers. His eloquent and enduring writing will serve as a beacon for conservationists for generations to come.
A. Starker Leopold, the oldest son of famed ecologist Aldo Leopold, was a conservationist, naturalist, wildlife biologist and educator. Like his brothers and sisters, he followed in his father’s footsteps as an advocate for conservation.
Starker may be best known for the Leopold Report, a series of recommendations he produced with colleagues on ecosystem management that were presented in 1963 to the Secretary of the Interior, outlining the steps needed for managing national park visitors while also protecting natural resources. The recommendations proved to be a landmark publication for the National Park Service.
A pioneer in the field of river studies, Leopold had a profound influence on efforts to restore and protect America's waterways, both large and small. The son of famed ecologist Aldo Leopold, he served for 22 years as chief hydrologist of the U.S. Geological Survey's Water Resources Division, where he made major contributions to our scientific understanding of riparian systems.
Among his assignments during that period was an assessment of plans to build the Trans-Alaska Pipeline. Leopold's study predicted disaster if oil companies laid pipe on frozen ground and across rivers. His vehement complaints compelled the pipeline consortium to initiate safeguards. He also consulted on plans for a South Florida jetport that threatened a portion of the Everglades.
"In 1969, he practically invented the Environmental Impact Statement through its design and early applications to problems such as the proposed Trans-Alaska Pipeline and Everglades Jetport," wrote one of his colleagues, Thomas Dunne, a professor of environmental science and management at the University of California-Santa Barbara.
Leopold launched a second career in 1972 as a hydrology professor at the University of California-Berkeley. Throughout his life, he published nearly 200 scholarly papers and numerous books. He retired from the university in 1986 but persisted in his research and writing. "His work played a major role in the way our nation approaches environmental issues today," observed the National Wildlife Federation board during Leopold's installment into the hall of fame.
Many of our nation's early naturalists—Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin among them—considered man's impact on the environment to be beneficial.
A Vermont farmer and congressman, George Perkins Marsh was among the first Americans to perceive people's harmful effect on nature. Marsh spent most of his life in public service, serving on the Vermont Governor's Council, in Congress for three terms beginning in 1842, and in several overseas diplomatic posts, including an appointment as the American Minister to Italy in 1861. While in Italy, Marsh argued for forward-thinking conservation strategies in a landmark book, Man and Nature. Explaining what we now refer to as the "web of life," the book points to extensive areas of once-productive land in China, Europe, and North Africa that had become desert to illustrate the far-reaching negative impacts of mankind's destruction of grass and forest cover. Many historians view Man and Nature as the first popular introduction to the science of ecology.
By recognizing mankind's capacity for destroying the environment, George P. Marsh sounded a wake-up call to the nation about the need for strategic management of the country's natural resources for the benefit of future generations.
Born into a wealthy family, Robert Marshall chose to eschew the comfortable lifestyle in favor of throwing himself, both physically and emotionally, into America's wild lands. Despite a weak heart, Marshall set a rugged pace on frequent hikes of 50 miles or more a day through untamed wilderness. His physical determination was matched by a will of steel: When opponents argued for roads through wilderness to provide easy access for millions of people, Marshall took a firm stand in favor of keeping the land pristine. He is credited with almost single-handedly getting 5.4 million acres added to the federal wilderness system.
With degrees in forestry from New York State College and Harvard University, Marshall began work with the U.S. Forest Service in 1925. He took his talents to Washington, D.C. in 1933, serving as first director of forestry for the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs and then as head of the Forest Service's Division of Recreation and Lands. In 1935, Marshall joined with other conservationists to form the Wilderness Society. As a scientist, sociologist, and adventurer, Marshall spent much of his adult life exploring the country's uncharted wilderness areas. As a bureaucrat, he fought to protect those areas. Along the way, he became one of the nation's leading conservationists. Today the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area in the Montana Rockies, one of the last great, unbroken stretches of wildlife habitat in the lower 48, serves as a living monument to its gifted and dedicated namesake.
Enticed out of retirement in 1915 to become the first director of the National Park Service, Stephen Mather forged landmark advances in the quality of the American environment. Mather had a lifelong love of birds and other wildlife, and worked for wildlife protection. When he complained to his friend, Secretary of the Interior Franklin K. Lane, about the deteriorating conditions he noticed in Yosemite National Park, Lane responded, "If you don't like the condition of our national parks, why don't you come to Washington and do something about it?"
