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Arthur Carhart

Wilderness Prophet

By Tom Wolf

Publication Year: 2008

Arthur Carhart (1892 -1978), America's first champion of wilderness, the first Forest Service landscape architect, and the most popular conservation writer of mid-century America, won none of the titan status of his contemporary Aldo Leopold. A political maverick, he refused to side with any major advocacy group and none has made him its saint. Carhart was a grassroots thinker in a top-down era. Arthur Carhart, the first biography of this Republican environmentalist and major American thinker, writer, and activist, reveals the currency of his ideas. Tom Wolf elucidates Carhart 's vision of conservation as "a job for all of us," with citizens, municipal authorities, and national leaders all responsible for the environmental effects of their decisions. Carhart loved the local and decried interest groups - from stockmens' associations to wilderness lobbies - as cliques attempting blanket control. He pressured land management agencies to base decisions on local ecology and local partnerships. A lifelong wilderness advocate who proposed the first wilderness preserve at Trappers Lake, Colorado, in 1919, Carhart chose to oppose the Wilderness Act, heartsick at its compromises with lobbies. Because he shifted his stance and changed his views in response to new information, Carhart is not an easy subject for a biography. Wolf traces Carhart's twists and turns to show a man whose voice was distinctive and contrary, who spoke from a passionate concern for the land and couldn't be counted on for anything else. Readers of American history and outdoor writing will enjoy this portrait of a historic era in conservation politics and the man who so often eschewed politics in favor of the land and people he loved.

Published by: University Press of Colorado


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-viii

This book started with a Jackson Fellows Grant from the Southwestern Studies Program at Colorado College. I finished it with a grant from the Colorado Endowment for the Humanities. I wish to thank the staff of the Denver Public Library, especially John Irving, and the staff of the Pueblo...

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Introduction: It’s Our Job, a Job for All of Us

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pp. 1-11

Arthur Carhart’s centrist ideas about water and wilderness make him a good guide for some of the choices ordinary citizens must make today. Conservation politics have become polarized in ways that may benefit the blindly partisan but that will only harm our public lands. As we look to a future where climate change will dominate land management, we...

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1: Life Was Sure Rugged

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pp. 13-31

In June 1978, as the eighty-five-year-old Arthur Carhart lay dying among the avocado groves in faraway southern California, the citizens of his hometown were holding the Centennial Celebration for Mapleton, Iowa. Couples danced to the music of an orchestra. At the intermissions, a barbershop quartet crooned the old tunes Carhart and his lifelong friend, Charles G. “Judge” Whiting, sang...

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2: Economic Efficiency of Forest Management

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pp. 33-44

Carhart had a practical touch, a knack for fitting people and landscapes with each other. He used basic sciences like bacteriology to improve this fit, not only in 1917 with the U.S. Army but also in 1919 with the Forest Service, when he discovered the shocking sanitary conditions at Squirrel Creek—future site of the first Forest Service...

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3: Ultimately to Perfect the Scene

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pp. 45-58

Ella Carhart’s ardent ambitions for her son quickly bore fruit. As the Carharts’ speeding train brought the Rocky Mountains ever closer, it seemed to become a chariot of fire. Such feelings only intensified when Arthur Carhart realized that Colorado was heavily industrialized and urbanized and that its once-­forested watersheds were devastated. Who were the warriors who could restore...

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4: Trappers Lake, Cradle of Wilderness

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pp. 59-80

In 1919, Arthur Carhart’s imagination and foresight helped make Trappers Lake “the cradle of wilderness,” as Roderick Nash has said. In 1975, fifty-six years later, Congress designated the Flat Tops Wilderness, including Trappers Lake. In 2002, the Big Fish Fire burned all the timber around the lake, consuming 17,000 acres of the watershed. In 2005, the Colorado Division of Wildlife started reintroducing Colorado River...

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5: Plans Must Be Big and Bold

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pp. 81-106

After his month or so at Trappers Lake, Carhart returned to Denver and Vee in mid-October 1919. There is no record of his homecoming after such a long absence or of their domestic relations during this period. During this time, however, Ella Carhart started weaving grandmother-in-waiting hints into her letters to Arthur and...

