WASHINGTON - September 16 - As hundreds of wilderness activists converge on the nations capital to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the landmark Wilderness Act, the Sierra Club is also pausing to celebrate the birthday of one of Americas legendary wilderness champions. Dr. Edgar Wayburn, a tenacious and tireless leader of the Sierra Club since the 1940s and perhaps the least-known yet most successful defender of America's natural heritage, turns 98 on Friday.
The 40th anniversary of the Wilderness Act is a unique opportunity to reflect on the spectacular places this legislation has helped us protect and on the incredible stories of the people who fought so hard for the wild places they cherish, said Carl Pope, Sierra Club Executive Director. Dr. Wayburn is one of these amazing conservation heroes who has helped safeguard some of the very best of wild America.
On Sunday night, Dr. Wayburn will receive the first-ever Howard C. Zahniser Lifetime Achievement Award, given to someone whose life of achievement in protecting wilderness most closely parallels those of the person principally responsible for the Wilderness Act.
The Wilderness Act was signed on September 3, 1964 by President Lyndon Johnson, and now protects more than 106 million acres in 650 areas in 44 states. This still represents just 5 percent of the nations land mass, with the need to move swiftly to protect America's public lands more urgent given the increasing threats to these landscapes.
The Bush administration declared in 2003 that the United States has enough wilderness. As a result, the Department of Interior issued a policy that prevents federal land managers from taking inventory or protecting our nation's remaining wilderness quality lands. Moreover, the Bush Administration is pushing an aggressive policy to open these lands to increased resource extraction oil and gas development, logging, mining and roadbuilding.
As the country celebrates the 40th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, the pillars on which much of Americas rich wilderness heritage is based are crumbling under increased pressure, said Pope. Bush administration policies have left many wild places vulnerable to logging, mining, oil and gas drilling, road building and ORV abuse. The legacy of the Wilderness Act and the Ed Wayburns of the world is in grave danger.
Dr. Wayburn had a central role in the establishment of Redwood National Park and the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and in the passage of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act. For his visionary achievements, he was honored with the Albert Schweitzer Prize for Humanitarianism in 1995 and the prestigious Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1999. Dr. Wayburns book, Your Land and Mine: Evolution of a Conservationist, was published by Sierra Club Books last spring and offers an engaging portrait of an important and inspiring American life.
More than 350 wilderness conservation advocates -- representing nearly every state -- will gather in Washington, DC September 18-22 to talk about protecting Americas last wild places and to attend demonstrations and events marking the 40th anniversary of the Wilderness Act.
For more information, please visit: http://www.sierraclub.org/wildlands/anniversary.asp or http://www.sierraclub.org/history/wayburn/.