When he arrived in the nation's capital, Mather immediately took up the task of securing a bureau for the management and protection of national parks and monuments. On August 25, 1916, President Wilson signed the Raker-Kent-Smoot Bill authorizing the National Park Service. Secretary Lane appointed Mather director—a post which he held until early 1929.
During Mather's 12 years on the job, the size of the national parks and the monuments under his jurisdiction nearly doubled. He formulated lasting policies on scenic and historic resources, developed an outstanding personnel organization, and initiated programs for interpretation of park features. No doubt about it: Mather did go to Washington, and he did do something about the conditions in America's national parks. Today the stewardship of 80.7 million acres of National Park land is built on the foundation Mather created.
John Muir was one of the nation's most eminent nature writers, a father of our national parks, and a keen advocate for keeping unmanaged nature alive. The impact of his articles in Century magazine in the late 1880s drew attention to the destruction of forestland by grazing animals, and eventually led to the creation of Sequoia and Yosemite national parks in 1890.
Shortly thereafter, Muir recognized the importance of establishing an organization that could serve as a sounding board for his ideas, that could develop others who would lead as he had led and that could build with its numbers a political force of his own. He founded the Sierra Club.
One night in 1903, Muir camped with President Theodore Roosevelt in a remote spot in Yosemite, much to the consternation of Roosevelt's retinue. They rode down the trail past Vernal and Nevada Falls to the Valley, and then rejoined Roosevelt's formal group the next day. Historians speculate that the evening gave Muir just the opportunity he needed to persuade Roosevelt to establish the U.S. Forest Service, which the President did two years later.
Through his inspirational writing and the sheer power of his advocacy, John Muir made a big difference in motivating a nation and its leaders to conserve the natural world.
While the prevailing attitude of his day was to make the wilderness more accessible to greater numbers of people, O.J. Murie believed that "the highest form of communion with nature can be had individually ... alone with nature."
Accordingly, he dedicated his life to keeping the wilderness wild. After a stint in the U.S. military in World War I as a balloonist/forward observer, Murie joined the U.S. Biological Survey—forerunner of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service—to conduct field research on land use and on a variety of animals, including caribou, coyote, and elk. He enjoyed the rugged work the job entailed, but disagreed with the Biological Survey's predator-control policies, which set bounties of wolves and coyotes. "I think we should go beyond proving the rights of animals to live in utilitarian terms," he said. "Why don't we just admit that we like having them around?"
Murie's career took a dramatic turn in 1937. Wilderness-protection advocate Robert Marshall enlisted him in creating the fledgling Wilderness Society, dedicated to stemming the decline of North America's wild places. First as a governing council member, then as director, and finally as the organization's president for seven years, Murie spread the wilderness gospel.
Murie received awards from nearly every major conservation organization. But the final tribute to his lifelong dedication to conservation came a year after his death, when President Johnson signed the Wilderness Act of 1964 for which Murie had fought so hard. The act created the National Wilderness Preservation System to contain and protect public lands that were "untrammeled by man." Thanks in large part to Murie's lifelong dedication to the conservation of wild places, millions of acres of land in the United States are managed for the use and enjoyment of the people with their "wildness" intact.
Senator Gaylord Nelson's interest in protecting the environment began to develop when he was a youngster living in Clear Lake, Wisconsin. He grew to become a dedicated civil servant and tireless advocate for the environment, and is widely recognized as the founder of the first Earth Day in 1970. In 1995, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his significant contributions by President Clinton. In bestowing the honor, the president said Nelson is “the father of Earth Day, and he is the grandfather of all that grew out of that event—the Environmental Protection Act, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act.”
Nelson’s public career always included an environmental agenda. He introduced the first legislation to ban the harmful pesticide DDT. He authored legislation to create the 2,175-mile Appalachian Trail in the eastern United States and the National Trails System, and was deeply involved with many other important pieces of environmental legislation, including the Surface Mining and Reclamation Act, the Federal Environmental Pesticide Control Act, the National Lakes Preservation Act, the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act and National Environmental Education Act.