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6: My Disappointment Comes from Expecting Too Much

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pp. 107-127

Carhart spent December and early January preparing for the National Conference on Parks, set to be held in Des Moines, Iowa, on January 11–12, 1921. As a native Iowan and the Forest Service’s sole recreation engineer, Carhart was an understandable choice to represent the Forest Service, however unofficially. James Good, chair of the House Appropriations...

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7: Hog Wild on Recreation

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pp. 129-138

Carhart’s stint in the U.S. Army showed that he could serve a cause. His later federal work showed that he could function in a bureaucracy, although never smoothly. After he left the Forest Service, he spent the next fifty-six years serving the cause of conservation with honor and distinction—and a fierce sense of independence. As George Carhart had warned...

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8: That Threadbare Theory “Leave Nature Alone”

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pp. 139-153

Carhart once wrote: “And sometimes I wonder why in the devil I’m driven to be three men: landscape architect, greenhouse executive and key pounder! I’d a darnedsight rather go fishing!”2 Conservation advocacy was an important part of Carhart’s key pounding. He was beginning to see that the writing skills he had developed while in the Forest Service might not only serve...

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9: A Good Bad Book

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pp. 155-168

Arthur Carhart wrote because he had to write, both as compulsion and as compensation. As a free-thinking reformer, he was too busy to distinguish between the two. As a populist, he knew the importance of maintaining a well-informed electorate. He was too good-natured and egalitarian to be a snob, especially when it came to plain English versus professional jargon.2 George...

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10: I Am Going to Write a Wolf Book

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pp. 169-187

Mary Austin was a prominent regional writer in Carhart’s time. Born in Illinois in 1868 (a year before Carhart’s mother), she and Carhart aspired to share a new regional culture composed of Indian, Hispanic, and Anglo ways of adapting to a harsh environment. When Austin encountered Carhart’s book on the ways of the wolf, she was working on her autobiography...

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11: Oh , for Another TR

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pp. 189-203

During most of the 1930s, Carhart earned his way as a writer. Laboring in the basement office of his home, he pounded out articles about forestry, landscaping, and outdoor sports, especially fishing. Working for one cent per word, he created romance fiction under contracts that required him to produce two stories a month: one 25,000 words long and one...

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12: Getting toward Half a Century

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pp. 205-221

Carhart developed a sure sportsman’s touch after he left the Forest Service. He became an expert hunter and fisherman, capping his authority with practical research on game management from 1937 to 1942. Through his writing, he turned the ardor of sportsmen toward the cause of conservation. Carhart pushed a conservation credo, but (like any good campfire cook) he...

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13: A Perverse Habit of Calling the Shots in Any Direction

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pp. 223-242

Shunned by the Wilderness Society, Carhart made a virtue—and a career—of being an increasingly curmudgeonly outsider. In early 1955, Carhart received an invitation to become a director of the Citizens Committee on Natural Resources. After mulling it over for a month, he accepted, joining a prestigious group...

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14: An Old Buck, Always Off the Reservation and Hunting Lonely

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pp. 243-263

Having ridden out the Depression at his typewriter, Carhart retained a vivid sense of the value of a dollar to the end of his life.2 Arthur and Vee had inherited their parents’ old-fashioned work ethic, and they fully intended to toil as long as they were able. They had taken George Carhart into their home. They entered their old age beset by health problems. Carhart...

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Conclusion: Now a Well-Known Conservation Giant

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pp. 265-270

Arthur Carhart knew that every interest group strives to socialize costs and privatize benefits. In contrast, he rose to national prominence as a spokesperson for the public interest, for the common person. He was a voice for moderation in conservation politics. He was never partisan. Whether he was writing about water or wilderness or grazing, his voice...


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pp. 271-277

Partial Carhart Bibliography

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pp. 279-282


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pp. 283-294

E-ISBN-13: 9781607320456
E-ISBN-10: 1607320452
Print-ISBN-13: 9780870819131
Print-ISBN-10: 0870819135

Page Count: 304
Illustrations: 5 b/w photos
Publication Year: 2008

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Subject Headings

  • Carhart, Arthur Hawthorne, b. 1892.
  • Conservationists -- United States -- Biography.
  • Environmentalists -- United States -- Biography.
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