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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 26

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This is the grave of Howard Zahniser:

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Howard Zahniser was the long-time head of the Wilderness Society and the architect of the 1964 Wilderness Act, which he dedicated his professional life to getting passed. Zahniser grew up in small-town western Pennsylvania, which he always loved and considered home. He began exploring the forests of his home state as a child. In the 1930s, he worked for USDA Bureau of Biological Survey (the precursor to the modern Fish and Wildlife Service) and during World War II worked for the Bureau of Plant Industry, Soils, and Agricultural Engineering. During this period, he started writing for nascent environmental journals and magazines. He then became Executive Secretary of the Wilderness Society in 1945, turning it into an overtly political organization with the agenda of making federally-designated wilderness a real thing.

Zahniser led the fight against the Echo Park Dam, beginning in 1949, that would have flooded a major portion of Dinosaur National Monument as part of the larger Colorado River Project. Along with people such as the Sierra Club’s David Brower, Zahniser managed to squash that project, a huge early victory for environmentalists. This also gave momentum to a wilderness campaign that would preserve swaths of land from any development such as dams, logging, and mining. The bill slowly gained momentum through Zahniser indefatigable work lobbying for it, building relationships with Congress, working with recalcitrant developmentalist legislators, and dedicating his life to this single goal.

Unfortunately, Zahniser also had a bad heart. Lyndon Johnson signed the Wilderness Act of 1964 into law on September 3, 1964, designating 9.1 million acres of public land as wilderness. But Zahniser had died on May 5, 1964.

Howard Zahniser is buried in the Pennsylvania woods and hills he loved. His grave is at Riverside Cemetery, Tionesta, Pennsylvania.

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  • Anna in PDX

    Thanks for this series, Erik. This entry is one of my favorites so far!

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