Born in 1822 at the threshold of the Industrial Revolution, Frederick Law Olmsted was a man ahead of his time. A pioneer landscape architect best known for designing New York's Central Park, Olmsted was also a champion of California's Yosemite Valley years before it became a National Park. Under Olmsted's direction as administrator of Central Park, more than 2,000 workers installed miles of ducts to create a lake, hauled ton after ton of topsoil to create the impression of pastoral meadows, and planted thousands of trees to screen out the burgeoning metropolis.
At the same time, Olmsted fought off developers and halted the efforts by notoriously corrupt city officials to install political favorites within the park staff. Olmsted's success in New York led to a busy career as a planner of other urban parks, including Franklin Park in Boston, Chicago's Jackson Park, and the Capitol grounds in Washington, D.C. Even when he worked beyond the confines of the city, developing the first operating plans for Yosemite Park and Niagara Falls, Olmsted used the same basic principles of design, which emphasized natural beauty and accessibility for all. Thanks to Olmsted's vision and creative genius, America has a little bit of nature left in many of its most urban places.
As a scientist, educator, philosopher, writer, and a leader in the conservation movement, Sigurd Olson made an indelible mark on the 20th century environmental consciousness in America.
Through nine books, numerous magazine and newspaper articles, and countless speeches, Olson extolled the virtues of what he called "the singing wilderness" and became a leading advocate for wilderness conservation. Inspired by the likes of John Burroughs and Henry David Thoreau, Olson focused many of his writings on the spiritual values of wilderness, which set him apart from other philosopher-environmentalists of his time.
The son of a minister, Olson possessed uncommon charisma and developed a loyal following of individuals inspired by his sense of connection to the natural world. Olson's personal appeal propelled him onto the front lines of the environmental movement in leadership positions with the Izaak Walton League, National Parks Association, Wilderness Society, and National Park Service. In addition, he served as secretary of the Interior from the late '50s to the early '70s.
Throughout Olson's long and fruitful career he had a hand in drafting and ushering through landmark legislation, including the Wilderness Act, which established the wilderness preservation system. The recipient of numerous honors from conservation organizations, Olson also won recognition as a writer, receiving the Burroughs Medal, the highest honor in nature writing, in 1974.
Not only did Roger Tory Peterson teach us to appreciate birds, his greatest love, but he also taught us the value of just about all living creatures. "Through the magic of The Peterson Field Guide Series, which grew to more than 30 volumes under his editorship, we became watchers—and, more importantly, protectors—of almost every form of life on our planet," says New York writer Les Line, a long-time friend of Peterson. The guides created a powerful constituency not only for woodpeckers and warblers, but also for butterflies and beetles, tree frogs and turtles, shiners and sea anemones, oaks and orchids.
The Peterson era began in 1934 with A Field Guide to the Birds. Illustrated with Peterson drawings and billed on the dust jacket as "a bird book on a new plan" (the plan being the use of arrows on the drawings to call attention to a species' distinguishing characteristics), the first edition, which covered birds east of the Rocky Mountains, sold out in a couple of weeks. Subsequent revisions by Peterson, together with a later guide to western birds, have sold millions of copies.
In 1980, an all-new fourth edition of the flagship eastern guide was published. It was the book, he said at the time, by which he wanted to be remembered. Yet in 1994, he was busy painting new plates for another revision, saying, "Laurels are something you have to defend."
The field guides were only the best known of Peterson's achievements; among other things, he served as art director of the National Wildlife Federation's conservation stamp program. Most of all, Peterson wanted to be appreciated as a fine artist. He produced a number of stunning interpretative paintings.
It's his lasting legacy to conservation that Peterson transformed us into a world of watchers.
Some say that the forests of America stand today as silent witness to the effectiveness of Gifford Pinchot's crusade for preservation of our natural resources through managed use. Indeed, the U.S. Forest Service, founded and developed shortly after the turn of the century by Pinchot, endures in modern times as a solution to the crisis that once faced the forests of our nation.
In an era when conservation was new and contrary to generally accepted practice, Pinchot was something of an extremist. The ferocity of his fight for the nation's forest lands and the tenacity of his attachment to his principles evoked the antagonism of the power structure—the exploiters of the nation's wealth.
