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The Promise of Wilderness

American environmental politics since 1964

James Morton Turner

Publication Year: 2012

The Promise of Wilderness examines how the idea of wilderness has shaped the management of public lands in the decades since the passage of the Wilderness Act in 1964.

Published by: University of Washington Press

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Foreword - The Sublime and Pragmatic Politics of American Wilderness

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pp. vii-xi

When the University of Washington Press first launched the Weyerhaeuser Environmental Books series in the early 1990s, none of us had any idea that one of its most enduring intellectual contributions . . .


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pp. xiii-xiv

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pp. xv-xx

This book would not have been possible without the many people who have worked to manage and protect the public lands. There are now more than 757 wilderness areas nationwide, none of which would have been . . .

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pp. 1-13

. . .

Part One: Wilderness and the Origins of Modern Environmentalism, 1964–1976

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1. Why a Wilderness Act?

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pp. 17-42

Howard Zahniser carried a heavy burden the last eight years of his life. It was not just that he was the executive director of the Wilderness Society, the chief author of the Wilderness Act, and the legislation’s most faithful . . .

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2. Speaking for Wilderness

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pp. 43-69

Few ideas have a more storied history in American environmental thought than wilderness. Henry David Thoreau, the ascetic author, naturalist, and thinker, explored the wilds of New England, retreated to Walden Pond, . . .

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3. The Popular Politics of Wilderness

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pp. 71-99

It seems to me that, as matters now stand, the work of the Wilderness Society is bound to fail in the long run.” So began a letter from Theodore Kaczynski to the Wilderness Society dated February 1969. At the time, Kaczynski was

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4. New Environmental Tools for an Old Conservation Issue

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pp. 101-136

In the fall of 1971, Michael McCloskey took the podium at the Sierra Club’s Twelfth Biennial Wilderness Conference. It was the first time the prestigious gathering had been held east of the Mississippi. For three days, hundreds of . . .

Part Two: The Polarization of American Environmental Politics, 1977–1994

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5. Alaska: “The Last Chance to Do It Right the First Time”

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pp. 141-181

News of Stewart Brandborg’s departure from the Wilderness Society spread quickly through the ranks of the wilderness community in the winter of 1976. Within weeks, the Wilderness Society’s . . .

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6. National Forests: The Polarization of Environmental Politics

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pp. 183-224

When Dave Foreman woke up on the morning of May 30, 1989, three law enforcement officials surrounded his bed, their .357 Magnums drawn. He thought they were there to kill him. They arrested him . . .

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7. The Public Domain: Environmental Politics and the Rise of the New Right

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pp. 225-262

In November 1980, just after Ronald Reagan’s landslide election, Senator Ted Stevens from Alaska took the podium at a convention in Salt Lake City, Utah. With the incoming Reagan administration and the newly elected . . .

Part Three: Wilderness and a New Agenda for the Public Lands, 1987–2009

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8. From Wilderness to Public Lands Reform

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pp. 267-296

The Wilderness Society kicked off the silver anniversary of the Wilderness Act with a gala celebration at Union Station in Washington, D.C., on February 28, 1989. There was much to celebrate. Since 1964, the wilderness . . .

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9. The New Prophets of Wilderness

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pp. 297-329

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, a proliferation of local and regional organizations charged public lands advocacy with new energy. The Arizona-based Wildlands Project promised to join grassroots environmental activists and . . .

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10. The Paths to Public Lands Reform

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pp. 331-373

Bill Clinton’s 1992 election to the White House raised high hopes in the environmental community. To many, it seemed the stage had been set for a return to the heyday of environmental politics in the 1960s and 1970s, . . .

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Epilogue: Rebuilding the Wilderness Movement

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pp. 375-406

Ernie Dickerman lived on a modest farm at the base of Elliot’s Knob near Buffalo Gap in western Virginia, not too far from Ramsey’s Draft Wilderness in the George Washington National Forest. Dickerman was a . . .


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pp. 407-479


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pp. 481-506


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pp. 507-520

E-ISBN-13: 9780295804224
E-ISBN-10: 029580422X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780295991757
Print-ISBN-10: 0295991755

Publication Year: 2012

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Environmental policy -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Environmental protection -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Wilderness areas -- Law and legislation -- United States -- 20th century.
  • Wilderness areas -- United States -- 20th century.
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