Wilderness Forever

Howard Zahniser and the Path to the Wilderness Act

Mark W. T. Harvey
Foreword by William Cronon

  • Published: July 2015
  • Subject Listing: History / Environmental History; Environmental Studies; Biography, Autobiography, and Memoir
  • Bibliographic information: 328 pp., 22 photos, 6 x 9 in.
  • Territorial rights: World Rights
  • Series: Weyerhaeuser Environmental Books
  • Contents

Winner of the Forest History Society's 2006 Charles A. Weyerhaeuser Book Award

As a central figure in the American wilderness preservation movement in the mid-twentieth century, Howard Zahniser (1906-1964) was the person most responsible for the landmark Wilderness Act of 1964. While the rugged outdoorsmen of the earlyenvironmental movement, such as John Muir and Bob Marshall, gave the cause a charismatic face, Zahniser strove to bring conservation's concerns into the public eye and the preservationists' plans to fruition. In many fights to save besieged wild lands, he pulled together fractious coalitions, built grassroots support networks, wooed skittish and truculent politicians, and generated streams of eloquent prose celebrating wilderness.

Zahniser worked for the Bureau of Biological Survey (a precursor to the Fish and Wildlife Service) and the Department of the Interior, wrote for Nature magazine, and eventually managed the Wilderness Society and edited its magazine, Living Wilderness. The culmination of his wilderness writing and political lobbying was the Wilderness Act of 1964. All of its drafts included his eloquent definition of wilderness, which still serves as a central tenet for the Wilderness Society: "an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain." The bill was finally signed into law shortly after his death.

Pervading his tireless work was a deeply held belief in the healing powers of nature for a humanity ground down by the mechanized hustle-bustle of modern, urban life. Zahniser grew up in a family of Methodist ministers, and although he moved away from any specific denomination, a spiritual outlook informed his thinking about wilderness. His love of nature was not so much a result of scientific curiosity as a sense of wonder at its beauty and majesty, and a wish to exist in harmony with all other living things. In this deeply researched and affectionate portrait, Mark Harvey brings to life this great leader of environmental activism.
Mark Harvey is professor of history at North Dakota State University in Fargo. He is the author of A Symbol of Wilderness: Echo Park and the American Conservation Movement.

"If any one person is responsible for the 1964 Wilderness Act, it is surely Howard Zahniser. He remains a towering figure in the history of American environmentalism, and Mark Harvey has written a first-rate biography that finally does justice to both the man and his contributions."
-William Cronon, University of Wisconsin-Madison

"A much-anticipated biography of this most critical of players in the modern environmental movement. Harvey has nicely brought Zahniser's many public accomplishments to light and in doing so has enriched our understanding of the man and the political context in which he so skillfully operated."
-Char Miller, author of Gifford Pinchot and the Making of Modern Environmentalism

Foreword by William Cronon
1. Boyhood in Pennsylvania
2. A Career in Conservation
3. Finding a New Path
4. Taking the Reins
5. Recreation and Wilderness
6. A Summer in the West
7. The Vulnerable Wilderness
8. Keeping It Wild
9. At Work in the Capital
10. In Search of Community
11. The Challenge of Reclassification
12. Saving a Canal and a Monument
13. Untrammeled by Man
14. Wilderness in Perpetuity
15. The Constant Advocate
Selected Bibliography

"Wilderness Forever leads environmental history out of Carson's long shadow. It directs our attention well back past Earth Day..This thorough, lucid book fully realizes biography's promise to illuminate the past by describing a single life."
-Agricultural History

"An exceptional biography of a remarkable subject.. Wilderness Forever deserves high praise..[and] will undoubtedly remain the definitive work on Zahniser. Harvey's meticulous research and engaging writing make this volume not only important, but a delight to read. With Wilderness Forever..Harvey firmly establishes himself as the leading historian of wilderness in the post-World War II era."
-New Mexico Historical Review

"We have Mark Harvey to thank for a meticulously researched biography, riveting in its detail of how political alliances dissolved or reformed, of how bills became laws, and of how early wilderness defenders sought to reconcile wilderness management and undisturbed conditions."
-Western Historical Quarterly

"A solid addition to the body of literature on conservationists and the development of wilderness areas. Highly recommended for the lay reader as well as the scholar."
-Electronic Green Journal

"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'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