Pinchot had one crucial ally in his corner: President Theodore Roosevelt. In 1907, Roosevelt designated 16 million acres of new National Forests by proclamation, just minutes before the power to do so was stripped from him by a congressionally mandated amendment to the Agriculture Bill. Pinchot and his field men had worked feverishly within a one-week window of opportunity to gather together all the surveyed land in the states in question and send to Washington the specification and boundary information that President Roosevelt needed to make his last-minute designation. Throughout his life and his career, Pinchot held fast to his notion of the universal interdependence of people and natural resources, and human responsibility for maintaining those resources in good supply and condition. His conservation achievements have helped generations of Americans to live up to that responsibility.
Explorer, geologist, anthropologist, and conservationist, John Wesley Powell unlocked many secrets of our great Southwest more than a hundred years ago. After serving as lieutenant in the Civil War, and losing a forearm in battle, Powell accepted the position of professor of natural history at Illinois State Normal University. Conducting field trips along the Colorado River infused him with a passion for exploration, and led to his determination to embark upon a 1500-mile expedition along the River from Wyoming to Yuma, Arizona in 1869.
Mishaps, near-starvation, and the desertion of three men who climbed out of the canyons only to be slain, hindered the trip, but Powell and his remaining companions emerged with a wealth of scientific data. Funded by a federal grant, Powell's second survey of the Colorado River, known as the Powell Survey, lasted two years, during which he studied the geology and mapped the course of the river.
Powell's field work led to the concept of land, water, vegetation, and man as combining to constitute a delicate balance of nature. In the first edition of his Report on the Lands of the Arid Region of the United States, he pleaded for the reform of land-use laws to help maintain that balance.
Major Powell remained a public servant, director of the Bureau of American Ethnology and director of the U.S. Geological Survey. He initiated the great irrigation surveys of the Southwest and fought unsuccessfully for the establishment of a federal department of science. His was a vision of people and the land in the broadest sense of their mutual interdependence.
President Theodore Roosevelt didn't invent conservation, but at a crucial point in history he propelled the conservation movement forward and into the public consciousness. Through the Boone and Crockett Club, established by Roosevelt as a society of big-game hunters in the late 1800s, Roosevelt fought at first for military protection of the timber and the wildlife on the newly-created national forest reserves. When he became President in 1901, his interest in the outdoors translated into policy.
In his inaugural address, he asked Congress to set up a federal forestry bureau, which led to establishment of the U.S. Forest Service in 1905. In 1903 he created the first national wildlife refuge. In 1904, Roosevelt established 51 refuges, elevated the Biological Survey to a strong bureau with police powers, created three national parks, and set aside dozens of national monuments. National forest acreage increased from 56 million acres in 1905 to 148 million when he left office.
At the end of Roosevelt's presidency, Wisconsin Senator Robert La Follette summed up Roosevelt's biggest contribution to the United States and its people: "His greatest work was actually beginning a world movement for staying terrestrial waste and saving for the human race the things upon which alone a great and peaceful and progressive and happy race can be founded."
Ernest Thompson Seton was a naturalist who wrote and sketched pictures of his own references. He was a writer who thrilled readers with his animal stories, and a frontiersman who was recognized by Native Americans as an expert on their own religions. Seton was also a father, whose hopes for his son's future inspired the movement that became the Boy Scouts.
Most famous for his scientific and literary accomplishments, Seton used his knowledge to breathe the fire of life into the animals he wrote about. His best-known work, the multi-volume Wild Animals I Have Known, builds on his experiences, studies, and observations of North American wildlife. His romantic tales of the natural world inspired Rudyard Kipling's famous Jungle Book.
As a scientist, Seton spent a decade compiling the four-volume Lives of Game Animals, which included 1,500 of his own illustrations. His illustrations took central stage in Art Anatomy, which showed "the visible forms and proportions of the living animal."
Seton looked for other outlets for his interest in nature as his writing fame and fortune grew. In 1902 he wrote a 400-page instruction booklet for a youth group which he called the Woodcraft Indians. In England, the idea became the Boy Scouts and came back to the United States with Seton as co-founder and chief scout. A genius-naturalist, Seton portrayed life as he saw it—in bold, living colors and words. He made the natural world come alive before the very eyes of millions.
