The next time you enjoy the serene beauty of Cape Cod’s National Seashore or the untrammelled mountain Wilderness areas of the Green and White Mountain National Forests, pause at a particularly pristine spot and utter a quiet thank you to Stewart Udall. Obviously the former Secretary of the Interior under presidents Kennedy and Johnson didn’t make these places so intrinsically beautiful and ecologically significant. Instead, he dedicated his life in public service to ensuring that they, along with so many other of America’s natural treasures, remained that way for future generations to enjoy.
Udall, who passed away on Saturday, was a great champion of protecting wild places through common ownership and management by our national government. He was a leading proponent of the Wilderness Act of 1964–one of our nation’s wisest and most successful conservation laws. And his legacy lives on in the numerous national parks–like the Cape Cod National Seashore–national monuments, and wildlife refuges across the country that were added to the government’s public land holdings on his watch and through his efforts.
Among the many wonderful tributes written since his passing, the Associated Press obituary includes a passage from one Udall’s 1963 book “A Quiet Crisis”:
“If in our haste to ‘progress,’ the economics of ecology are disregarded by citizens and poliymakers alike, the result will be an ugly America…We cannot afford an America where expeidience tramples upon esthetics and development decisions are made with an eye toward the present only.”
Over the years, CLF has worked hard to expand and defend the legacy of Udall and other courageous government officials who understood that the economics of ecology are central to our nation’s continued prosperity. In the 1980s, CLF’s efforts led to a significant reduction in the use of dune buggies and other off-road vehicles that were degrading habitat and disturbing the Cape Cod National Seashore’s natural tranquility (echoes of that effort are evident in CLF’s ongoing campaign to protect Vermont state lands from being chewed up by ATVs). More recently, CLF was a leading member of the coalition that drove passage of the New England Wilderness Act of 2006, which protected more than 80,000 acres of wild forests in the Green and White Mountains of Vermont and New Hampshire.
A great man has died. But in his memory the work of protecting America’s wild places continues on.