Today is the day we celebrate the United States’ Declaration of Independence from Great Britain in 1776. One of the things that make our national freedom worth having is the sheer natural splendor and abundance we have been blessed with in this spectacular land. And we owe much of what has been conserved and regenerated to countless American conservationists, who had the wisdom and foresight to ensure that what God granted this continent could be passed on to future generations. On this 4th of July, I want to single out 4 of them. I’ve excerpted most of this from Wikipedia, and left in the links for you to go deeper.
“The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.”
John Muir (21 April 1838 – 24 December 1914) was an American naturalist, author, and early advocate of wilderness preservation in the United States. His letters, essays, and books telling of his adventures in nature, especially in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California, have been read by millions. His activism helped to save the Yosemite Valley, Sequoia National Park and other wilderness areas. The Sierra Club, which he founded, is now one of the most important conservation organizations in the United States. Some places named in his honor are the 211-mile John Muir Trail, Muir Woods National Monument, Muir Beach and Muir Glacier.
At age 22, while enrolled at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, Muir took his first botany lesson under a towering black locust tree beside North Hall. A fellow student plucked a flower from the tree and used it to explain how the grand locust is a member of the pea family, related to the straggling pea plant. Fifty years later, the naturalist Muir wrote. "This fine lesson charmed me and sent me flying to the woods and meadows in wild enthusiasm."
In his later life, Muir devoted most of his time to the preservation of the Western forests. He petitioned the U.S. Congress for the National Park Bill that was passed in 1899, establishing both Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks. Because of the spiritual quality and enthusiasm toward nature expressed in his writings, he was able to inspire readers, including presidents and congressmen, to take action to help preserve large nature areas.
Muir was noted for being an ecological thinker, political spokesman, and religious prophet, whose writings became a personal guide into nature for countless individuals.
“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”
Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt (October 27, 1858 – January 6, 1919) was the 26th President of the United States. He is famous for his energetic personality, range of interests and achievements, leadership of the Progressive Movement, model of masculinity, and his "cowboy" image. He was a leader of the Republican Party and founder of the short-lived Progressive ("Bull Moose") Party of 1912. Roosevelt's achievements as a naturalist and explorer are as much a part of his fame as any office he held as a politician.
Roosevelt was one of the first Presidents to make conservation a national issue. In a speech that Roosevelt gave at Osawatomie, Kansas, on August 31, 1910, he outlined his views on conservation of the lands of the United States. He favored the use of America's natural resources, but not the misuse of them through wasteful consumption. He was influenced by John Muir, consistently lobbied Congress for wilderness protection, and with Gifford Pinchot oversaw creation of the U.S. Forest Service, with over 150 National Forests. He put over 230 million acres of lands under federal protection and created the National Wildlife Refuge System, establishing 50 wildlife refuges, five national parks, and 18 national monuments, among other works of conservation.
"Of what avail are forty freedoms without a blank spot on the map?"
Aldo Leopold (January 11, 1886 – April 21, 1948) was an American ecologist, forester, and environmentalist. He was a professor at the University of Wisconsin and is best known for his book A Sand County Almanac (1949), which sold over a million copies. Influential in the development of modern environmental ethics and in the movement for wilderness conservation, his ethics of nature and wildlife preservation had a profound impact on the environmental movement. He emphasized biodiversity and ecology and was a founder of the science of wildlife management.
By the early 1920s, Leopold had concluded that a particular kind of preservation should be embraced in the national forests of the American West. He was prompted to this by the rampant building of roads to accommodate the "proliferation of the automobile" and the related increasingly heavy recreational demands placed on public lands. He was the first to employ the term wilderness to describe such preservation. In one essay, he rhetorically asked "Of what avail are forty freedoms without a blank spot on the map?"
By the 1930s Leopold was the nation's foremost expert on wildlife management. He advocated the scientific management of wildlife habitats by both public and private landholders rather than a reliance on game refuges, hunting laws, and other methods intended to protect specific species of desired game. Leopold viewed wildlife management as a technique for restoring and maintaining diversity in the environment.
The concept of "wilderness" also took on a new meaning; he no longer saw it as a hunting or recreational ground but as an arena for a healthy biotic community, including wolves and mountain lions. In 1935 he helped found the Wilderness Society, dedicated to expanding and protecting the nation's wilderness areas. He regarded the society as "one of the focal points of a new attitude—an intelligent humility toward man's place in nature."
“Those who dwell among the beauties and mysteries of the earth are never alone or weary of life.”
Carson started her career as a biologist in the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries, and became a full-time nature writer in the 1950s. Her widely praised 1951 bestseller The Sea Around Us won her recognition as a gifted writer. Her next book, The Edge of the Sea, and the republished version of her first book, Under the Sea Wind, were also bestsellers. Together, her sea trilogy explores the whole of ocean life, from the shores to the surface to the deep sea.
In the late 1950s, Carson turned her attention to conservation and the environmental problems caused by synthetic pesticides. The result was Silent Spring (1962), which brought environmental concerns to an unprecedented portion of the American public. Silent Spring spurred a reversal in national pesticide policy—leading to a nationwide ban on DDT and other pesticides—and the grassroots environmental movement the book inspired led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency. Carson was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Jimmy Carter.
Maybe as we look through a truly “conservative” lens at our country, we could summon up a new Declaration of Interdependence to include all the life we share this blue/green globe with. Freedom for all to breath clean air, enjoy fresh water, fertile soils, and abundant renewable resources, free from a tyranny of toxicity and waste produced by chimneys, pipes, oil wells, mines and industries where we have no representation. Let Freedom Ring!