Nature Smart

We are not slowing down a force that inevitably will destroy all the wilderness there is. We are generating another force, never to be wholly spent, that renewed generation after generation will be always effective in preserving wilderness.  We are not fighting progress. We are making it. We are working for a wilderness forever.”

Howard Zahniser
Author of the Wilderness Act

“The future will belong to the nature-smart — those individuals, families, businesses, and political leaders who develop a deeper understanding of the transformative power of the natural world and who balance the virtual with the real.  The more high-tech we become, the more nature we need.”

Richard Louv
Author of The Nature Principle and founder of the New Nature Movement

I’m Michael Carroll, and I couldn’t be more stoked to introduce you to the Wild Forever blog and the Wild Forever Future Campaign.  A team of us at The Wilderness Society have been planning and scheming to get this campaign up on its feet for more than two years, so I still can’t believe that we’re finally on the launching pad.  It’s been an amazing learning experience for us — to learn more about what the land protection community’s needs in terms of learning, to understand more about best practices in teaching and mentoring, and to learn more about what inspires each of us to commit ourselves to being and persevere as champions for land protection in the 21st Century.

Our hope for this blog is that it’s a place of reflection on learning.  We’ll be asking many different people in the land protection movement — some who are just starting out and some who have been doing this work for decades — to tell us what they are learning each and every day. We’ll also ask them to share what inspires them to push forward and literally reshape our landscape.

So let me start this conversation by reflecting on two people that inspire me.

The first person is perhaps the greatest of visionaries of the land protection movement — Howard Zahniser, known by folks at The Wilderness Society as Zahnie.  We feel that close to him because he was the first president of The Wilderness Society and its sole staffer for years. He’s the grandfather of the modern wilderness movement and the original author of The Wilderness Act — the most forward-looking, ambitious vision for the future the wild places, and the most powerful tool we have to protect those places.

He was creative, articulate, ambitious, and tenacious.  It took decades for The Wilderness Act to wind its way through Congress and be signed into law.  In fact, Zahnie didn’t live to see the signing by Lyndon Johnson, but we like to think that he knew his dream would come true.  I think many of us see him as the embodiment of the model land protection champion.

But what amazes me the most about Zahniser was that he was a people person.  He believed with all his heart in the importance of connecting people to wild places, and that these places were important to bringing people together.  His “untrammeled world” (a phrase he used often in his writing) always included people and was always meant to benefit us all as people and communities.

The other person who inspires me is someone who I believe is a new visionary for our movement — someone who shares the same values as Zahniser and carries his vision into the 21st Century.

I was floored when I read The Nature Principle by Richard Louv.  I believe it’s the new manifesto for conservation work and a key lesson for supporters of wilderness to learn and practice.  The book follows up on his first, Last Child in the Woods, where he coined the term “nature deficit disorder.”  He believes we’ve become disconnected from the natural world, and we’ve lost a lot because of that.  To put it in terms that Zahnie would have liked, we have become “trammeled.”

The Nature Principle is a call to arms, making a powerful case for the urgency of protecting the great outdoors.  He expands upon the original vision of Zahniser to recognize and honor the importance of our neighborhood parks and backyards… the green spaces all around us.  He reminds us of a fundamental difference between Zahniser’s time and ours.  When Zahniser was scribbling notes to figure out the wording of the Wilderness Act, people worked, played, and lived outdoors.  We don’t do that now, and so every little green space is all the more precious to each of us and to our communities.

Both these guys are talking about protecting a landscape that is about and for us… and that protection requires an act of creation — a garden, a park, a hiking trail, a wilderness area.  So creating green spaces and wild places is as essential as ever in the 21st Century.

To my mind, Louv takes Zahnie’s vision into our current time and gives us a road map for the future.

What I take away from these visions, and these men, is that in whatever way we are champions of green spaces and wild places, we are champions for people.  It’s about connection and quality of life, clean air, and clean water for us all.  For me, as a life-long conservationist, I am fighting for people, their families, and their communities, and I appreciate that this work is and requires an act of creation.

So what I keep hoping to learn from Zahnie and from Richard Louv and from anyone who will teach me is how to be more effective in engaging more people, bigger and broader communities, in protecting wild places and green spaces.  I work with an incredibly well-educated group of people who are experts in biology, economics, and environmental policy.  They are all very important to the movement, but I want all of us in the land protection movement to be life-long students of communities and to learn the art of bringing communities together around a landscape, or around a park, or in their own backyards.  As Zahniser and Louv remind us, our strength, indeed our future, lies in our communities.

I’m still figuring it all out — how to be in and connect with a community that’s much larger than I first thought — and I hope that through the Wild Forever Future Campaign, I can learn more from my peers and from those just starting our their career in this movement.  I hope we can discover more about these nature-smart communities, and our nature-smart future, together.

Oh, if you’re interested in learning more about Howard Zahniser, you might was to read Doug Scott’s book, The Enduring Wilderness:  Protecting our Natural Heritage through the Wilderness Act.  And you should definitely pick up a copy of The Nature Principle.

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