Wallace Stegner was a writer, professor and environmentalist. A passionate advocate for the protection of the West, he taught us by his writing and by example about the accountable life and what it means to be a responsible constituent of the human race.
Stegner once said about his writing, "In fiction I think we should have no agenda but to tell the truth." Stegner's prose has inspired generations of readers to seek their own truth, leaving a lasting legacy of conservation involvement for people on every continent. Over a 60-year writing career that included 30 books, Stegner won many awards, including the Pulitzer Prize for Angle of Repose and the National Book Award for The Spectator Bird. But, perhaps the most important contribution of his writings is the ability to strike a chord within people worldwide to find what Stegner called "something to take the shrillness out of us."
His most famous accomplishment took place in 1960, when he authored "The Wilderness Letter" on the importance of federal protection of wild places. This letter served as a catalyst to the passage of the bill that established the National Wilderness Preservation System in 1964, and awakened a national conscience to our spiritual need for wilderness, "a leftover from our frontier origins that could reassure us of our identity as a nation and a people." Protection, not just for recreation or scientific reasons, but for our heritage as human beings, became a touchstone for conservationists everywhere.
As Americans lead increasingly urban lifestyles, Stegner's works grow in importance to the conservation movement. The involvement of people from all walks of life starts with the inspiration to protect the places they know and love, and to preserve its heritage for future generations. Wallace Stegner's legacy lives on as generation after generation finds the passion for wild places in their own hearts.
Ernest Swift began his conservation career as one of Wisconsin's first official game wardens and eventually ascended to the leadership of the National Wildlife Federation.
Hard-driving, impatient, and blunt, Swift was a superb administrator who wanted results. And he got them. As head of the Wisconsin Conservation Department in the early 1950s, Swift fought to preserve the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in Minnesota. During his six years as Wisconsin's top conservationist, Swift managed to get no less than 79 of 100 bills written by his agency passed into law — some of them landmark accomplishments.
Later, as a federal official, he fought oil drilling on certain U.S. lands. In 1953, Swift became assistant director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, but quit after 18 months, appalled at the bureaucratic trade-offs he witnessed. When the opportunity arose for him to become executive director of the National Wildlife Federation, he jumped at it. For five years, he helped lay the groundwork for the growth of the country's largest conservation organization. His work also helped shape the first U.S. Wilderness Act, which created the National Wilderness Preservation System. A prolific writer, Swift expounded his environmental viewpoints in many publications over the years, and wrote two books, including the classic, A Conservation Saga. Aggressively dedicated to wildlife conservation through scientific management, Ernest Swift played a defining role in shaping modern-day environmentalism.
Written off as an eccentric by many in his hometown of Concord, Massachusetts, Henry David Thoreau abandoned any pretense of a career in favor of observing and writing about nature.
His "eccentricity" resulted in a lasting gift for future generations: A book titled Walden, published in 1854. This account of Thoreau's two years at Walden Pond is universally considered one of the greatest masterpieces of nature writing. It is more widely read than any other book-length work of 19th century non-fiction, and it has been translated into virtually every major language.
But Thoreau was more than simply a lover of nature. He was a keen student, a scientist, an observer, and a philosopher. He believed that man derived his strength from contact with nature.
At a time when his contemporaries thought only of exploiting our natural resources commercially, Thoreau foresaw their rapid exhaustion. He advocated setting aside tracts of land to remain forever wild for the benefit of future generations. He urged federal ownership of outstanding mountain ranges, waterfalls and wilderness, saying, "In wilderness is the preservation of the world."
Largely ignored in his own day, Henry David Thoreau has come into his own in modern times, not only as one of our greatest writers, but also as one of our conservation pioneers.
In a colorful career that included stints as an attorney, professional basketball player, and presidential candidate, Morris Udall made outstanding contributions to American conservation.
Among the greatest of his accomplishments as Representative was securing passage of the Alaska Lands Act in 1980, which doubled the size of the national park system and tripled the amount of national wilderness.
In a remarkably productive career in Congress, Udall ushered through many landmark environmental laws, including the Strip Mining Reclamation Act, the Southern Arizona Water Rights Settlement Act, and the Tongass Timber Reform Act. His concern for the environment brought America a lasting gift of improved health for wild places and wild resources across the nation. His record of conservation progress through legislation is one to which future elected officials can and should aspire.
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